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-01-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

WJ: The one mix that I remember Mother talking about, of course, Mother was home demonstration, she was impressed with some of the flower arranging the Japanese ladies were doing. And McGehee had a home demonstration club.

DW: A garden club.

WJ: Garden club, whatever it was. And so she got a group of the Japanese women and got permission to take 'em out of the camp and into McGehee. They got snubbed big time at this meeting. They wouldn't talk to 'em, wouldn't pay any attention to what they were trying to show 'em about, really didn't give them much opportunity to show anything about flower arranging. And mother came back just terribly upset.

DW: She just lugged up and brought 'em home.

WJ: Hurt and everything else.

DW: She probably tried that too quickly.

WJ: Yeah, she did.

KL: Was it early in the camp?

WJ: It was early, a little too early to... she could have probably done it the last year we were there --

DW: At the last year of the camp.

WJ: -- but she did it in the first year we were there.

KL: Did someone invite her or give her permission, do you think? Do you think that person...

DW: Oh, somebody invited her to the garden club?

KL: From the garden club?

WJ: I think so.

DW: That person was mistaken.

WJ: Yeah, she thought it'd be acceptable and the membership didn't. And after that, Mother saw what it was, and I probably didn't know if somebody said McGehee.

JJ: Well, you know, of course, I have no memories of any of this, but I've read enough to know that it wasn't just the fear of the Japanese that was part of the hatred. This part of the delta is so poor and so poverty-stricken that the people, the Japanese in camp, as I understand, really were living and leading a better life than the people outside the camp.

DW: And certainly a lot of the poor black people.

WJ: We had electricity in the camp, and an awful lot of the surrounding area didn't.

DW: Well, and Rohwer is a little town, whether it was a store and a post office. And then my friend Barbara Gould, her dad had this plantation and owned all the country around there including Rohwer. And so you had sharecroppers who were black and very poor, and didn't have a lot. Barbara and I went visiting, and she knew all of them, and so she'd take me around. But they lived very, very poorly, and so yeah, to their eyes, the Japanese were...

WJ: There were some rumors that because there was meat rationing and basic food rationing, and all the rationing during the war, locals thought that the Japanese camp was getting more of a share than they should.

KL: Did you hear your folks talking about that?

DW: Well, I remember Dad talking about it, Mother too, because we were on rations and so was the camp like everybody else.

WJ: Just the same as everybody else was. And the camp mess halls, for how many people they had eating at their mess hall, that's how many coupons you had.

DW: That's how many coupons you had.

KL: Those rumors were present in the Owens Valley also.

DW: It'd feel like, okay, they're over there behind all this, they've got things better than we do.

KL: Less so, I think. I mean, I've heard other people talk about that contrast that you speak of, of the poverty outside of the camp, and electricity and clothing and food.

DW: Yeah, we did actually in that standpoint had a better standard of living than certainly the sharecroppers there around Rohwer.

KL: When you would go visit sharecropping families, what was the reception of you like, and of your friend?

DW: Well, the reason I could go was because I went with Barbara. And her dad was their boss, and she could go anywhere, and she knew all of 'em, and we'd just go, and so it was always great. In fact, the only time I ever really got in trouble, Barbara and I, well, several times, serious trouble. We played a joke on their black cook, liked to scare her into a heart attack. Anyway, I think we were grounded like a week.

KL: What did you do?

DW: They had a great big kitchen like a plantation did, and the stairs from the attic came down into the kitchen. And Barbara and I had been up playing in the attic, and we had found this long stuffed cotton snake. We slipped down the stairway and Buela was over the sink doing something, and we just slid it across the floor, the linoleum floor. Well, it just did one of those totally unexpected things, but it went perfectly over, hit her leg, and wrapped around her leg. She went straight up, the dishes went flying, she shrieked. I thought... she did, but Barbara's mother would never have spanked us, but if she ever would have, that would have been it. And then we're crying because we didn't mean to scare her that badly, and Barbara, for instance, loved chicken feet for some reason. And so whenever Beula cooked chicken, she always fried the feet for Barbara and me. I mean, she was just like our mother. And so then when we scared her so badly, but, I mean, that's one of the worst trouble we ever got into was scaring our...

WJ: I'd say you weren't caught every time.

DW: No, we usually got caught, but we got in big trouble one time. Somebody told Barbara that if you picked the honeybees off the honeysuckle, the big bumblebee things, if they had a spot on their forehead they couldn't sting you. Well, because it was like walking on fire, because we had no fear of the bees, we never got stung, but we started catching them. And then we thought, "Now what do you we do with these?" We filled her mother's Lincoln with bees and forgot to turn 'em out. And she went out the next day to go to church, or no, just... they were all going to church, of course, they were Catholics, they were going to church. Well, I don't think we ever... we went in another car, and we had the job of getting all those bees out of the car. We got in trouble for that.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.