Friday, June 2, 2017

"Hold these Truths": A Quaker Who Resisted the Japanese Internment is Now a One-Man Show at the Pasadena Playhouse

I was thrilled to learn that the Pasadena Playhouse is doing a one-man play based on the story of Gordon Hirabayashi, a Quaker who challenged the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The play will run from May 30-June 25.

In 1986 Hirabayashi took his case for exoneration all the way to the Supreme Court. He won, and the US government decided to give reparations to Japanese Americans who'd been interned illegally. This win for justice is a powerful story, one that we need to hear at this time when our liberties are at risk.

I plan to go to Thursday, June 22, because my friend Phil Way will be giving the after-talk. His parents ran a Quaker school in Temple City and helped the Japanese Americans in many ways during this dark period when they were being scapegoated. He has maintained a keen interest in the cause of Japanese Americans, and also of Muslim Americans who have been threatened with the same kind of xenophobia.

If you want to purchase tickets, go to

These articles about Gordon Hirabyashi appeared in The Western Quaker Reader (2000), a book I edited.

The Gordon Hirabayashi Case

[Friends not only provided humanitarian assistance, they also supported the efforts of Japanese Americans and others seeking their civil and human rights. When the Civilian Exclusion Act was passed in 1942, calling for internment and relocation of the Japanese, many questioned whether the Federal Government had the right to incarcerate Japanese Americans, 70,000 of whom were US citizens.
Gordon Hirabayashi, a member of University Meeting and a Japanese-American student at the University of Washington, committed civil disobedience and refused to accept this law. When his case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, it ruled that the rights of citizens could be suspended in the interests of national security  (320 US 81, [1943]).
In 1986, Judge Donald Vorhees in Seattle reversed Gordon’s conviction, saying that the government withheld information form the Supreme Court. In 1988, the US government acknowledged that is policy towards Japanese Americans was misguided and a violation of civil rights. It awarded surviving internees reparations.
 In 1999, the prison camp in Arizona where Hirabayashi was jailed during the war was renamed the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Center.]

“Why Revive the Japanese-American Wartime Cases”                       by Gordon Hirabayashi[1]

