The JACL apology to the Heart Mountain resisters

Our film, Conscience and the Constitution, ends with the on-screen tag, “In July 2000, the national Japanese American Citizens League voted to apologize for its suppression of wartime resistance. Several JACL old-timers walked out in protest.”

Floyd Mori at JACL apology ceremony
Floyd Mori at JACL apology ceremony

On Saturday, May 11, 2002, about 300 people filled the gym at the San Francisco Japanese American Community and Cultural Center for the Nisei Resisters of Conscience of World War II Recognition and Reconciliation Ceremony. Read the full speech.

In response, Heart Mountain resistance leader Frank Emi graciously acknowledged the reconciliation, then raised the stakes by challenging JACL to address the question of its wartime collaboration with incarceration, and urging it to apologize to the entire community for its policy of compliance with expulsion and initial waiver of civil rights for an entire people. Read the full speech, and see his remarks here, as an excerpt from the bonus featurette, “The JACL Apologizes,” on Disc Two of our new Collectors Edition DVD.

That was unexpected, but on reflection it is typical Frank Emi. Never afraid to take a stand. It is his image, by the way, on the front cover of the DVD.

Frank’s thoughts were immediately echoed on stage by fellow resister Yosh Kuromiya. Read the full speech by Yosh.

The event was remarkable for a number of reasons:

  • The event captured the imagination of the media locally, nationally, and even worldwide. Effective outreach by Keith Kamisugi and his (now closed) site caught the attention of editors who framed this as another WW2 “sixty years later” reconciliation story. Japanese NHK-TV was there, as was the Wall Street Journal and many local broadcast and print media.
  • The event succeeded in drawing out 21 draft resisters from Heart Mountain, Amache and even the lone resister from Jerome, Joe Yamakido, who told me he just wanted to see it but didn’t want to be introduced. We got his name to the organizers, and after he came up to receive his ceremonial gift and returned to his seat high in the bleachers, his daughter gave him a big hug and wiped away her own tears. It was also a shock to finally get to meet George Kurasaki, Halley Minoura, Bob Nagahara, and other Heart Mountain resisters who are in the courtroom photo but never wanted to come out in public until now.
  • JACL National President Floyd Mori (pictured above) and Executive Director John Tateishi took a great risk in fulfilling the membership’s mandate to hold a public ceremony. Twelve years ago it would have been unthinkable to see the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee admitted as a group to a JACL meeting, much less be the center of honor and attention. Even when Frank Emi and Mits Koshiyama spoke at the 1994 JACL convention in Salt Lake City, there was an uneasy air about the invitation and a local white scholar was brought in to mediate the proceedings. In the 20th century a convention resolution deemed ill-advised by the Nisei old guard would have simply been redirected or undermined by JACL leadership. By following their own consciences, and the mandate of their members, Mori and Tateishi have elevated the JACL of today to a new level of credibility as the civil rights organization it has strived to be since resettlement.

Martha Nakagawa of the Pacific Citizen and Kenji Taguma of the Nichi Bei Times wrote the most knowledgeable reports on the ceremony. Read the PC’s “Historic Apology Marks First Step in Reconciliation Between JACL and Resisters of Conscience” and the Nichi Bei’s “Historic JACL Ceremony Recognizing WWII Resisters Called a “First Step” in Reconciliation.”

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The history and literature of Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration