Seventy-five years ago, University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi said enough was enough and simply refused to obey an 8pm curfew aimed only at persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast. He got himself arrested and was held in a jail cell on the top floor of the King County Courthouse for nine months. He took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For decades I worked in that courthouse, covering trials for the all-news radio station in Seattle, then directing communications for a series of County Executives and the County Council. I was always aware that Gordon’s cell was somewhere on the 10th floor, in the old jail near the Council chambers. Gordon’s stay there is now memorialized by the plaque above, dedicated on May 15. Gordon’s son Jay came down from Vancouver, BC, to speak and help unveil the plaque in a ceremony sponsored by King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski. He was joined by Councilmember Larry Gossett, “the conscience of the council,” who was also jailed there in the civil rights struggle of the 60s.
Coram nobis attorney Rod Kawakami read from Gordon’s letters from jail, which Densho director Tom Ikeda likened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail — both acts of civil disobedience in pursuit of justice. Jay was taken back to see the old Tank 3-C, which has since been repurposed as a holding cell for Superior Court as well as offices and a lunch room. From a nearby window you can look out to see a new affordable housing project named Hirabayashi Place.
Jeanne Sakata’s outstanding play based on Gordon’s words, HOLD THESE TRUTHS, opens May 30 at the Pasadena Playhouse for a four-week run.