Category Archives: Gordon Hirabayashi

Voices of early redress activists captured in 1980 audio archive

symposium posterIf the fuse for public support of redress was lit with the first Days of Remembrance in Seattle and Portland in 1978 and ’79, the question was how to keep the momentum going into 1980. Our local congressman, Mike Lowry, had quickly introduced the first bill calling for direct and individual compensation for the government’s violation of Constitutional protections, but National JACL was going its own direction. Without a national organization of our own, we needed a vehicle to advance the discussion and keep the community engaged. 

Out of that need, Karen Seriguchi, Frank Chin, and I conceived of staging a symposium to thoughtfully consider the wartime injustice, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and then debate the case for redress pro and con. We secured the fiscal sponsorship of Jonis Davis and the American Friends Service Committee — the same local chapter of the Quaker group that backed Gordon Hirabayashi in his refusal to obey the curfew and eviction orders — and what was then called the Washington Commission for the Humanities funded us for three symposia on opposite ends of the state, one each in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane. We gave the series the lofty title of “Japanese America: Contemporary Perspectives on the Internment.” Internment was how it was called back then; now we know better and call it an incarceration. Frank Fujii designed the poster logo for us, just as he had for the Day of Remembrance.

I’ve lugged the reel-to-reel tapes of those events with me for 40 years. Thanks to audio archivist Charles Reinsch, the recordings of the first symposium, nearly five hours of panels held at Seattle Central Community College on January 19, 1980, are now digitized and posted online on the KRAB Audio Archive. KRAB-FM 107.7 was a volunteer listener-supported station (much like the old KPFA in San Francisco).  And look at this line-up:

Panel 1 – A Brief Portrait of Seattle’s Japanese American Community:  Its social, business, and family life

  • Justice Charles Z. Smith, conference moderator
  • Dr. Frank Miyamoto, sociologist and acting dean of arts and sciences, University of Washington
  • Monica Sone, clinical psychologist and author of Nisei Daughter

Panel 2 – Years of Infamy — Expulsion and Internment: The decision to intern Japanese Americans, and a look at life in the camps

  • Robert Sims, professor of history, Boise State University
  • Kimi Tambara, editor of the Minidoka Irrigator

Panel 3 – The Japanese American Vision: Japanese America as it is revealed in literature

  • Ron Mamiya, attorney and panel moderator
  • Sam Solberg, scholar, translator, and professor, University of Washington
  • Lonny Kaneko, poet and teacher
  • Frank Chin, playwright

Panel 4 – The Japanese American Vision — The Quiet American: Long-term psychological effects of the internment

  • cover of ProceedingsDr. Minoru Masuda, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, University of Washington
  • Robert Sims, professor of history, Boise State University
  • Monica Sone, clinical psychologist and author of Nisei Daughter
  • Joanne Fujita, sansei activist

Separate audio files for each panel are posted at the KRAB Audio Archive, with bookmarks for each speaker. Densho has also scanned and posted our published Proceedings from the conferences, edited by Karen and me.

reel-to-reel tape boxMy first attempt at radio broadcasting was to produce a half-hour summary of the Seattle symposium, which KRAB aired on February 19, 1980. That program featured my pre-KIRO Radio voice and is linked at the bottom of the Archive page.

Check back later for an update to hear the tapes from the symposium held at Gonzaga University on March 1, 1980.

Hirabayashi jail cell memorialized at King County Courthouse

plaqueSeventy-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. Continue reading Hirabayashi jail cell memorialized at King County Courthouse

HOLD THESE TRUTHS: the power of the real

Curfew violator Gordon Hirabayashi was a draft resister too. He resisted the 8 pm military curfew placed only on Japanese Americans, when he saw it didn’t apply to his white classmates at the University of Washington. He resisted the mass incarceration all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And he resisted the draft when an induction letter was sent to him after his high court conviction was upheld

actor seated in chair
Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi in HOLD THESE TRUTHS by Jeanne Sakata. Photo by Chris Bennion.

In her solo play on the lone resistance of Gordon Hirabayashi, playwright Jeanne Sakata shows that the truth of the Japanese American experience can work as powerful drama onstage, without violating the history or resorting to melodrama.

HOLD THESE TRUTHS, which is ending its longest run ever of four weeks at the ACT Theater in Seattle, uses nothing but the actual word and deed of the UW student and Quaker pacifist, based on Sakata’s hours of interviews with him. Where she compresses events or fictionalizes Gordon’s letters from jail, the words are always drawn from his actual writings, the minimum of dramatic license is taken, and the intent is always to illuminate the real nature of Gordon’s character.

