Image credit: “Vegetable Varieties” at Seabrook Farms. Courtesy of: Life Magazine
Each year, January 30th is Fred Korematsu Day, honoring the Japanese American civil rights activist. To highlight this day, the Inclusiveness and Diversity Committee of Penn’s Village and the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia (JASGP) are co-hosting an online lecture and discussion by Masaru Edmund, Alfred Hirotoshi Nishikawa, and Rob Buscher on the history of Seabrook Farms and Japanese Americans during and after the Second World War.
“The Life of Japanese Americans at Seabrook Farms during the Second World War” focuses on the history of Japanese American families who were relocated from American concentration camps in 1944 and employed at Seabrook Farms in Southern New Jersey, about an hour drive from Philadelphia. Seabrook Farms, now called Seabrook Brothers and Sons, established by Charles F. Seabrook in 1913, was an early leader in processing vegetables through flash freezing and dehydration.
After the Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese Empire, Japanese American citizens were forcibly evicted from their West Coast homes and businesses under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. Over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry impacted by EO 9066 were mass incarcerated in American concentration camps located in the interior of the country. Although a Supreme Court ruling in 1944 paved the way for camps to close, most incarcerees remained imprisoned until the end of 1945, with the final prisoners leaving Tule Lake camp in March 1946. In 1944, Mr. Seabrook worked with the War Relocation Authority to employ over 2,500 Japanese Americans to work at his company. They were paid for their labor and offered welfare accommodations such as housing, medical treatment, and education.
Even today, many descendants of these earlier Japanese American farmworkers live in Seabrook and its neighboring area.
About the presenters:
Masaru Edmund (Keynote speaker) was born in Poston, Arizona one of the 10 major Internment Camps, and grew up in Seabrook, New Jersey, the son of plant workers at Seabrook Farms, and currently a Trustee of Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center. He currently serves on the board of Asian Americans United (AAU) in Philadelphia. He retired from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) after 31 years as the organization’s National Representative for Native American Affairs.
Alfred Hirotoshi Nishikawa (Panelist) is a native of San Francisco. During WWII as a four-year-old, he and his family were sent to Poston, AZ concentration camp and incarcerated for the duration of the war. Hiro became involved with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in 1997 and has served as chapter president and district governor. More recently he has been involved in comprehensive immigration reform with PICC and UUPLAN (Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Action Network.) He is active on the boards of the Philadelphia JACL, and the Japanese Association of Greater Philadelphia.
Rob Buscher (Moderator) is the Philadelphia Chapter President of civil rights group Japanese American Citizens League and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s Asian American Studies Program. He is a contributing writer at Pacific Citizen and Gidra.