uring the war years I was never referred to as a citizen.  I was always considered a “non-alien.” I was an undergraduate student at the University of Washington at the time, training for an occupational career and practicing to be a first-class citizen. As a conscientious objector and member of University Meeting in Seattle, I was not an enthusiastic supporter of our entry into war, but neither was I bent on obstructing “national security” measures.  I could not support an unwarranted violation of our constitutional guarantees.  As a result, I refused to cooperate with the Western Defense Command order.  I needed to be given more relevant reasons for my removal than the fact of my ancestry.
With the supportive counsel of Friends/friends, and the legal advice of Arthur Barnett, a member of my meeting, I reported to the FBI the day following the removal of all Japanese.  Later, a Gordon Hirabayashi Defense Committee was formed, and the legal battle for citizens’ rights began.  Without this committee, composed of Friends and a few others like them, mine would have become an obscure wartime case gathering dust in the archives.
It was not easy to secure competent legal counsel; mine was not a popular case during the war. Arthur Barnett contacted many of his colleagues, but although some were willing, their firms would not consent to their participation. We finally found an able young lawyer from a prestigious firm, but when his name and that of his firm appeared in the press following my arraignment, the Teamsters threatened to withdraw their legal work from his firm if it persisted in defending “that Jap.”  Needless to say, we had to begin a new search.  Fortunately, we were able to secure a man with a relevant background: a Republican member of the American Legion who was keenly interested in defending the Constitution.
Our court battles were neither easy nor successful.  Some funds were raised locally, but mainly they were raised with assistance from Clarence Pickett and Homer Morris, using the American Friends Service Committee mailing list and through a sympathetic foundation known to them. We did not win in the district court when the presiding judge ruled that the prevailing law was the Western Defense Command Proclamation, which in effect suspended my constitutional guarantees in spite of the fact that martial law had not been invoked.
When our appeal eventually reached the Supreme Court, we thought we would have our day in court.  Not so.  We found that the Supreme Court had gone to war, too. Instead of demanding evidence for the suspension of constitutional guarantees to citizens regardless of race, religion, creed or national origin, the Supreme Court accepted the government’s position on the word of government officials and military officers….
Although we never relinquished the hope that some day in some way the records would be corrected, my case and that of two others, Fred Korematsu and Minoru Yasui, remained dormant for more than 40 years.  In 1980-81, using the Freedom of Information Act, Peter Irons, a legal historian, was investigating the conduct of lawyers on both sides of the Japanese-American constitutional cases.  He discovered in the musty, old files of the federal archives that the Western Defense Command had on its desk FBI, Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports denying danger of espionage or sabotage at the very moment it was stating in its brief that the removal action was “militarily necessary.”  Western Defense Command had knowingly withheld from the Supreme Court the FBI, ONI, and FCC reservations for a mass, forced uprooting.  (During the war the government continued to use the humanitarian euphemism, “evacuation.”)
Peter Irons contacted Dale Minami, a San Francisco lawyer, and through him, some other Asian-American lawyers on the West Coast to explore the possibility of appeals.  This group of lawyers then contacted Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui, and me and asked if we would consider becoming petitioners through a rarely used procedure called “writ of error coram nobis.”  Although the seven-year statute of limitations had long since expired, coram nobis allows opportunity to petition for a hearing on the grounds of government misconduct. Thus, three sets of legal teams, maintaining close liaison, were established to launch simultaneous petitions for coram nobis in the respective federal district courts of San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.  In January, 1983, a major press conference was held in San Francisco to launch the three cases, and a public education group, the Committee to Reverse the Wartime Japanese-American Cases, became busy and has remained active ever since….
Why revive Japanese-American wartime cases?  Certainly to erase the convictions recorded against me, but there is more.  As a test case, my case can help to remove the dark cloud hovering over 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were mistreated and who continue to wonder to this day about their citizenship.
When the unprecedented uprooting of U.S. citizens occurred and our people were confined to internment camps, enough safeguards and principles existed in our Constitution to have protected us.  Missing, however, was the will of the people, including the Supreme Court, to uphold constitutional guarantees.
During the war my hopes were constantly buoyed by the Friends/friends who visited me in jail, and by others who supported the G. H. Defense Committee.  These activities were definitely not popular then.  Today, citizen vigilance is expressed on many fronts, for example, Central America, remembrance of the Holocaust, the continuing problems in Southeast Asia, as well as social issues at home. My petition is another area in which such vigilance is demonstrated.
I am privileged to witness and be part of this demonstration for human rights supported by a strong citizens committee and by my legal team.  It serves us well to remember that our constitution and the increasing number of human rights laws are mere scraps of paper unless active citizen vigilance ensures they are upheld.

“Remembering Gordon Hirabayahi” by Floyd Schmoe

[Floyd Schmoe was teaching at the University of Washington when Hirabayashi and others were arrested. One of the founding members of University Friends Meeting, as well as the first executive secretary of the AFSC in Seattle, Floyd not only befriended Gordon, he ended up becoming his father-in-law. The The following oral history, taken from  interviews conducted by Rose Lewis in 1974, [2] should be read for its human interest, not for its precise historical detail.]

