My grandparents lived through World War II in Hawaii. They didn’t go to a Japanese internment camp, but they never talked about those years. My parents were just kids in Honolulu and Keaau, and they don’t talk about the war either. It makes me sad that so many stories and experiences may be lost – both the painful acts and the people who stood up against injustice.
So I am grateful that on January 30, Hawaii will celebrate Civil Liberties and the Constitution Day. It is both Fred Korematsu’s birthday and a day to honor people who helped preserve our civil liberties.
Act 94 is a well-written and inspiring bill because it includes short biographies of people who had an impact on Japanese-American civil liberties after World War II. Several Americans of Japanese ancestry challenged the validity and constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and Public Law 77-503, protecting all of us.
Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American, was living on the west coast of the United States during World War II, when he was arrested and convicted of defying government orders to report to an internment camp. He appealed and lost his case at the United States Supreme Court, which ruled his incarceration was warranted. Forty-one years later, on November 10, 1983, United States District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel vacated Korematsu’s conviction, an action considered pivotal in civil-rights history.
Gordon Hirabayashi, born in 1918 in Washington state to Japanese parents who had immigrated to the United States, was charged by a federal grand jury in Seattle with violation of Public Law 77-503. He appealed his case to the United States Supreme Court in the first challenge to Executive Order 9066 but lost his appeal when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to uphold Mr. Hirabayashi’s conviction for violating the Executive Order. Forty-four years later, in September 1987, his conviction was vacated.
Min Yasui was born in October 1916 in Oregon to Japanese parents and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Infantry Reserve. Although receiving orders to report to Fort Vancouver in Portland, Mr. Yasui was told that he was unacceptable for service and was immediately ordered off the base. Mr. Yasui was turned away eight more times after offering to fulfill his service to his country. On March 28, 1942, Mr. Yasui directly challenged the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and was arrested. Although his case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Mr. Yasui for violating Executive Order 9066. Forty-two years later, in 1984, the courts vacated Mr. Yasui’s conviction.
Mitsuye Endo, a native of Sacramento, California, was the only female resister of Executive Order 9066. Ms. Endo’s case reached the United States Supreme Court and was the only internment case in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of the plaintiff. Ms. Endo’s petition before the Supreme Court forced federal authorities to re-examine the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 and ultimately resulted in a decision by the Supreme Court that officially re-opened the west coast of the United States for resettlement by Americans of Japanese ancestry.
If you are interested in learning more about Fred Korematsu, Patsy Mink, and children and immigration law, you may want to make time for the “Undaunted Courage and Civil Liberties” lecture on Thursday, January 30 at 5:30 pm at Aliiolani Hale, Judiciary History Center in Honolulu. Eric Yamamoto, the Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice, will speak about Fred Korematsu; Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Sabrina McKenna (’82) will provide insight into the life of Patsy T. Mink; and Honolulu Attorney John Egan will discuss the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.
For teachers and students of all grade levels, the Korematsu Institute offers a downloadable “Fred T. Korematsu: Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up” lesson plan. For middle school and high school students, the Annenberg Classroom offers a downloadable “When National Security Trumps Individual Rights” lesson plan by Linda Weber; and a 27-minute documentary, “Korematsu and Civil Liberties.”