Seabrook Farms: Perception vs. Reality

CF Seabrook appreciation night. Courtesy of: Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection

End of can line. Courtesy of:  Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection

Morio with a box of goodies. Credit: Courtesy of Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection. Courtesy of: Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection

Enjoying their delicious Chinese dinner. Courtesy of: Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection

Written by - Karenjot Kaur

"To learn more about Seabrook Farms’ history, visit: www.njdigitalhighway.org/exhibits/seabrook_farms."

Charles Franklin (C.F.) Seabrook, head of the Seabrook Farms’ corporation, was often lauded for his efforts to welcome refugee groups into his safe community. He created a labor camp where many refugees sought safety, but received this at the cost of working long and grueling hours to make Seabrook’s agribusiness among the most successful ventures of the time. Though noted for speaking derogatively toward some races by his family, Seabrook (Image 1) was annually honored by his workers, through a “Seabrook Appreciation Night.” Despite his symbolic contributions to the community, such as sponsoring sports teams, C.F. was removed from his laborers on a personal level. The staunch businessman was primarily concerned with the welfare and success of his empire. C.F. was also disconnected from his own family. The man refused to retire or cede authority over his company, and often degraded his sons, refusing to share his power. Seabrook’s image as a man of compassion, who sought to help homeless and stateless refugees, is complicated by his position as a budding industrialist who took careful advantage of whole groups’ displacement.

Japanese American internees were lured to Seabrook Farms by the promise of a safe community, and by the opportunity to give back to the nation that had questioned their loyalty to the nation. After being forced into concentration camps by Executive Order 9066, internees were released to this company town, away from the general American population. At Seabrook, they worked on assembly lines (Image 2) and in the fields. They performed labor under the supervision of C.F. Seabrook, who often demanded his workers be available at any and all hours of the day during the busy season.

Internees who chose to relocate were guaranteed, as Seabrook’s promotional materials and advertisements indicate, basic necessities such as food, housing, and wages. Nonetheless, parolees, often arriving in large families, were given one small apartment to share. Appearing substantial at first, meals became unsatisfactory to some, when they were only served once a day (Image 3). The promised wages often had discrepancies as well, since additional costs for housing and meals were often deducted from them, and males and females received different wages for similar work and hours. Seabrook Farms’ picturesque appearance as a town with organized community dinners and events, though somewhat true, was often exaggerated by Seabrook to lure more workers, and it became the single largest recipient of released internees. Refugees organized patriotic events for themselves, attempting to revive their hope for being included in the nation, which would lead to their prosperity.

Often depicted as a diverse and integrated community within memoirs and images, the reality was more complicated. While images sought to create the appearance of unity, these images were staged during major holidays and other special events, and were not in fact daily ritual. Just as men and women were divided in their means of labor, different ethnic groups were also divided through work and housing. The groups were separated even within their housing structures, with the Japanese being given small apartments, and those of European descent occupying more spacious homes. Each sect, with different rituals and cultural traditions, spatially organized smaller communities within Seabrook Farms. Children, despite attending a uniform school, often resorted to mingling with those within their community boundaries when classes were dismissed. Though a refuge to various groups, Seabrook Farms was not equal for all in terms of housing, labor and community life.