ordon Hirabayashi and some of the other students at the University decided they should do something about [the new curfew law]. They were American citizens and had certain rights, and some of them felt that some protest should be made, so Gordon decided quite early to deliberately refuse the curfew. Later he refused the evacuation and turned himself in, that is, went to the FBI and told them he was not going to conform or abide by the curfew.  We were quite well acquainted with Gordon in that group, and we supported him, as we do COs now, with affidavits or letters or whatever is needed. They threatened him, of course, told him that if he was found on the streets he would be picked up. Actually he never was picked up by the FBI or the police….He turned himself in and said that he had violated and would not comply with either order, the curfew or the evacuation order.  He was held in the county jail first, and [my daughter] Esther and the rest of the kids visited him there.  Some of the Japanese who resisted the orders, were not COs.  They were objecting on other grounds. Gordon’s objection was that this was a civil rights issue; being a citizen, his civil rights were being violated….
It was an interesting thing about his prison experience.  Because of the evacuation, and the restrictions on the West Coast, his trial in federal district court was held in Spokane. He was held in the county jail in Spokane during the trial and after the trial and his conviction.  He was there for several weeks, and a county jail is much worse than a federal prison usually, as far as living conditions are concerned.  So he objected to that and said that since he had been sentenced for a federal crime, he insisted on being sent to a federal prison; he was tired of the county jail. The local sheriff, or US Marshal perhaps it was, said, “All the federal prisons are full.  There is no place to send you.” But after several protests, he said, “There is a federal prison work camp in the mountains of Arizona.  But,” he said, “I couldn’t send you down there because I don’t have anyone free to go with you”  Gordon said, “Why not let me go on my own?  I’ll give you my word that I’ll go.” The sheriff or marshal was pretty well acquainted with Gordon by then and said, “OK, I’ll trust you.”  He gave Gordon bus fare to Phoenix, Arizona; the camp was near there.
Gordon, perhaps also to defy the evacuation order, to try it out—or perhaps just to visit on the West Coast, I don’t know—came by way of Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, which was another violation.  He was inside the restricted zone; not only that, but he thought he’d need the bus money, so he hitchhiked.  But he got down there within the time limit that they gave him, and wasn’t picked up anywhere along the road.
He spent most of a year there in the work camp. He came back to Spokane and there were a lot of Japanese in Spokane and we had a sort of center over there. We’d rented a house, a hostel for people who had gone from the West Coast and hadn’t been able to find places to live over there, and Esther helped there.  Someone asked Esther to take a truck from Bainbridge Island to the camp over at Minidoka near Twin Falls, Idaho.  She went by way of Spokane and she picked up Gordon or Gordon picked her up, I don’t know which, and they went together from Spokane. When she came back she asked Ruth and me—”What would you think if Gordon and I got married?”  We said, “Well, what do you think?” She said, “Well, we’ve decided we will.”  We liked Gordon very much, we had no serious objection, so they were married….
Before Gordon was released from the prison camp in Arizona he was drafted and refused to cooperate with the draft board, so he was tried again and convicted and sent to McNeill Island for a year.  It was while he was there that Esther gave birth to twins, and this drew a lot of publicity.  They were about a month old before she took them down for a visit and the guards at McNeill Island wouldn’t even let him touch them—he had to see them through a wire barrier.  They had pictures in the paper and a good many of these stories were friendly.  It was mentioned in Time once, and in newspapers all over the country.  A Boston daily, I’ve forgotten which one, had a front-page picture when the twins were born—a picture of Esther and the two kids.  It was a two or three column picture on the front page of one of the sections, but the headline was rather insidious.  It says “Jap Sires Twins” or something like that, but the story wasn’t bad.  Esther was with us all the time he was in prison. The babies were six to eight months old when he got out of prison.

[1] Friends Journal August 1985: 4-6. According to this article, “Gordon Hirabayashi has taught in the United States, the Middle East, and Canada, and has been emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, since 1983. He was a co-recipient of the 1983 Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award, and he received a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from Haverford College in 1984.” Gordon became a member of UFM in November 28, 1941, and transferred to Edmonton in January 13, 1961.
[2]For biographical information, see p. 92. During the course of interviewing Floyd,  Rose accumulated over 274 pages of material that is currently stored in the Quaker archives in Whittier under the title Floyd and Ruth Schmoe: Idealism, Service and Commitment in Two Quaker Lives.

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