On March 28, 1942, at 8 p.m., Minoru Yasui began a three-hour walk in downtown Portland that ended with his arrest for breaking a curfew imposed on all persons of Japanese ancestry. He was convicted for this act of defiance, and his conviction was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1943, the high court ruled in Yasui v. United States that the U.S. government did have the right to restrict the lives of American citizens—based on race—in the name of “military necessity.”
In 1983, discoveries of government impropriety led Yasui, along with Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu, to file petitions to have their wartime convictions set aside. In 1984, the Federal Court vacated Yasui’s conviction. While bringing the case for relief, Yasui served as chair of the National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Redress Committee to seek reparations for Japanese Americans incarcerated. He led a grassroots campaign that resulted in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This resulted in formal apologies by the President and the Congress to individual survivors of American WWII concentration camp and provided funding for educational projects. One of those is Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center based in Old Town/Chinatown, Portland, OR.
Today he remains a role model for activism to promote equity for all communities across this country. While multi-racial/ethnic and cross-cultural collaborations such as those Minoru Yasui undertook may seem more common place today, Yasui was decades ahead of his time and a true leader in laying the foundation for how we think about and go about working for justice for all. APANO is honored to establish the Minoru Yasui Voices of Change Award, and to name him as its first recipient.