Gold Star father Khizr Khan made headlines when he offered to lend his copy of the Constitution to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during a speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, asking him to read the document and “look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.'” Khan will be speaking at Seattle Center on Sunday, February 19th at Densho’s 2018 Day of Remembrance–Our History, Our Responsibility–an event to honor Japanese Americans of World War II and stand in solidarity with American Muslims today.
Khan writes about his great love for our Constitution, and our responsibility to uphold it, in his books An American Family: A Memoir of Hope and Sacrifice and This Is our Constitution: Discover America with a Gold Star Father. During World War II, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the 1942 Executive Order 9066 authorizing the removal and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, a number of individuals rose up to challenge the injustice and defend their civil rights as promised by the Constitution.
Perhaps the most famous is Fred Korematsu, who defied evacuation orders and challenged the constitutionality of EO 9066 in the landmark case Korematsu v. United States, and whose story is told in the book Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and His Quest for Justice and in the documentary film Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story. While the EO was initially upheld, Korematsu eventually won the case several decades later in 1983. He went on to champion for civil rights for others and was granted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. After 9/11, Korematsu filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court against the imprisonment of Muslim inmates at Guantanamo Bay and pointing to similarities with the wrongful incarceration of Japanese Americans in WWII.
Washingtonian Gordon Hirayabashi was another resister. He was a student attending the University of Washington when EO 9066 went into effect. He first refused curfew, then the order to report for relocation by turning himself in to the FBI as a dissenter in the hopes of becoming a test case, challenging that the order violated the Constitution and his rights as a citizen. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously by President Obama in 2012. His story is told through diaries, letters, and other archival documents in A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States.
A companion case to Hirabayashi v. United States was that of Minoru Yasui (Yasui v. United States), a lawyer in Portland, Oregon, who also defied curfew and turned himself into local police as a test case. He too was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2015. The story of Yasui and his family is told in Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese American Family.
For even more reading about the incarceration of Japanese Americans, see our booklist.
And please join us on February 19 for Our History, Our Responsibility. This event is co-sponsored by The Seattle Public Library, and will also feature a documentary film project, Omoiyami, by musician Kishi Bashi. Reserve your free tickets here.
– Posted by Heather M.