By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Gordon Hirabayashi died on Jan. 2 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where he taught sociology at the University of Alberta (UA). He was 93 and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s.
In 1942, the U.S. Government ordered nationwide evacuation of Japanese Americans by Executive Order 9066. The government simply called it a relocation. But for those who had to abandon their homes, it was imprisonment.
Hirabayashi was among the internees. A student at the University of Washington (UW) at the time, he was one of only three Japanese Americans who resisted, stating that internment was a violation of his Constitutional rights. For his act of courage, he was arrested, convicted, and imprisoned.
Hirabayashi was born in Seattle in 1918. He attended Auburn High School.<!–more–>
His parents ran a vegetable store, and his father was a farmer. Hirabayashi was the eldest of five children.
He went to prison for 90 days for challenging Executive Order 9066. A famous Supreme Court case resulted, Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), which was the first to challenge the expulsion of Japanese Americans. He lost, 9–0, and was interned.
“I wasn’t a rebel looking for a cause,” Hirabayashi told the UW in 2000. “In fact, I was preparing to go.
But in the days before I was supposed to leave, I realized that I couldn’t do it.”
After the war, Hirabayashi finished his bachelor’s degree and earned his master’s degree and doctorate in sociology from the UW. He taught overseas in Beirut and Cairo for some years before joining the faculty at UA in 1959. He retired in 1983.
His principled stand was vindicated 40 years later when his convictions were overturned in 1986 and 1987 after long-buried evidence was found, which had been withheld from Hirabayashi in defense of his rights as an American citizen.
Hirabayashi later became the recipient of many honors and awards from such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Japanese American Citizens League for his principled stand during World War II. In 1999, the National Park Service renamed Catalina Honor Camp in the Coronado National Park in Arizona as the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site. In 2000, the UW established the Gordon Hirabayashi Endowment Fund in his honor. Just last year, the National Association of Japanese Canadians established the Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Award.
In 1999, he was also honored as one of Northwest Asian Weekly’s Top Contributors to the Asian Community.
Hirabayashi is survived by his wife, Susan Carnahan; his son, Jay; two daughters, Marion Oldenburg and Sharon Yuen; a sister, Esther Furugori; a brother, James; nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. He was divorced from his first wife, Esther, who died 10 hours after Hirabayashi’s death. (end)
Hirabayashi’s family has suggested, in lieu of flowers, that a donation be made to the Gordon K. Hirabayashi Endowed Professorship for the Advancement of Citizenship — by phone to UW Gifts 1-877-894-4387, by check to UW Foundation (HIRABA) Box 359504, Seattle, WA 98195, or online to www.washington.edu/giving/make-a-gift.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.