Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Remembering Civil Rights Leader Gordon Hirabayashi,1918- 2012

SAN FRANCISCO – The Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, along with the members of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice) – Asian Law Caucus, Asian American Justice Center, Asian American Institute and Asian Pacific American Legal Center – mourn the loss of civil rights leader Gordon Hirabayashi, who passed away on January 2, 2012 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada at the age of 93. His former wife, Esther Hirabayashi, passed away in Edmonton just hours later on the same day. She was 87.

He is survived by his wife, Susan, his children, Marion, Sharon, and Jay, his brother, James, and his sister Esther (also known as Tosh Furugori). “He was a great father who taught me about the values of honesty, integrity and justice,” says his son, Jay Hirabayashi. “He was rightly recognized as a hero, but he never saw himself that way. He saw himself as someone who did what he had to do to stand up for the rights he believed in.”

In 1942, Hirabayashi was a 24-year-old student at the University of Washington when President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, ordering the incarceration of 120,000 innocent people of Japanese ancestry. Hirabayashi, an American citizen, turned himself into the FBI in order to intentionally defy a curfew law imposed on all west coast residents of Japanese ancestry. After he was arrested and convicted, Hirabayashi appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Similar to Korematsu v. United States (1944), and Yasui v. United States (1943), the Supreme Court sadly ruled in Hirabayashi v United States (1943) that the curfew law was justified due to military necessity. Hirabayashi was sent to a prison camp in Arizona.

In 1983 and 1987, after the discovery of new evidence proving the government had known there was no grounds for the mass incarceration, both Korematsu and Hirabayashi re-opened their cases, leading their convictions to be overturned in the U.S. District Court N.D. Cal. and the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Cir., respectively. Their cases never reached the U.S. Supreme Court again, and the high court’s decisions in Korematsu v. United States and Hirabayashi v. United States are widely condemned as one of the darkest chapters in American legal history. Min Yasui’s case was also re-opened in the 1980s, but Yasui passed away in 1986 before his second case was decided.

“Gordon Hirabayashi was a principled man of peace who, with the courage of his convictions, left us with an enduring legal and social legacy,” says Rodney L. Kawakami, lead attorney for the Hirabayashi 1980s legal team. “He inspired us to remember that our Constitutional rights come with a price and that we have an obligation to be constantly vigilant to protect these cherished rights by speaking out in times of crisis, even when unpopular.”

Hirabayashi went on to teach sociology for many years at the University of Alberta in Canada. In 1999, the former Catalina Federal Honor Camp near Tucson, AZ, where Hirabayashi was sentenced to hard labor in the 1940s, was renamed the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site. Since 2007, the East West Players, an Asian American theater company, has produced stage productions based on his life, entitled, “Hold These Truths” by Jeanne Sakata. In May 2011, acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal released an unprecedented “confession of error” in the Korematsu and Hirabayashi cases.


Quaker Memorial Meeting for Worship
1:00pm Friday, January 6, 2012
Edmonton Japanese Community Association
6750 88 Street Northwest Edmonton, AB T6E 5H6
(780) 466-8166

In lieu of flowers for Gordon Hirabayashi, donations can be made to:
The CapitalCare Lynwood, where Gordon Hirabayashi was cared for in the last three years of his life.
The Gordon K. Hirabayashi Scholarship Fund within the Dept. of Sociology at the University of Alberta.
The Gordon K. Hirabayashi Endowment Fund at the University of Washington.
In lieu of flowers for Esther Hirabayashi, donations may be made to the Canadian Association of Medical Teams Abroad, c/o 103 Laurier Drive, Edmonton, AB, Canada T5R 5P6.

On February 11, 2012, the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law will hold a day-long event commemorating the 25th anniversary of the overturning ofHirabayashi v. United States. The event will feature multiple panels and an exhibit. For more information, visit

The University of Washington Press is planning to release a biography of Gordon Hirabayashi co-authored by his brother, James, and nephew, Lane. The working title is A Principled Stand: Gordon Hirabayashi v. the United States.

The Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education (, a program of the Asian Law Caucus, is dedicated to advancing pan-ethnic civil rights and human rights through education.

The Asian American Center for Advancing Justice ( works to promote a fair and equitable society for all by working for civil and human rights and empowering Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underserved communities, and is comprised of the Asian American Justice Center (, the Asian American Institute (, the Asian Law Caucus ( and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (

Other Articles by Lia Chang
Reading of Jeanne Sakata’s Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi Starring Joel de la Fuente in New York
Thom Sesma Stars in Jeanne Sakata’s Dawn’s Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi
AALDEF Honors Dale Minami, Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl Wudunn and Sandra Leung with 2009 Justice in Action Awards
Fred Korematsu, American Hero and Civil Rights Activist Dies at 86
Mu Daiko 15th Anniversary Concert and Minnesota Tour, February 9-19, 2012
Photos: Maya Lin, BD Wong, David Henry Hwang, Yeohlee, Oscar L. Tang and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg at MOCA Legacy Awards Gala
Portraits of New York Chinatown After 9/11 Featured in “Post 9/11”: Commemorative Display at Library of Congress Asian Reading Room, 8/30-9/15
Coming to America through The Angel Island Immigration Station
OCA Awards Gala Photos: David Henry Hwang, Tamlyn Tomita, BD Wong, Dr. Bobby Fong & Tammy Duckworth
Dr. Bobby Fong, BD Wong & Honorable L. Tammy Duckworth to Receive Awards at National OCA Convention in NY on 8/6
Photos: A.B. Cruz III and Lillian Kimura Receive 2011 AALDEF Justice in Action Awards
Reverend Jesse Jackson & Beau Sia slated for 1st Annual Fred Korematsu Day Celebration at UC Berkeley
Making the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution Bill a Reality
Dr. Leroy Chiao and Wat Misaka to Receive 2010 OCA Pioneer Awards in Houston
Juan Gonzalez and Larry Tu Received AALDEF 2010 Justice in Action Awards in New York
Multimedia: AALDEF Celebrates 35 Years of Protecting and Promoting the Civil Rights of Asian Americans

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2011 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at

Lia Chang is an actor, performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multimedia journalist.

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