After significant downsizing and refinancing in the mid-1950s, in 1959 Seabrook Farms was again in financial health, albeit with a reduced workforce. That same year, however, C.F. Seabrook, who was almost 80 years-old and in poor health, sold his controlling interest in the company to Seeman Brothers, a wholesale grocery corporation based in New York City. Faced with losing his voting power on the company’s board and under the influence of individuals who his son Jack accused of trying to profit off his declined mental capacities, overnight the sale ended the families’ involvement in the company they had controlled for more than a half century. Seeman Brothers would later sell Seabrook Farms’ facilities to another company. In 1976, the flash-freezing plant was closed for good. The remaining workforce of five hundred people lost their jobs, and 150 independent growers in the area lost their contracts. In 1977, two of C.F. Seabrook’s grandsons did start up a significantly smaller venture under the name of Seabrook Brothers and Sons, and in 1994 were able to reclaim the rights to use the famous Seabrook Farms brand name. That company remains in business to this day.
The lessons of incarceration and internment remain, lamentably, highly relevant to the present. During the very semester that the course in which this exhibition originated met, many of us were shocked to encounter – as just one example – the widely-circulated letter of David Bowers, the Democratic Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, discussing his (constitutionally untenable) position to bar Syrian refugees from resettlement in the city. In this letter, Bowers stated, repeating the flawed and incorrect rationale of 1942, that: “President Franklin D Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and it appears that threat of harm to America from [ISIS] now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.” On a global scale, the number of refugees fleeing dangerous situations has reached an unprecedented number. The United Nations reports that 15.1 million people are living in the camps that it monitors – a number that does not account for upwards of twenty million internally displaced persons worldwide. These refugees wait for sponsors. And March 2016 brings little optimism that those sponsors, in the form of nation states willing to accept fellow humans in dire straits, are forthcoming.
In the face of this daunting future, Seabrook Farms’ history, in all its complications, deserves another look. Whether formally classified as refugees or not, all of the groups who ended up at Seabrook were vulnerable, captive, or compelled by market forces to make hard choices about whether relocation to southern New Jersey would improve their lives or bring further difficulties. We hope this exhibition honors the laborers who made these decisions and who upon joining the company town and community that was Seabrook Farms, continued to struggle against “invisible restraints.”
Letter from the Roanoke Mayor
A November 2015 statement issued by David Bowers, the Democratic Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, justifies barring Syrian refugees from resettlement in the city on the grounds that like Japanese Americans, "the threat of harm to America from Isis is now just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.” Mayor's Office, City of Roanoke