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Childhood and the Defense of Innocence

Childhood and the Defense of Innocence

Children at Seabrook Farms lived seemingly normal lives, reminiscent of those in any other American suburban town. They attended school and routinely participated in after-school activities while their parents worked. They often had little knowledge of the hardships associated with internment or of the long hours that their parents endured. Laboring parents did not want their children to develop any sort of resentment. They feared that negative attitudes would leave their children susceptible to accusations of disloyalty, a lingering concern that was part of the trauma of internment. Seabrook Farms was seen as an opportunity to start a new American life, and parents wanted to give their children the best chance possible. Helge T. Kangur, an Estonian refugee who grew up at Seabrook, recalled how she did not even learn about internment until she was much older, as an adult – despite being friends with numerous Nisei children and their families.

Thus, children became active members of their communities, participating in the Boy and Girl Scouts and school sports like softball and basketball. Over the summer, they attended day camps, where children of Japanese, Estonian, Peruvian, and other ancestries intermingled and formed friendships. As Estonian Liina Keerdoja recalls from her childhood at Seabrook, “We learned together, played together, occasionally got into fights together, and in the process came to regard one another’s different cultural and ethnic backgrounds not as something negative, but as the most normal and natural thing in the world.” Children at Seabrook could often be found in the community houses, attending dances, ceremonies and holiday events with their peers and sometimes even their parents. Children who lived at Seabrook Farms were not exempt from agricultural labor. During the busy picking season in the late spring and early summer, children were recruited to help work in the fields.

Bridgeton migrant child

In a 1943 photo from the Farm Security Administration, a small child is shown picking beans in a field. Many migrant workers traveled with their children, and reformers were concerned about working conditions, the loss of schooling hours, and access to healthcare. Although New Jersey had laws regulating child labor, they were often ignored. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress

Boys must be men

During World War Two, New Jersey amended its child labor and compulsory education laws in order to allow children to help make up for labor scarcities in agricultural production. In 1943, Seabrook Farms experimented with employing a Boy Scouts troop, who were paid at a discounted rate since they were learning the value of patriotism as part of what was called the "Victory Program." The program was cut short by a drought and questions about whether the workers were efficient enough. Courtesy of the Consumers League of New Jersey Records, MC 1090, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries

Victory Garden

In a farming community, many of the activities that children participated in focused on preparing them for careers in agriculture. Many workers, however, aspired to send their children to college and allow them to pursue careers in other professions. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

Frank and John Clark

This photograph shows Frank and John Clark working at Koster Nursery. The boys were paid 50 cents an hour for their work. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

Recess Time

A group of children play "ring around the rosy." Children who grew up at Seabrook recall a close-knit community, where everyone knew everyone else, and when holidays and other special occasions were inclusive events. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

Day Camp at Parvin State Park

Nearby Parvin State Park was the site of a camp for the children of Seabrook employees. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway