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For nearly two decades Frank Abe has been instrumental in recovering the story of the Heart Mountain resisters. Abe helped produce the first “Day of Remembrance” media events that publicly dramatized the campaign for redress for America’s wartime concentration camps. He was a founding member of the Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco and the Asian American Journalists Association in Seattle, and was featured as a JACL-like camp leader in the NBC/Universal movie, Farewell to Manzanar. He was for many years an award-winning reporter for KIRO Newsradio, the CBS Radio affiliate in Seattle, and is currently Director of Communications for the King County Executive in Seattle.

Frank Abe, a third-generation Japanese American, grew up being told that his parents’ generation had passively submitted to the wholesale denial of their rights during World War II in order to prove their loyalty.

The early question of his generation, “Why didn’t you resist?,” was usually answered by a pat on the head and an admonition against applying the values of today to events of the past.

Later as a journalist, Abe was astonished to learn that the area where he grew up, the Santa Clara Valley in Northern California, was once the home of many who later resisted the draft at Heart Mountain. Any mention of an organized resistance had been left out of the books he had read by the unofficial keepers of Japanese American history.

Feeling he had been misled, Abe sought out stories of the resisters and felt compelled to share them. He wrote an article for a community paper reclaiming the resistance as part of his heritage. Thus began the ten-year journey to the film Conscience and the Constitution.

After interviewing as many of the survivors of the resistance at Heart Mountain as he could, and investigating their stories, Abe feels the question for Japanese Americans is not “Why didn’t you resist,” but “Why did you turn your backs on those who resisted?”

As a reporter for KIRO Newsradio in Seattle, Washington, Abe won numerous awards during his broadcasting career. He was honored as a founder of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and served as a National Vice-President for Broadcast. He is currently Director of Communications for the King County Executive in Seattle.

For the campaign to redress the wrongs of the camps, Abe helped create and produce the first “Days of Remembrance” in Seattle and Portland in 1978 and 1979. To continue the campaign, he was instrumental in creation of the National Council for Japanese American Redress in Seattle in 1979, which lobbied for a redress bill and later sued the government for reparations. With the American Friends Service Committee, he helped direct a series of symposiums, “Japanese America: Contemporary Perspectives on the Internment.”

With a B.A. in theater directing from the University of California at Santa Cruz and professional actors’ training at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Abe was a founding member of the Asian American Theater Workshop (now Theater Company) in San Francisco. He was featured as a concentration camp leader in John Korty’s 1976 NBC-TV movie, Farewell to Manzanar.

Abe’s own father was incarcerated at Heart Mountain. Only after making this film did he learn that his father donated $2 to the Fair Play Committee and subscribed to the Rocky Shimpo newspaper where James Omura’s editorials appeared.

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The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration

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