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Internment, Innocence, and Integration: Childhood at Seabrook Farms in the Post-WWII Era by Austen-Leigh DePinto

The year 1944 was a particularly interesting time for the communities of Seabrook Farms. The war had caused both a shortage of workers, and a demand for increased production. The management at Seabrook Farms found itself in desperate need of workers. In order to fill the requirements of the enterprise, Seabrook Farms and its subsidiary, the Deerfield Packing Corporation, began to expand the search for labor beyond normal avenues of recruitment and into new, unexplored sources. One of these newfound sources of labor was the Japanese American population "relocated" to internment camps. With the assistance of the War Relocation Authority, C.F. Seabrook was able to exploit the civil rights' violations that this population had experienced to his advantage, and obtain much-needed workers for his company. In the early 1940s the number of Japanese American workers at Seabrook skyrocketed. According to historian Mitziko Sawada, by December 1944 there were 831 Japanese American workers employed Seabrook Farms and by December of 1945 the number had risen to 1,688.

"Evacuee Children in Seabrook" depicts a group of children seated on the front stoop of one of the newly built houses at Seabrook Farms. There was a spike in the construction of domestic structures during this time, since Seabrook was obliged to provide shelter for the large influx of workers arriving every month. In order to lure the required number of workers to Seabrook, an enthusiastic campaign was undertaken to advertise the farm as including "one of the finest housing developments in the nation." However, despite the company's propaganda, these houses were often described and depicted as more ideal than they were in reality. According to Fusaye Kazaoka, who arrived in 1945 from an internment camp in Poston, Arizona, the accommodations at Seabrook were little more than "gray shacks…the same living quarters we had in camp." The image of these children on the stoop of one of these "gray shacks" presents a sense of isolation and emptiness. Their small bodies are huddled together, implying a need for security after the ordeal of internment and relocation. Every surface is bathed in the hot August sun, with little shade to offer respite from the heat; the children sit exposed to the elements, unsure of what this new life that has been forced upon them will bring.

Other images from the photographic history of post-WWII Seabrook Farms offer a more idealized depiction of childhood innocence and play. The children shown in the photographs depicting "Recess Time" and "Tree Climbing" represent the diverse backgrounds of the inhabitants at Seabrook Farms by the end of the 1940s. These images fit neatly into the idealized public façade of the community, and a majority of firsthand accounts suggest that the integration of children from various backgrounds with already established younger residents was not a major issue. The peaceful coexistence and cultural diversity among the children at Seabrook School is observable in the both of these images. Children join hands in a game or climb a tree as they smile and laugh, providing a literal picture of childhood innocence and resilience, despite the recent reality of internment and integration.

"Evacuee Children in Seabrook Farms," 1944, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection.
"Recess Time," c.1950-1959, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection.
"Kids enjoying tree climbing at Seabrook Farms, New Jersey," c.1950, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection.