History, Japanese American

Gordon Hirabayashi

Gordon Hirabayashi (right) and Grace Uyehara at the Supreme Court. Photo by Doris Sato, 1987.

Gordon Hirabayashi (right) and Grayce Uyehara at the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy Doris Sato, 1987.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program honors the life and legacy of Gordon Hirabayashi, who passed away on January 2, 2012. Hirabayashi was a sociology professor, civil rights activist, and known for challenging the basis of Executive Order (EO) 9066, which had authorized the evacuation and imprisonment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.  He was the petitioner in court case, Hirabayashi v. United States (1943).

Gordon Hirabayashi in 1942.

Gordon Hirabayashi, 1942.

While a student at the University of Washington,  Hirabayashi objected to EO 9066 by refusing to abide by a curfew imposed on Japanese Americans and refusing to enter a relocation camp.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the government’s argument that the restrictions were a military necessity. It took four decades for Hirabayashi to be vindicated, with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that the internment policy “had been based on political expediency, not on any risk to national security,” as The Associated Press wrote.

Hirabayashi’s story about U.S. civil rights history was featured in the landmark exhibition, A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S. Constitution at the National Museum of American History.

Here is an interview from the exhibit:

“I was charged with uh, violation of uh, exclusion order. And then, subsequently I was given a count two, uh, curfew violation by my own admission. They said: ‘If you feel this way, what’d you do about the curfew?’ I said: ‘Well, uh what were you doing the last coupla’ nights, were you out after eight?’ And he says ‘Yeah.’ And I said: ‘Well, so was I.’ And he said: ‘Oh, then you violated the curfew.’ And he put me down. So those were the charges against me. The uh, instruction (I’m condensing this) but the instruction of the judge to the jury uh, as they were to leave was: ‘You can forget all that Constitutional discussion by the defense. The Western Defense Command order is: That all persons of Japanese ancestry both alien and non-alien must abide by these orders. You are to determine first of all whether he is of Japanese ancestry. If he is, did he abide by these orders?’ And, all of those questions were admitted by me.”

— Gordon Hirabayashi: Violation of Exclusion Order

Save the Date!

The Smithsonian Annual Day of Remembrance (DOR) is on February 18, 2012.  It will be at 2pm at the Warner Brothers Theater in the National Museum of American History.

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