Japanese Americans imprisoned in the Arkansas Delta

Nearly 17,000 Japanese Americans were sent to the Arkansas Delta and imprisoned. The ACLU called it the single most egregious violation of civil rights in American history. Once arrived, they cleared land, cut down trees, and increased the value of the land, previously worthless, seven to fifteen fold. The Arkansas legislature responded by attempting to ban any person of Japanese descent from owning land. 


In honor of the 75th anniversary of the Executive Order 9066 that authorized Japanese American internment, the Arkansas State Archives launched a digital collection on materials relating to the Rohwer and Jerome Relocation Centers in the Arkansas Delta. For more resources, also check out Densho for a powerful collection of oral histories that chronicle the story of Japanese Americans who were imprisoned. 

Courtesy of  Arkansas Gazette , June 3, 1942,  Arkansas State Archives

Courtesy of Arkansas Gazette, June 3, 1942, Arkansas State Archives

Private Schools Established to Avoid Court-Ordered Integration

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, private schools across the Delta were established to avoid desegregation. In Phillips County, the name of that school is De Soto. To this day, De Soto has not enrolled a black student.  

Above and right:  Helena Daily World , April 24th, 1970. 

Above and right: Helena Daily World, April 24th, 1970. 

The people who chartered private schools did so because their time was up: 16 years after the Supreme Court mandated integration in Brown, the federal government finally appeared serious about enforcing it.  The government threatened to withhold funds and file lawsuit. Helena, along with around fifty school districts across the Delta, were still not in compliance with the federal government's mandate.

Nearly all districts that failed to comply with the desegregation order were in the Delta. 

Nearly all districts that failed to comply with the desegregation order were in the Delta. 

After De Soto opened in 1970, some white families chose to send their children to the newly integrated public schools in Helena, which flourished in their early years. But the economy would collapse in a decade, and with the closing of a rubber company, Helena shuttered practically overnight. De Soto became a bastion for the remaining white families. Public schools today are 99 percent black.

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Stars Academy, alternative school

Stars Academy, an alternative school for expelled students, was at once a dumping ground and a valuable experiment. I met Patrick here. After a run of seven years, it was shut down by the Helena Public Schools in 2006 due to lack of funding. Once shuttered, it became a playground for vandals. In 2015, two teenagers from Mississippi lit a car on fire on the property, burning down parts of the walls and roof. The Arkansas Department of Education has no record of Stars existing. 


Photo Credit: Kathy Huang

Photo Credit: Kathy Huang

From the 1950s through the 1970s, Stars was known as "Helena Crossing." Elderly black residents who attended the school remember it fondly, recalling that teachers held high expectations and cared deeply for the children. In 2016, one of these residents bought the property and began work to refurbish it.