The Company Town at Seabrook Farms, NJ: Internment, Migration, and Resettlement in the WWII Era, is a two-week summer institute for teachers taking place at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. In this institute, we will use Seabrook Farms as a case study into different histories of relocation during the World War II era. We will explore how this company town recruited and sponsored incarcerated Japanese Americans and Japanese Peruvians, guestworkers from the Caribbean, and Eastern European refugees to come to southern New Jersey as agricultural laborers.
Founded in the early twentieth century by C.F. Seabrook, Seabrook Farms was a frozen-foods and canning agribusiness located in southern New Jersey. During its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, the company employed more than 6,000 laborers at peak production, and produced roughly two-thirds of all the frozen food consumed in the United States. Seabrook Farms was transformed during World War II, when it became the largest single recipient of Japanese American detainees from internment camps who, after receiving security clearance from the federal government, were eligible to participate in supervised work release programs. Approximately 2,500 Japanese Americans relocated to Seabrook Farms, including many families. At Seabrook Farms, they worked and lived alongside Barbadians, Jamaicans, and black and white migrant laborers from the American South, and, after the war, with Japanese Peruvians imprisoned by the United States and Estonians sponsored from Displaced Persons camps in occupied Germany.
At a moment when debates about the United States’ policies toward immigrants, refugees, and guestworkers have become a matter of national concern and unavoidable topic of discussion in schools and homes across the country, a goal of this institute is to train teachers to become intermediaries who can direct these conversations to the analysis of historic evidence while also calling attention to the economic, political, and social issues at stake in the present.
Institute participants will be encouraged to compare Seabrook Farms to other locations where released internees, migrant workers, and refugees were sent to during World War II and its aftermath. They will read and discuss readings that contextualize Japanese American internment, refugee resettlement, and guestworker programs as federal policies, and the legal, cultural, and social histories that surround these measures. They will be introduced to digitized primary sources and other materials that have been assembled for the institute, and each day will learn about what these materials contain, and how they might be used in the classroom. Finally, institute participants will be given the autonomy to research, develop, and workshop curricular materials intended for use in their own classrooms. During the institute, participants will receive structured feedback and suggestions and from the institute’s faculty and from peers.