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Seabrook Workers

Seabrook Farms saw the employment of interned Japanese Americans as a solution to their workforce problems.

by Vince Farinaccio

In order for Seabrook Farms to recruit interned Japanese Americans during World War II for work on its 250 acres of land in Upper Deerfield Township, it was necessary for prospective employees to complete a “loyalty questionnaire” confirming allegiance to the U.S.

The questionnaire was the product of the War Department and the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and was designed by the Office of Intelligence to determine the extent of loyalty of adult Issei, U.S. residents born in Japan, and Nisei, American-born citizens of Japanese descent. While the motivation for such a test apparently derived from the military’s interest in creating a segregated unit of Japanese American soldiers, it also assisted in evaluating which of the interned would be permitted to relocate for employment.

Several questions, according to the Densho Encyclopedia website, “asked whether an individual’s birth had been registered in Japan, if the individual had renounced his Japanese citizenship, if the individual would serve in combat duty wherever ordered, and finally if he would declare loyalty to the United States and renounce allegiance to the Emperor of Japan.”

For the Issei, the last question posed a dilemma since renouncing allegiance to the emperor with no guarantee of U.S. citizenship might leave them stateless. That question was eventually amended to “Will you swear to abide by the laws of the United States and take no action which would in any way interfere with the war effort of the United States?”

Meanwhile, Nisei “resented being asked to renounce loyalty to the Emperor of Japan when they had never held a loyalty to the emperor,” the Densho Encyclopedia website reports. Requests for “a clarification of their citizenship rights, complaints about the segregated combat team created for Nisei, and discussion about refusing to fill out the form until complaints and demands for a full restoration of citizenship rights were met resulted in threats that Nisei who refused to comply with this Selective Service process would be prosecuted with violating the Espionage Act.”

The questionnaire created a Catch-22 that led to resistance from many of those interned. But opposition to the reduction of Japanese Americans as “loyal” or “disloyal” on the basis of dubiously worded questions that ignored the dangers posed by their ambiguity afforded Congress a new opportunity to deal with the issue.

According to the Densho Encyclopedia website, “congressional representatives who had already been working on ways to strip Nisei of their citizenship interpreted resistance to registration as proof that large numbers of Japanese Americans were loyal to Japan. On July 1, 1944, the President signed Public Law 78-405, otherwise known as the Denaturalization Act of 1944, which allowed citizens to renounce their citizenship. In October 1944, instructions were sent to the camps to help facilitate the process.”

The questionnaire’s design to facilitate a segregated Japanese American unit of soldiers failed to draw enough interns to meet the War Department’s desired quota. But the WRA’s relocation program was more successful in providing families an opportunity to escape the camps with a promise of steady jobs.

Companies like Seabrook Farms, ravaged by the loss of male employees who volunteered for military duty following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, saw the employment of interned Japanese Americans as a solution to their workforce problems.

By the 1940s, one-fifth of the country’s vegetables were produced by Seabrook Farms, so finding replacements for its diminishing ranks was paramount. The Densho Encyclopedia website reports that in 1944, the company “sent recruiters to the camps [and] advertised for workers in camp newspapers,” resulting in a steady influx of Japanese American workers that grew from 300 in August 1944 to over 800 by the end of the year and even more after the close of the war.

Next Week: A Meeting of Cultures

Jersey Reflections