George Takei

George Takei, who portrayed Lt. Hikaru Sulu on the original Star Trek television series, will be a special guest during two April 16 events in Desha County commemorating Japanese American internment in Arkansas during World War II.

Takei, who was interned as a young boy with his family at Rohwer, and Gov. Mike Beebe will speak at the event.

Events include dedication and opening of the World War II Japanese American Internment Museum at 1 p.m. in McGehee and a 3:30 p.m. unveiling of outdoor exhibits developed through Arkansas State University at the Rohwer Relocation Center. Both projects were initiated through grants from the Japanese American Confinement Sites Program at the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.

In 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the federal government forced Japanese American citizens to leave the West Coast, out of fears for national security. They were imprisoned during the war at 10 relocation centers, including Rohwer and Jerome in Southeast Arkansas.

The new commemorative museum, housed in McGehee’s historic train depot at 100 South Railroad Street, will serve as the Jerome-Rohwer Interpretive and Visitor Center. Opening ceremonies will be followed by a reception and tours of the featured exhibit, “Against Their Will: The Japanese American Experience in World War II Arkansas,” until 3 p.m.

Exhibit prior to storage

The idea for the museum came about when the Delta Cultural Center asked if the McGehee Industrial Foundation would be interested in the stored exhibit, according to Jeff Owyoung, who co-chaired the WWII Japanese American Internment Museum project with Melissa Gober.

“After we reviewed it we decided we were interested,” Owyoung said.

The cultural center has agreed to a 10-year renewable lease of the exhibit and the museum was awarded a number of grants to fund the  $936,000 million museum project, which includes the cost of renovating the train depot.

The outdoor interpretive exhibits at the Rohwer site include a series of kiosks and wayside panels, with audio components narrated by Takei. The exhibits provide a glimpse into the lives of Japanese Americans once interned there. The exhibits will be maintained by Desha County.

A National Historic Landmark, the Rohwer site today includes only the Japanese American cemetery and the remains of the camp’s hospital smokestack. Preservation work at the cemetery is expected to begin later this spring under the leadership of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.

Matching funds and support for the McGehee museum grant were provided by the McGehee Industrial Foundation, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Arkansas Department of Rural Services, Clearwater Paper, Inc., and the Joseph F. Wallace Trust. The featured exhibit, created through the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Public History Program, is on loan from the Delta Cultural Center in Helena.

Matching grant funds for the Rohwer exhibits were provided by Arkansas State University, with support from the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, Desha County, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.