Todd Endo, likely the last surviving Asian American participant in the 1965 voting rights demonstrations in Selma, Ala., will be returning for the 50th Anniversary Selma Bridge Crossing Jubilee on March 7-8.
Endo will be sponsored and accompanied by a delegation from the Japanese American Citizens League, the nation’s oldest and largest Asian American civil rights organization.
He was born only 23 days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Despite his American citizenship, Endo and his family were uprooted from their Los Angeles home and incarcerated in Rohwer, Ark. solely because of their Japanese ancestry. They were incarcerated for over two years before moving to Ohio in 1944 with the help of the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee.
Following the war, the Endo family finally settled in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland area, where Endo found himself the lone Asian American student in his elementary, middle, and high schools.
As a recent graduate of Oberlin College, Endo marched with the JACL in the 1963 March on Washington and heard Martin Luther King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech first-hand. Two years later, prompted by the death of acquaintance Rev. Jim Reeb and with support from JACL, Endo traveled from Boston to Selma and participated in the 1965 voting rights demonstrations.
One of only a handful of Asian Americans (an article he wrote for JACL’s Pacific Citizen newspaper in 1965 noted that he saw as many as five), Endo planned protests with members of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and demonstrated in the streets of Selma under the scrutiny of Sheriff Jim Clark and his deputies.
Endo’s experience in Selma led the former Harvard Ph.D. candidate to forgo his goal of becoming a history professor and shift his focus toward actively reforming the educational system and curriculum. Presently, Endo works as an organizer in Arlington, Va.’s immigrant communities.
He will be joined by several Asian American civil rights organizations, including the JACL, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, South Asian Americans Leading Together, and Chinese Progressive Association of San Francisco.
“In 1965, JACL sent Todd Endo to Selma to protest against discrimination in the electoral process,” said JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida. “In 2015, others will join Todd as he retraces his steps down a narrow road where he was once called a ‘Jap.’ This is an American experience that we hope will renew the nation’s commitment to protect voting rights for everyone.”
Members of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress have also traveled from Los Angeles to join in the march.
June Hibino of NCRR stated, “In Selma, we will honor the many people who sacrificed and fought for civil rights 50 years ago. Because of their courage and commitment, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed, opening the doors for all minorities to equal housing, jobs, education and other opportunities.
“Selma will also show that the struggle continues today — in many states, voting rights are being restricted and the murder of African Americans by racist police continues unabated. We will be in Selma on behalf of the many thousands of Asian Americans throughout the country who would want to be in there in solidarity with those continuing the fight for equality and justice.”