Clarksburg: an Exception to School Segregation

A 1921 school photo featuring students both white and Asian - likely Japanese American - mixed together.

Photo courtesy of Clarksburg Library Collection and Friends of the 1883 Clarksburg Schoolhouse

Class photos have an eternal charm, with their mix of children who are happy, grumpy, candid, posed, awkward, or indifferent (and inevitably at least one with wildly unkempt hair). This 1921 photo from Merritt School – now known as the 1883 Clarksburg Schoolhouse – is no different.

But there’s something about this photo that is not eternal, and actually surprising for its time: diversity. White and Asian children – probably mostly Japanese-American – are interspersed randomly, as you would expect to see in a school photo taken today, over 100 years later.

Ethnic diversity has been a hallmark of the Delta since the fertile farmland here was “reclaimed” from swamps, drawing settlers from China, Holland, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, and Portugal.

Racial harmony, however, was not a given. After arriving in the late 1800s, Japanese immigrants quickly met with success in farming[i], and then backlash. By 1913, the state had passed the Alien Land Law prohibiting Japanese and other Asian immigrants from owning land or leasing land for more than three years[ii]. And in 1921, state-sponsored segregation began, though schools in nearby communities were already segregated.[iii]

Not Clarksburg, though. “It was always integrated,” said Steve Hiromoto, a resident historian for Clarksburg’s Japanese community whose great, great grandfather arrived in Clarksburg from Japan in 1898.

There actually was a Japanese school in Clarksburg: Holland Union Gakuen. Built in 1925, Hiromoto said, it was not an alternative school for Japanese-American children, but rather an additional school that would help the children retain Japanese language and culture.

What was it about Clarksburg that fostered integration even as there was segregation in nearby communities? Hiromoto speculates that it may be the nature of the community, with all members focused on farming.

“My family assimilated with the community because it was a farm-based community, and they were involved in a lot of activities the other farm families were involved in,” he said. “They felt welcome and able to contribute where they could.”

In other communities, there were distinct Japantown districts where immigrants might be more likely to live and socialize mostly with fellow Japanese immigrants. “Clarksburg didn’t have a situation like that,” Hiromoto said.

Clarksburg public schools remained integrated for two more decades after this photo was taken, and it was not a community decision that ended it – it was the President of the United States.  The U.S. had entered World War II, and fear and distrust of the Japanese was running high, so on February 19, 1942, the president issued Executive Order 9066, ordering 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry into relocation camps. All of Clarksburg’s Japanese-American families had to leave.

Many didn’t return, but the Japanese presence in the Delta remains. Of 100 Japanese-American families that left the Clarksburg region, about 25 came back, and 10 of those remain in this small farming community to this day. Walnut Grove has an operating Buddhist temple. And Isleton’s and Walnut Grove’s Japantowns are on the National Register of Historic Places. All are living facets of history in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area.

The school pictured in the photo above is being restored by a community group called the Friends of the 1883 Clarksburg Schoolhouse, with support from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (grants for restoration and property acquisition), the Delta Protection Commission (feasibility study and interpretive guidance) and many individual donors in the community. Learn more at www.1883clarksburgschoolhouse.org.


[i] Jennifer Helzer, California State University, Stanislaus, “Building Communities – Economics & Ethnicity”

[ii] Philip Garone, California State University, Stanislaus, “Managing the Gardin: Agriculture, Reclamation, and Restoration in the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta”

[iii] Jennifer Helzer, California State University, Stanislaus, “Building Communities – Economics & Ethnicity”

National Heritage Area Signs Going Up in the Delta

WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. (June 19, 2023) Rich farmland on the left, the Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel and Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area on the right. These iconic Delta scenes form the backdrop for one of the first three signs welcoming motorists to the Delta and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area.

