Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: James T. Johnston - William R. Johnston - Dorothy J. Whitlock Interview
Narrators: James T. Johnston, William R. Johnston, Dorothy J. Whitlock
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Sedona, Arizona
Date: April 16, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-jjames_g-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

KL: Yeah, I wanted to ask about your memories of teachers or activities in class.

WJ: I think my second grade teacher's name was Miss Lowe. Don't have a clue about the first name.

DW: I can't remember my teachers' names. I can't remember any --

KL: Were they from Arkansas?

DW: I don't know.

WJ: You know, they drew in people to staff the camps from all over the government agencies. Lot of them were slowing down and were kind of closing down, so they had excess personnel, and then CCC and WPA. Teachers, I don't remember exactly where they came from, but they got some excellent teachers. I think some of the teachers --

JJ: That was, I remember reading...

WJ: -- it was a better-paying job than a lot of --

DW: You didn't remember, but you read that.

JJ: I do remember reading that there was a big rift within the education of Arkansas because the camps paid better than the rural...

WJ: The rural school districts did.

JJ: And the good teachers were drawn to the camps, both at Jerome and Rohwer, to teach. So I think it all adds up, probably those schools were better equipped and doing a better job of education than the rural schools in Arkansas were. But I'm just reading these, this pay disparity was a big thing.

WJ: Yeah, that drew in better teachers, I think.

JJ: And then added to the bitterness against the camp, too.

DW: And Bill and I both experienced, when we finished, we left Kelso and went to North Little Rock, we were fourth grade to sixth grade. And we were both way behind in our classes, but I think it was Kelso. I mean, we lost all that year of education, because I remember being very challenged and always, I kind of liked school, did all kinds of good things. I think we had very good teachers, yeah. But Kelso was, we just kind of survived.

WJ: Another thing that... she kind of complained that the books at the schools in camps, in Rohwer camp particularly, because that was what her thesis was about, tried to indoctrinate the kids that America was good and Japan is bad.

DW: Whoa.

WJ: And I told her, I said --

DW: I'm sorry.

WJ: -- "I'm just second and third grade, but I don't remember anything like that at all."

DW: No.

WJ: Do you?

DW: No. In fact, it'd be almost the opposite in that we were a minority, but trying to get us to understand the goodness, niceness of our Japanese friends in our room. I mean... I wonder where she got that.

KL: A lot of the teachers at Manzanar were drawn to -- well, I guess I shouldn't say a lot, but one of the teachers I know more about was drawn there because she wanted to be helpful to the kids who were being held in Manzanar. And I suspect maybe your teachers, I don't know, do you feel like they had that interest in trying to build ties between Japanese and --

DW: I would think that would add into it, yeah.

WJ: Yeah. The teacher who had any impulse to try to make things better for these people, that extra pay just made it click in their mind, "Hey, that's where I need to go."

DW: Well, I started saying, I can't see anyone taking that job if they were discriminating, or they felt, if they felt the prejudice against the Japanese, why would you sign up to...

WJ: Why would you sign up to work?

KL: Unless you're sadistic.

DW: Yeah, maybe you just wanted the power, I don't know.

KL: What teachers do you remember? Do you remember names and personalities?

DW: I can't remember names, and the one I remember was the full year that I went, which was fifth grade, I guess. But she was a younger woman, outstanding. She had us writing a school newspaper, she let us tape murals on the walls, because these were just...

KL: Were they barracks? What were the facilities, the school classrooms?

DW: They were all in just these barracks again, divided into rooms. And plasterboard walls inside, that's why she let us paint 'em, we painted these humongous murals, some of 'em were jungles and everything else, and newspaper, we raised tadpoles, we read, we had plays, we just... but always stimulating. I know she stimulated me because I wanted to write in that paper so badly, but it was all printed, mimeographed. Any child in there that was Japanese was better at printing than the Caucasian girls. And I had to beg, finally she let me write one little paragraph one time. Because it didn't meet up with the standards she was expecting in the paper, I couldn't print that nice. [Laughs]

KL: Were the teachers Caucasian?

DW: Yes.

WJ: Every class had a Caucasian teacher and Japanese...

DW: Japanese aide, yes.

WJ: Aide. And part of that was for languages, because like I said, Dot doesn't remember kids in her class, and there might not have been, but there were some in mine that did not speak English, or at least not fluently. So that was an interpreter, and also the camp was trying to occupy these people with jobs, you know. They didn't pay 'em anything.

DW: Well, and you know, that's another thing that was totally unique in that they had aides in the classroom, and we did have. And we weren't overwhelmed --

WJ: Which probably helped the schools operate more efficiently and everything, because the teachers could teach.

DW: Yeah, sorting 'em by groups, yeah.

WJ: Sorting them by group.

KL: Or someone needed help.

DW: Yeah. Just more individual coaching, yeah.

KL: How many kids were in a classroom, about?

DW: I was trying to remember that. I don't remember my class being real large, so probably twenty-five or so.

WJ: I think mine was more like forty or so.

DW: Really?

WJ: Well, they had two second grades, too. There was eighty-five hundred people in the camp, and most of 'em had kids.

DW: I know, but, I mean, we had more classes, but I don't remember the room... I'm looking at it, and I don't remember the room being that crowded.

WJ: Probably it was a big room. [Laughs]

DW: It could have been, yeah.

WJ: It was made of... I would think there were a lot of kids in there, not that we were crowded. That's the reason I came up with forty.

DW: It could have been, because --

WJ: Because you go to Kelso and you've got eight and ten.

DW: Well, fourth, fifth and sixth were all in the same room.

JJ: This album is for the tenth, eleventh and twelfth grades, and there were four pages of tenth graders, and I would say that's probably at least twenty, forty, sixty, eighty.

DW: Yeah, okay. That had to be... I just don't remember being crowded at all. But I do know that would have been very unusual, because I'm a teacher. I would love to have classrooms of twenty-five.

KL: Did you stay with the same kids all day?

DW: Yes, we did. Now, in high school, if I remember right, they did break them up into math teachers, science teachers and so forth.

WJ: They moved around. I remember seeing the kids changing classes.

DW: Well, even in Dyess, by the time you got to junior high, you had a whole room which you broke up for English, math, science, etcetera. And then it was the little country town, school.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.