Despite the governor's initial objections, Arkansas was chosen by the War Relocation Authority as one of the states
that would house prison camps for Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. Two camps were established in Arkansas in
in Desha County and Jerome along the border of Chicot and Drew counties.
Located in southeastern Arkansas twelve miles
northeast of McGehee, 110 miles southeast of Little Rock and 27
miles from the Jerome camp, the marshland had been purchased by the Farm
Security Administration in the 1930s from tax delinquent landowners who
had been unable to clear and drain it.
Like the Jerome camp, Rohwer was late to open due to the difficulty of preparing the heavily forested and swampy land. When the first inmates arrived from California, they had to become the labor force and complete the prison camp.
Rohwer had 36 residential blocks on roughly 500 acres surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards, with a peak population of 8,475. The camp’s residents were constantly dealing with muddy conditions and flooding in the barracks. Drainage ditches were built around each block and wooden sidewalks were
constructed between the barracks.
The inmates came mostly from California, including city dwellers from the Los Angeles area and farmers from San Joaquin County. Over 2,000 students attended school in camp. Baseball, basketball, and football leagues were popular pastimes in camp, as were arts and crafts programs.
Due to the proximity of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team training at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, there was interaction between sports teams from Rohwer and Jerome camps with the 442nd and bimonthly dances which helped create moments of normalcy.
After the war, the Surplus War Property Administration sold off the
land to local farmers at public auction for $5 to $10 per acre. The former Rohwer Relocation Center today is a combination of farmland, housing, and the now closed Desha Central High School.
The Rohwer cemetery remains with two
restored monuments built by the inmates. One is dedicated to the Japanese
Americans in the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who
were killed in Italy and France. The other commemorates the 24 inmates who
died while living in Rohwer, with an inscription in Japanese reading May the people of
Arkansas keep in beauty and reverence forever this ground where our bodies