On May 27, 1943, Kiku Nakamichi was crowned Queen of Denson at a coronation ball, which was part of a weekend carnival at the Jerome concentration camp.
Kiku was presented with a wooden, heart-shaped plaque painted red, green, and gold. It had been crafted by staff at the wood shop where she worked as a secretary. Four months later, when Kiku and her husband departed Jerome, wood shop staff and friends added signatures and farewell messages to the back of the plaque.
Captured in a photograph from the night of the coronation, Kiku is flanked by her two attendants Mary Ikeguchi and Bessie Nakashima, where she is seeing holding the plaque. According to the camp newspaper, Denson Tribune, “William O. Melton, assistant Project director, who crowned the queen had the first dance with Queen Kiku following the coronation.”
Although events throughout all of the camps were common, including coronations and carnivals, each one offered a unique opportunity for incarcerated Japanese Americans to participate in activities seemingly at dramatic odds with their forced surroundings.
The plaque was passed on to Kiku’s daughter, Cindi Ishigaki, who donated it to JANM’s permanent collection this past January.
We were greatly saddened to hear about the passing of Mr. John Ellington (1937-2012). He was a dear, Arkansan friend who was always available to help former inmates locate their barracks and other landmarks at Jerome.
Here is a link to his obituary, which lists his many accomplishments and details his lifelong commitment to education. There is also a link to a virtual guest book where you can leave messages of condolence for his family.
Mr. Ellington’s grace and generosity will never be forgotten by all his friends from the Japanese American National Museum. May he rest in peace.
It’s football season and the team that I follow is the University of Arkansas. No, I didn’t go to school there, but I am a huge fan. (Shall we call the hogs now?)
Oddly enough, because Arkansas was the site for two government-run WWII concentration camps that unlawfully held 16,000 Japanese Americans. It was a virtually unknown story in the state for six decades. But thanks to a partnership between the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and JANM, a multi-year project called Life Interrupted: The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas culminated in 2004 with a number of exhibitions, educational programs, and a national conference. We hope that we might have collectively learned a little bit more about the Japanese American experience in the state, and specifically more about Rohwer and Jerome. Definitely, JANM staff and volunteers learned lots from Arkansans of all ages.
You might be interested in a seven minute video of Arkansas students talking about what they learned. While you’re watching it, keep in mind that we arrived at these schools with a video camera and very little warning: major kudos go to these poised young people and their outstanding teachers!
JANM, in 2005, followed up on the Life Interrupted project with an exhibition of murals made at Rohwer High School, Lasting Beauty: Miss Jamison and the Student Muralists. The murals on display here were just the tip of the iceberg of JANM’s holdings from the collection of student artwork and other camp-related memorabilia donated by former Rohwer art teacher, Mabel Rose Jamison Vogel–known to her students as Miss Jamison. This exhibition also proudly featured a new student mural, pictured at the top of this blog post. This beautiful mural was created by the students (shown below) at Little Rock’s Parkview High School as a modern-day response to the WWII-era murals. Painters of all ages pitched in to help, too.
And now we are excited to announce that more Rohwer artwork and memorabilia are on exhibit! The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies–the institution that holds the other part of the Vogel Collection–has created an exhibition called The Art of Living: Japanese American Creative Experience at Rohwer. We hope you can get to Little Rock before November 26 to see it!