"Gentlemen, what have you to lose? You are not making any progress by remaining in camp--I say come out and see it for yourself. We'll pay your transportation . . . "
These were the challenging words of the employment manager from Seabrook Farms in New Jersey spoken at the Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas in mid-April, 1944. He was the personal representative of the late Charles F. Seabrook, founder of the world's largest frozen foods industry.
Attending the meeting were members of the Jerome Community Council, Block Managers and the Relocation Planning Commission. The appeal was for badly-needed manpower to contribute to the war effort.
Already in Seabrook were a dozen or so single evacuee workers from the Granada Relocation Center in Colorado, the first to hear of the offer in South Jersey. They were all Nisei who had arrived in January, 1944 and whose good work and conduct had won the admiration of the entire Seabrook staff.
As a result of the interest shown at this meeting, Fuju Sasaki, Harold Ouchida and Ellen Nakamura of the Jerome Relocation Commission were invited by Charles Seabrook to visit Seabrook Farms to study the possibilities for family relocation. These delegates, comprised of an Issei and two Nisei, spent several days in the area to study the existing working and housing conditions.
The Commission members found to their amazement that C. F. Seabrook's original 60-acre New Jersey farm had turned into a lush vegetable bowl of 20 thousand acres, with vast freezing, dehydrating and canning facilities to transform the field-fresh vegetables into ready-to-serve items for the table.
After meeting with officials of the nearby City of Bridgeton and the area schools, the Jerome representatives concluded their tour by stopping in Washington D.C., and met with Dillon S. Myer, Director of the War Relocation Authority. He gave them assurance of all-out and much-needed cooperation from WRA, for nowhere in the United States was there such a possibility for mass relocation of the evacuees.
Thus began the eventual family resettlement in Seabrook Farms, bringing Issei and Nisei families from the Jerome and Rohwer Relocation Centers in Arkansas, as well as from Poston and Gila Relocation Centers in Arizona, Granada in Colorado, Topaz in Utah, Heart Mountain in Wyoming, and Manzanar Relocation Center in California.
By the end of 1946 at the peak of relocation, over 2300 Japanese, constituting some 500 families, had settled in Seabrook where they processed acres of spinach, peas, asparagus and lima beans.
Through the far-sighted vision of Charles F. Seabrook, who left no stone unturned to endorse the relocation program, the Japanese evacuee families had gotten a new start in life and found means for a respectable livelihood, as well as making a substantial contribution to the war effort.
An important milestone was reached by the Issei in Seabrook when 265 persons filed their first citizenship Form N-300 paper at the Issei citizenship class. It was initiated in April 1947 through the joint efforts of the Seabrook Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and American Legion Shoemaker Post N. 95 of Bridgeton. The Shoemaker Post became the first in the United States to endorse the legislation to extend naturalization to persons of Japanese ancestry and the first to sponsor Issei citizenship classes with 194 alien Japanese enrolled in January 1948. The first group of Issei applicants were administered the oath by the Cumberland County Clerk later that year.
On June 29, 1953 at Seabrook, citizenship was conferred on 126 alien Japanese, the largest single group of Issei ever to be naturalized in the United States. Federal Judge David Horuvitz of Bridgeton, in a special session of his court, transferred the proceedings to Seabrook School because of the size of the class. It was the country's first mass swearing-in ceremony for the Issei Japanese. Repeating the oath of allegiance in unison were aging first generation Japanese men and women from all walks of life.
This unforgettable scene culminated a long and arduous preparation and study by the candidates, and the fervor with which the ceremondy took place reflected the Issei's prfound acceptance of the long denied prilileges of citizenship and its entailing responsibilities.
Among the newly-sworn citizens were three mothers who had lost sons in combat. These three Issei Gold Star Mothers from Seabrook were an important part of an impressive memorial service held by the National Japanese American Citizens League at Arlington National cemetery on June 2, 1963 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the activation of the 442nd Combat Team and the Nisei who served in the Military Intelligence Language Service in World War II. The Gold Star Mothers were symbolic of the hundreds of other immigrant Japanese women who had long been denied citizenship but had seen their citizen sons march off to far-flung battlefronts in order to make the supreme sacrifice for their country.
An outstanding Issei who received his citizenship during the mass swearing-in ceremony in Seabrook was Fuju Sasaki who had once lived in Florin, California. "Mayor," as he was known, was the first to petition for citizenship in 1947 and was the spokesman of long standing for the Seabrook Japanese community.
On March 28, 1964, Fuju Sasaki and his wife, Kikue, were paid a tribute by over 200 area friends at a testimonial dinner sponsored by the Seabrook chapter of the JACL prior to their departure for California. Mayor Sasaki was described as "an exemplary citizen, father and friend, who for 20 years of distinguished community service rendered through periods both trying and triumphant, dedicated himself to the welfare of the people at all times."
On July 11, 1953, Seabrook's JACL chapter sponsored the 10th anniversary celebration of the arrival of the Japanese. It also paid tribute to Charles F. Seabrook for having broken the barrier of prejudice during World War II and for having resettled more than 2,000 persons of Japanese ancestry on his farms. Over 400 persons attended the event, giving credit to those Issei who had by then become naturalized citizens. The principal speaker was Walter H. Judd, member of Congress from Minnesota, nationally recognized authority on U.S. foreign policy and Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Far East and Pacific Area.
Today the population of the Japanese Americans in Seabrook is back to that of 40 years ago, standing at 600 persons (150 families).
Traditional activities are still in evidence, attesting to this unique community, but the Bon Odori in July held by the Seabrook Buddhist Temple has replaced the Girl's Day Festival in March at Seabrook Community House as an established ethnic attraction.
Both Christian and Buddhist families continue to attend religious services in their respective places of worship.