Roadside sign that says "WELCOME Sacramento - San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area"

This was one of the first three signs installed in the Delta welcoming motorists to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area. (PHOTO: Delta Protection Commission)

Two signs were installed last week by the California Conservation Corps: one on southbound Jefferson Boulevard just outside of West Sacramento, where the road rises to the Ship Channel levee; the other on Interstate 80 at the eastbound East Chiles Road onramp to the Yolo Causeway. One was installed in late April on Hood Franklin Road just west of the southbound offramp from Interstate 5.

Eight more signs are planned in locations throughout the Delta along I-5, I-580, Highway 12 and Highway 4.

The signs are a highly visible part of the Commission’s efforts to educate the public about the Delta’s value as an agricultural, natural, historic, recreational and cultural resource. And they have been warmly received in Delta communities that welcome recognition of the Delta’s importance.

“It just acknowledges what we’ve known, that the Delta is special place and it deserves recognition,” said Mario Moreno, chair of the Hood Community Council. “It’s beautiful, and it should be treasured and taken care of.”

A new sign welcoming motorists to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area

Hood Community Council Chair Mario Moreno in front of a new sign welcoming motorists to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area (PHOTO: ©Mario Moreno 2023 – used with permission)

The sign installation also marks growing recognition of the Delta National Heritage Area, which Congress designated as California’s first – and so far only – NHA in 2019. The Delta Protection Commission is the local entity coordinating the NHA’s development; it is currently working on a management plan that is due to the Secretary of the Interior next March.

In addition to the welcome sign program, the Commission is working to develop both wayfinding and interpretive signs (PDF) to be placed throughout the Delta, using a grant from Caltrans’s Clean California program.

There has been a longstanding need for signage in the Delta, identified in the Commission’s 2012 Economic Sustainability Plan, which found the Delta economy generally, and recreation and tourism specifically, suffer from a lack of branding and marketing.

The welcome signs are a true joint effort, led by the Delta Protection Commission but conceived and carried out in partnership with the Delta Stewardship Council; the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy; the California Conservation Corps; Caltrans districts 3, 4 and 10; and California Prison Industry, which made the signs.


For further information: Contact Information Officer Holly Heyser at holly.heyser@delta.ca.gov.

Committee Approves Goals for National Heritage Area

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area logoWEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. (June 9, 2023) – A key committee adopted five goals last week for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area.

“We are excited to make progress on the NHA management plan, but the real significance of this step is that the goals describe our vision of the future of the Delta,” said Blake Roberts, the Delta Protection Commission program manager overseeing development of the National Heritage Area.

The Delta National Heritage Area is the first – and so far only – NHA in California, a distinction that underscores the region’s historical and cultural value in a state better known nationally for its coastal cities and resources. National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, historic, and recreation resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape.

Congress created the Delta NHA in 2019 and designated the state Delta Protection Commission as the NHA’s local coordinating entity. It is responsible for developing a management plan, coordinating projects and programs and providing funding and support to other entities implementing heritage programs.

So far, the NHA’s Management Plan Advisory Committee has completed the mission statement, vision statement and goals for the NHA.

Its next steps are to develop the objectives and strategies for two sections of the plan: resource stewardship, and heritage development and tourism. It also will be reviewing draft sections of the plan, including the interpretive plan and resource inventory.

The goals approved on June 1 by the Commission’s National Heritage Area Management Plan Advisory Committee are:

Goal 1: Guided by interpretation, and through institutional leadership and community projects, promote and instill an evolving understanding and appreciation of the historical and ongoing changes in the Delta’s land, water, wildlife, and communities.

Goal 2: Steward the heritage and culture of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, by identifying, preserving, conserving, and enhancing the unique identity, resources, and living traditions of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Goal 3: Support sustainable tourism and economic development by encouraging responsible use of, and visitation to, the Delta’s unique resources and communities.

Goal 4: Connect and support collaboration among governmental and non-governmental partners, businesses, and residents to establish a brand that readily identifies the Delta NHA and increases public awareness.

Goal 5: Seek, establish, and maintain collaborative partnerships, effective governance principles, and sustainable business practices to manage the coordinating entity and the NHA.

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