Minoru Yasui (1916-1986), a community activist with a lifelong commitment to the defense of human and civil rights, played a decisive role in two defining moments of Japanese American history — in the 1940s, challenging the internment, and in the 1980s, leading the fight for redress and his own coram nobis case.

His youngest daughter, Holly Yasui, and former lead attorney for the reopening of his Supreme Court case in 1983, Peggy Nagae, come to Los Angeles to share their unique perspectives on this extraordinary man in a panel discussion moderated by filmmaker and local community activist Janice Tanaka on Saturday, Sept. 27, at 2 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. (at First Street) in Little Tokyo.

Holly Yasui will show photos and documents from extensive family collections, some never previously viewed in public, to illustrate the life of her father from humble roots in the small farming community of Hood River, Ore. to national and international work based out of Denver.

She will relate the story of how, the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Min Yasui received a telegram from his father admonishing him that it was time to serve his country as a reserve officer; and how his mother, the day after he got himself arrested for violating the curfew imposed on Japanese Americans, encouraged him to persevere.

She will also read a section from a letter her father wrote from Multnomah County Jail to his little sister in the Tule Lake camp on Christmas Day in 1942.

With a series of photographs, Holly Yasui will give the audience a taste of Min Yasui’s tireless activism in myriad organizations for ethnic and religious minorities, seniors, youth, children and people from all walks of life; his work at the Denver Commission on Community Relations, where he served as executive director from 1967 to 1983; and how he gave his heart and soul to the final cause of his life as chair of the National JACL Redress Committee until his death at the age of 70.

Minoru Yasui (1916-1986)
Minoru Yasui (1916-1986)

Nagae will provide an analysis of Yasui’s legal case, including it implications and relevance to the issues at stake in today’s post-9/11 War on Terrorism. She will explain the 1942 U.S. District Court ruling on Yasui v. the United States of America, made by Judge James Alger Fee; and the three U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the curfew and evacuation (Yasui and Hirabayashi in 1943 and Korematsu in 1944), which still remain on the books.

Nagae will share some insights into the lessons that history teaches us about the internment: how war hysteria and racism led to the abrogation of constitutional rights — equal protection under the law and due process. She will discuss how the courts have responded in times of “national security” crisis both during World War II and also in recent times; racial profiling (Turkmen v. Ashcroft and Hassan v. City of New York) and indefinite detention without trial (Hedges v. Obama).

A March 1942 article in The Oregon Journal refers to Min Yasui as a "Jap leader."
A March 1942 article in The Oregon Journal refers to Min Yasui as a “Jap leader.”

Both speakers will discuss the Min Yasui Tribute Committee, which is working on projects and activities that will culminate in a centennial celebration in 2016. Current projects include seeking a Presidential Medal of Freedom for Yasui; the production of a short documentary film; and a stage play.

Future projects include publication of a book containing an autobiographical piece written by Yasui in 1983; a memorial exhibit of original pieces used in the film and book; the production of multimedia/online educational materials.

All persons interested in this project are cordially invited to the panel discussion, where a mailing list will be established for the creation of a Los Angeles Min Yasui Tribute Committee.

For more information: Peggy Nagae, myasuitribute.info@gmail.com; Holly Yasui, minyasuitribute@gmail.com; June Aochi Berk, juneaochiberk@me.com or (818) 400-3273.

The panel discussion is sponsored, in part, by the Paul and Hisako Terasaki Foundation and the Japanese American National Museum (www.janm.org).

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  1. The Multnomah County Jail, of course, was located in Portland, Oregon, where Minoru Yasui practiced law and worked to help the Japanese-American community in the wake of Executive Order 9066.

    Oregon’s largest city also was the site of the Portland Assembly Center, one of the West Coast feeder detention camps that held local japanese Americans in 1942 while the larger more infamous detention camps were constructed.

    Please see my linked article (http://www.blueoregon.com/2013/10/when-portland-did-more-follow-orders/)
    to get an appreciation for the harsh and unique atmosphere of total abandonment and wholehearted systemic internment fervor suffered by Japanese Americans in Oregon.