by Sally Goldman, Centennial Volunteer Ambassador, Little Rock Central High School NHS
The past few weeks have been busy here at Little Rock Central High School NHS. I found myself without computer access due to the OPM breach, which has hampered most of my abilities to plan events and write programs, but I’m still managing to get a few things done. Lately I have been helping our community service volunteers clean out some closets and our kitchen/break room. Not too exciting, but still important things that need to be done around the site!
Two weeks ago my two younger siblings, ages ten and eleven, came to work with me. They were joined by Tyson (age nine), Ranger Toni’s nephew.
The kids spent the day at the site pulling weeds, helping in collections, and greeting visitors at the front desk. They went on a tour and Eli and Lilah became Junior Rangers (Tyson earned his badge last summer).
The best part was that none of the kids wanted to leave at the end of the day!
The next day Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. held their annual conclave’s closing ceremony inside the school’s auditorium. Three of the Little Rock Nine attended the event: Elizabeth Eckford, Thelma Mothershed Wair, and Minnijean Brown Trickey. Our visitor center was FLOODED with people wearing blue and we ended up staying open an extra half hour.
Many people are surprised at how different each of the Little Rock Nine are from each other. Many people forget that they are individuals, not just a monolithic group of people. They live in different states and countries, have different careers, and different attitudes toward sharing their experiences from the crisis. For example, Minnijean enjoys talking to strangers and large groups of people, whereas Elizabeth does not. People forget that the Nine have done many other interesting and amazing things in their lives besides integrate Central, and when talking to them they only want to discuss the events that happened in 1957. Can you imagine what it would be like if, as soon as people found out who you are, all they wanted to discuss was one of the most painful times in your life?
The next week our teacher’s institute was held, where teachers from across the country came to learn more about our site. The institute included a field trip to Rohwer, Arkansas, site of one of the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII. Myself and Alyssa were invited to go along. It was a very harrowing experience. After the war, the buildings and land from the camp were sold to local farmers. Only the cemetery and the hospital smokestack still remain.
The cemetery and smokestack are surrounded by cotton fields. Some parts of what used to be the camp are now thick swamp.
The cemetery has since been restored and there are some waysides about life in the camp as well as a replica of a guard tower. Some of the waysides have listening stations where you can listen to George Takei, who grew up in Rohwer, speak about his family’s experiences. The most striking exhibit was the wayside entitled “We lived and died here.” People didn’t know when they would get out and had to find ways to make life as normal as possible.
We were accompanied by Mr. Richard Yada, who was born in Rohwer. His father was one of the few Japanese-Americans who stayed in Arkansas after the war and led the effort to restore the cemetery. You can view an interview with Mr. Yada here; Central students interviewed him as part of an oral history club called the Memory Project.
Mr. Yada told me that after the war, most people left Arkansas and went back to their homes (mostly in California). The cemetery fell into disrepair because people didn’t want to come back. For the former prisoners, what happened to them was something to be ashamed of. They felt as if they did something wrong, but didn’t know what. He flew B-52s in the Vietnam War and didn’t see a contradiction between fighting for a country that had imprisoned him. He talked about growing up during Jim Crow when the war was over and sitting in the middle of the bus because he wasn’t black nor white.
We later ate lunch at the Delta Country Club and talked to Rosalie Gould, former mayer of McGehee Arkansas. She said that many people in Rohwer (and in the delta region of Arkansas as a whole) didn’t even know of the existence of the camps. She collected artifacts from the camps and welcomed former internees and their descendants when they came to visit. When she tried to start a museum to house her collection and tell the story of the camps, she received death threats. It wasn’t until 2012 that a museum was built. The Jerome-Rohwer Interpretive Museum and Visitor Center has an amazing exhibit and the website has great resources.
The visit to Rohwer was one of the most important things that’s happened to me during my internship, especially as an Asian-American. While my family is not Japanese, I think that we still owe those imprisoned at Rohwer and the other camps a debt for paving the way for the civil rights of Asian-Americans.
Last week I sat in on a meeting with representatives from all seven National Parks in Arkansas to discuss an upcoming centennial project. Nothing has been released yet, but I’ll blog about it as soon as I can! It was great to see people from each park in the state, though it was very intimidating being the youngest person in the room.
I’ve learned a lot so far, and now that summer is winding down we’ll be doing more programs indoors. I’m going to miss the four other interns here because they are leaving soon. My direct supervisor, the volunteer coordinator, is also leaving for another park in a month. I’m going to be so happy when he leaves because he is the worst boss ever (I’m totally kidding–he was looking over my shoulder as I typed that sentence!). Brian has been my mentor and friend since I was a freshman in high school and I don’t know what we’re going to do without him!
More updates next week!