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Learning About the Internment

So literally the first time that I ever knew anything about the internment was in my constitutional law class, my second year at Harvard, taught by Professor Lawrence Tribe. And I remember very distinctly the day that we talked about the internment cases. And in most law school casebooks they're put together, Korematsu and Hirabayashi, and it generally doesn't take more than one class session or not even that. It's part of the civil rights which focuses mostly on civil rights issues involving African Americans, but -- and also governmental powers. So I remember reading these cases and being struck with what seemed to me to be an obvious injustice and finding it hard to believe that the Supreme Court at that time in the 1940s...

We were also trained to, to feel that the members of the Supreme Court back then, people like William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, Frank Murphy, Harlan Stone, Felix Frankfurter, were great civil libertarians and civil rights defenders, and in many cases that was true. And so here you have an example of how they all in the first, in the Hirabayashi case, they all upheld the conviction on the ground of military necessity. And how could such liberal justices have done something like that?


civil rights education Fred Korematsu Gordon Hirabayashi law schools universities

Date: October 27, 2000

Location: Washington, US

Interviewer: Alice Ito, Lorraine Bannai

Contributed by: Denshō: The Japanese American Legacy Project.

Interviewee Bio

Peter Irons was born in Salem, MA in 1940. While a student at Antioch College, Irons became involved in political and social activism and organized demonstrations addressing racial inequality, the war in Vietnam, and workers’ rights. In 1966, Irons was sentenced to three years in prison for resisting the draft. After his release, Irons earned a Ph.D. in political science and entered Harvard Law School. While a law student, he filed a writ of coram nobis with the court and succeeded in having his conviction vacated. Irons decided on a career in teaching and eventually joined the faculty of the University of California at San Diego.

The discovery of key documents at the National Archives by Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig enabled Irons to mobilize the effort to challenge the Supreme Court rulings in the “internment cases.” The evidence was used to show the U.S. government’s misconduct during World War II by refuting the rationale of “military necessity” for the mass incarceration of persons of Japanese ancestry in 1942. Coram nobis petitions were filed in 1983 for three cases: Hirabayashi, Yasui, and Korematsu, resulting in the successful overturning of each conviction. Justice was finally served, but just as important, the victory in court legitimized the call for redress. (April 15, 2008)

George Ariyoshi
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George Ariyoshi

Teacher who helped with lisp

(b.1926) Democratic politician and three-term Governor of Hawai'i

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James Hirabayashi
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James Hirabayashi

Little interaction with parents

(1926 - 2012) Scholar and professor of anthropology. Leader in the establishment of ethnic studies as an academic discipline

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James Hirabayashi
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James Hirabayashi

Politics in ethnic studies

(1926 - 2012) Scholar and professor of anthropology. Leader in the establishment of ethnic studies as an academic discipline

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James Hirabayashi
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James Hirabayashi

Center for Japanese American Studies in community

(1926 - 2012) Scholar and professor of anthropology. Leader in the establishment of ethnic studies as an academic discipline

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James Hirabayashi
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James Hirabayashi

Involvement with ethnic studies

(1926 - 2012) Scholar and professor of anthropology. Leader in the establishment of ethnic studies as an academic discipline

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James Hirabayashi
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James Hirabayashi

Testing assumptions of Japanese scholars

(1926 - 2012) Scholar and professor of anthropology. Leader in the establishment of ethnic studies as an academic discipline

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Barbara Kawakami
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Barbara Kawakami

Kids working hard

An expert researcher and scholar on Japanese immigrant clothing.

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Barbara Kawakami
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Barbara Kawakami

First day of school

An expert researcher and scholar on Japanese immigrant clothing.

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Yuri Kochiyama
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Yuri Kochiyama

Didn't have rights that whites had

(1922–2014) Political and civil rights activist.

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Robert (Bob) Kiyoshi Okasaki
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Robert (Bob) Kiyoshi Okasaki

Grandmother's influence on decision to go to Japan

(b.1942) Japanese American ceramist, who has lived in Japan for over 30 years.

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Wally Kaname Yonamine
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Wally Kaname Yonamine

Training for football by carrying 100-lb bags of grass over mountains

(b.1925) Nisei of Okinawan descent. Had a 38-year career in Japan as a baseball player, coach, scout, and manager.

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Peggie Nishimura Bain
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Peggie Nishimura Bain

Response to loyalty questionnaire

(b.1909) Nisei from Washington. Incarcerated at Tule Lake and Minidoka during WWII. Resettled in Chicago after WWII

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Richard Kosaki
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Richard Kosaki

Teaching at the military language school during World War II

(b. 1924) Political scientist, educator, and administrator from Hawai`i

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Richard Kosaki
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Richard Kosaki

Lesson learned from community college faculty

(b. 1924) Political scientist, educator, and administrator from Hawai`i

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Richard Kosaki
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Richard Kosaki

Rewards of teaching

(b. 1924) Political scientist, educator, and administrator from Hawai`i

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