An official proclamation pays tribute to the civil rights activist as the Minoru Yasui Tribute committee readies for the 100th anniversary of Yasui’s birth.
By P.C. Staff
City of Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock has proclaimed Sept 10 as “Minoru Yasui Day.” The official proclamation will be presented to the civil rights activist’s niece, Robin Yasui, at the Minoru Yasui American Inn of Court meeting at the University Club by Judge Kerry Hada, who was instrumental in naming the Inn of the Court after Yasui, and Derek Okubo, the mayor’s representative and executive director of the Denver Agency for Human Relations and Community Partnerships.
Minoru Yasui, a native of the state of Oregon, moved to Denver in September 1944 after he left the Minidoka Relocation Camp in Idaho. The first Japanese American attorney in his home state, in 1942 Yasui deliberately violated a curfew and other military orders that led to the forced removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. He spent nine months in solitary confinement in Multnomah County Jail, awaiting the appeal of his test case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against him.
In 1945, Yasui took the Colorado Bar Exam but was denied entry due to “bad moral character” indicated by his criminal conviction of the curfew violation. With the help of the ACLU, he appealed that finding to the Colorado Supreme Court and in 1946 won the right to practice law in the state.
In Denver, Yasui continued his lifelong activism with the JACL, fighting against discriminatory Alien Land Laws and for naturalization rights for his parents’ generation, immigrants denied U.S. citizenship because of race. He was a member and officer of the Mile-High JACL Chapter and Intermountain District Council until his death in 1986.
Yasui also helped to found a number of organizations serving diverse communities in Denver: the Urban League (African American), Latin American Research and Service Agency (now called the Colorado Latino Leadership Advocacy, Research and Service Organization) and Denver Native Americans United (now called the Denver Indian Center). He also served as scoutmaster for multicultural Boy Scout Troop #38 and was active in Denver Public Schools.
Yasui was also one of the leaders of the Japanese American redress movement, which sought an official apology and reparations for the imprisonment of more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II. In the mid-1970s, when the idea was percolating within JACL, he championed the cause and in 1981 became chair of the National JACL Committee for Redress, to which he dedicated the last years of his life.
In 1983, a volunteer legal team was assembled to reopen Yasui’s wartime case with a writ of coram nobis based on evidence uncovered in the National Archives indicating that U.S. government officials had suppressed evidence in 1942-43 that affected the court’s decision.
His coram nobis case was heard in 1984, granting a vacating of his conviction but not a full hearing.
Yasui died in 1986 while his case was still on appeal. His wife, True, continued the appeal, but in 1987, the centennial of the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, ruling that the issues were moot because of his death.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act.
The Minoru Yasui Tribute committee, an ad-hoc group of family and friends, was formed in 2013 to honor and reflect upon Yasui’s contributions toward “making the world a better place.”
Earlier this year, the MYT worked with U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) to nominate Yasui for the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom. The submission to the president included endorsements from more than 115 elected officials, national, state and regional organizations, as well as notable individuals — two cabinet officials; nine U.S. senators and 26 U.S. representatives from 11 states; governors, attorneys general, mayors and state legislators; leading national civil rights organizations such as the National Urban League, ACLU, NAACP, National Council of La Raza, Japanese American Citizens League, American Friends Service Committee, the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, American Jewish Committee; and 46 regional and state organizations.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is generally announced each fall. Should Yasui be awarded the medal, the president would complete recognition of all three plaintiffs in the Japanese American internment cases, which also includes Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi, who were awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom in 1998 and 2012, respectively.
In addition, the MYT is also helping to organize the 2016 centennial celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Yasui’s birth in various states: California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington. These events will include symposia with speakers, a documentary film, theatrical presentations and memorial exhibits.
For more information, contact Peggy Nagae, co-founder MYT, at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Holly Yasui, co-founder MYT, at email@example.com.