Her approach succeeds brilliantly. Sakata brings Gordon’s inner life to the surface while retaining respect for the facts. She makes it look simple, but her craft is quite accomplished.

Having known Gordon through his visits to Seattle later in life, it’s odd to see him portrayed on stage by someone who bears such a striking resemblance. Ryun Yu captures something about the tilt of the head when Gordon would pursue a thought. He finds an expansive energy in the younger Gordon, while staying true to his pure convictions and measured speech. Yu holds the stage for 90 minutes, and earns a standing ovation every night.

lone actor on bare stage
Ryun Yu as Gordon Hirabayashi in HOLD THESE TRUTHS by Jeanne Sakata. Photo by Chris Bennion.

At a pivotal moment in the play, Yu as Hirabayashi trembles at the gravity of his decision to violate the military curfew, and take on the government. He realizes his will be a test case, and the line he writes in a letter, “Therefore, I must refuse this order for evacuation,” precedes by two years the nearly identical stance of the draft resisters at Heart Mountain: “Therefore, we hereby refuse to go to the induction, or to the physical examination, in order to contest the issue.” The difference was Gordon had no organized resistance around him, no model for his selfless stand. He did it alone, and the Heart Mountain resisters had his example as a guide.

Seeing the play performed in Seattle is  especially meaningful, at a theater just a few blocks from the federal courthouse where Gordon was first arraigned in 1942, and a few blocks more from the King County Jail where he served nine months. Hearing a stage voice announce the wartime exclusion order in terms of real Seattle territory – Roosevelt and N. 85th – made the history all too tangible for an audience that can visualize those streets today.

That federal courthouse was also the scene where Gordon in 1985 was given a chance to put the government on trial for withholding evidence that could have changed the outcome of his Supreme Court test case.

Being a Courageous Citizen on July 20th at the Town HallTo promote the return to Seattle of HOLD THESE TRUTHS, I was pleased to moderate a July 20 panel at Town Hall Seattle featuring Jeanne and three of the Sansei attorneys who gave their time to back Gordon and Fred Korematsu in their attempt to overturn their high court convictions in 1985.

moderator with four panelists on stage
(L to R) Frank Abe, Jeanne Sakata, Rod Kawakami, Lorrie Bannai, and Daniel Ichinaga. Photo by Monica Kong.

Rod Kawakami, Lorrie Bannai, and Daniel Ichinaga took us inside their legal strategy to refute the claim of military necessity used to justify the wartime incarceration. On the eve of the hearing, Kawakami described how the government offered Gordon a Presidential pardon in exchange for dropping the case; it was revealing of Gordon’s character that he rejected the offer, saying “We should be the ones pardoning the government.”

While preparing for the panel, I dug up an article I wrote for the Pacific Citizen in November 1985 that examined in detail the final written arguments in the “Clash of Legal Arguments in ‘Civil Liberties Case of the Century.’” It was remarkable that we could share our memories of being in the same place at the same time — Rod and Daniel representing Gordon, me covering the hearing as a reporter — and each of us feeling the weight of history being re-enacted in that courtroom.

See more pictures from the panel in this Facebook photo album. HOLD THESE TRUTHS runs through Sunday, August 16.

Gordon Hirabayashi: post-play panel and a screening

In her extended interview in our DVD special features, Gloria Kubota tells the story of how she and her husband Guntaro admired the courage of the young Gordon Hirabayashi, who contested the race-based military curfew in Seattle, and how if they ever had a son they would name him Gordon. The Kubota’s did have a son, in camp at Heart Mountain, and they did name him Gordon.

ACT Theater logoThis month in Seattle, Gordon Hirabayashi is being remembered with the first local production of Hold These Truths, Jeanne Sakata’s play about Gordon and his principled resistance. After the performance tonight at the ACT Theater, August 1, we’ll talk about Gordon, his court case, and his draft resistance, in a post-play panel featuring Jeanne, University of Washington professor Stephen Sumida, and myself. See Lia Chang’s Backstage Pass blog post, and the story by Lori Matsukawa on KING-TV.

Wing Luke logoThen on Saturday, August 16 at 4:00 pm, ACT Theater and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Experience will co-host a screening of CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION in connection with the play, and with the Wing’s  current exhibition, “In Struggle: Asian American Acts of Resistance.” For this program, Acts of Resistance on Film,I’ll also be present afterward for a Q and A. Admission is free.