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Oregonian Lawyer, Civil Rights Activist to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

 

It was announced on Tuesday that Oregonian lawyer and civil rights activist Minoru Yasui was selected as one of seventeen Americans to receive the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Yasui was the first Japanese-American to graduate from the University of Oregon’s School of Law and made national history by challenging the military curfew imposed on Japanese-American citizens during WWII.

According to the Oregon Encyclopedia, Yasui was born in Hood River on October 16, 1961, and graduated from the UO School of Law in 1939, becoming the first Japanese American member of the Oregon Bar.

After the attacks on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Yasui returned to Oregon from Chicago, expected to be called into service after being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Infantry Reserve, but the army refused to accept him for active duty.

During World War II, Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt of the Western Defense Command argued that imprisonment of Japanese-Americans was necessary after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. After President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive order 9066, DeWitt issued a number of military orders, including a curfew that ordered all German nationals, Italian nationals, and persons of Japanese ancestry to remain in their homes between the hours of 8 PM and 6 PMViolating the curfew was a criminal offense under federal law.

Yeas believed the orders were unconstitutional when applied to U.S. citizens and in March of 1942, walked the streets of Portland, intentionally breaking the curfew and leading to his arrest.

Yasuri argued that the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the civil rights of citizens, but was found guilty in federal court. He appealed his case all the way to the U.S, Supreme Court, where the court ruled against him. He spent nine months in solitary confinement as a result of the conviction.

 

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