|Photo credit: Densho.org
At the beginning of this month, on January 2, an amazing civil rights hero passed away. Dr. Gordon Hirabayashi was a 24-year-old college student when Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt, ordering all people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast — including American citizens– to be sent to War Relocation camps.
Instead of boarding the train with his family, he turned himself in to the FBI, submitting a written statement which said, among other things, “This order for the mass evacuation of all persons of Japanese descent denies them the right to live. I consider it my duty to maintain the democratic standards for which this nation lives. Therefore, I must refuse this order of evacuation.”
For his disobedience, he was sentenced to a labor camp in 1943, and later served additional time for other “violations.” He eventually finished college and became not only a well-respected professor but his efforts in the 1980s to finally achieve justice for himself and two other men — the only three to disobey the federal order to evacuate — led to Congressional reparations to those who had been incarcerated in the camps.
I thought it fitting, on the day we remember one civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, to remember another, equally brave and whose actions impacted, at the very least, the 120,000 people sent to war relocation camps. Can you imagine having the courage to do what Dr. Hirabayashi did? And at 24? He was quite a man. Do read more about him at the Densho Project, which is committed to recording the stories of WWII incarcerees.