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Lack of support from fellow Nikkei lawyers during the war

My question is—we had a lot of very intelligent Nikkei lawyers at that time—could they have gotten their heads together and said, “Why don’t we, everybody, file a writ of habeas corpus?” A hundred thousand of us or something. Now, that was a constitutional right of everybody. Why didn’t they [the Nikkei attorneys and Nisei leadership] do that?

I think there was a power movement behind this that said, “No, let’s show we are good, loyal, quiet Americans, and do what Big Brother says. Besides, they’re threatening us.” And some people do say, “Oh, yes, they threatened us.” That they would forcibly remove us, which meant at the point of a bayonet, maybe. But as I see the records, that would not have happened.

So I wish now that we had been more mature, and more of us were old enough and more aware of our legal rights; so that had we, all of us, filed a writ of habeas corpus, that would have tied up the courts. They couldn’t have dared to move us out. Mitsuye Endo1 filed a writ of habeas corpus, but she was already in camp. See, it was too late. But had we had the wisdom at that time, I think it might have been avoided.

1. Mitsuye Endo, a Nisei, was a California state employee for the Department of Motor Vehicles. Endo, along with other Japanese American California state employees, were fired from their jobs. Prior to her dismissal, Endo, an American citizen, was subjected to biased questioning that incorrectly assumed that she held dual nationality status with the U.S. and Japan. On July 12, 1942, Attorney James Purcell and the JACL filed a habeas corpus petition with the San Francisco Federal District Court, charging that Endo was denied the right to work due to unlawful detention by the U.S. Army. Although the Endo case was dismissed, an appeal was filed, and in October 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court heard her case. On December 18, 1944, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Endo, and ordered the release of Japanese Americans from concentration camps, beginning January 2, 1945.


civil rights constitutional law detention of persons governments habeas corpus politics

Date: August 26, 1998

Location: Virginia, US

Interviewer: Darcie Iki, Mitchell Maki

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

Interviewee Bio

Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig was born in Sacramento, California in 1924. Her family immigrated from Kumamoto, Japan in 1919. During the Depression, the Yoshinaga family moved to Los Angeles, California.

During World War II, Aiko was incarcerated first at Manzanar with her husband’s family. She transferred to Jerome, Arkansas with her newborn daughter to be with her family. In 1944, the Yoshinaga family left Jerome and resettled in New York. She divorced and remarried a Nisei soldier. She went with him to Japan where he worked during the Occupation period. One of her husband’s co-workers was her future husband, Jack Herzig.

After her return to the United States, Aiko became involved in Asian Americans for Action. Aiko and Jack played a pivotal role in the Redress Movement through their research at the National Archives in Washington D.C. The documents they found were instrumental in the coram nobis case that vacated the convictions against Fred Korematsu, Min Yasui, and Gordon Hirabayashi. Aiko was also hired as the primary researcher for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, and then worked for the Department of Justice Office of Redress Administration to help identify individuals eligible for redress payments. 

She passed away on July 18, 2018 at age 93. (July 2018)

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