These are the words I have long dreaded having to write: Frank Emi died today. We’ve lost a giant. That’s him in the poster above, standing squarely with his arms crossed, defying the government and our own Japanese American leadership, by organizing a movement inside an American concentration camp to refuse to report for draft induction in order to protest mass incarceration based solely on race. It was an honor to know him and to be able to document his story on film. Here’s an outtake from our film of Frank descibing how he and the other Fair Play Committee leaders earned the respect of other inmates and officials inside Leavenworth federal penitentiary in WW2.
Frank Emi was a man 40 years ahead of his time. He was an ordinary young man, but a man of conviction who rose to the occasion when faced with the injustice of the camps. With a wife and two kids he was not even eligible to be drafted out of camp, but he risked his freedom and the welfare of his family to help lead the largest organized resistance inside the camps. It was a classic example of civil disobedience in the American twentieth century, and he and others paid the prce: two years in federal prison.
By his words and his deeds, Frank Emi leaves a legacy for those who seek evidence that Japanese America did not endure the loss of all their rights, and three years in camp, without some kind of protest or resistance.
Martha Nakagawa warned me that Frank had recently been taken to the ICU. She was gracious enough to bring her portable DVD player to the hospital and play Frank this clip and other outtakes from the film. I’m glad he was able to see the work and know that a DVD is soon coming out. Martha said Frank was moved to a hospice last Saturday. It is still sinking in that Frank is gone. Rest in peace Frank, and thanks for marking your place in Japanese American history.