After the United States entered World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority, creating 10 sites throughout the country to incarcerate Japanese Americans. Rohwer and Jerome were established in March 1942 and served as the War Relocation Authority’s easternmost camp sites. The two camps would eventually house nearly 18,000 people. Jerome, located in Drew County, operated the shortest amount of time of any of the 10 camps, from Oct. 6, 1942, to June 30, 1944. All that remains of the camp is a smokestack from the camp’s laundry remains. A granite marker commemorates the camp’s location. Rohwer is located in Desha County. The camp was opened Sept. 18, 1942, and did not close until Nov. 30, 1945, making it one of the last camps to cease operation. The location has several commemorative markers and a small cemetery. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Actor and writer George Takei, best known for his role as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek television series, was interned as a young boy with his family at Rohwer. Recently dedicated outdoor interpretive exhibits at the Rohwer site include a series of kiosks and wayside panels, with audio components narrated by Takei. The new exhibits provide a glimpse into the lives of Japanese Americans once interned there.
In 2013, the city of McGehee opened the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum. Located in McGehee’s historic train depot at 100 South Railroad Street, the museum serves as the Jerome-Rohwer Interpretive and Visitor Center and houses the featured exhibit, “Against Their Will: The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas.”