This event is being held in celebration of the historic bill passed by the Oregon Senate and House in 2016 designating March 28 of each year as Minoru Yasui Day. He was the first-ever Oregonian awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the country. The posthumous honor was bestowed by President Barack Obama.
In honor of Min Yasui Day, participants will walk from the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, 121 NW 2nd Ave., to Portland Center Stage at The Armory, 128 NW 11th Ave., for a screening of “Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice,” a documentary produced by Yasui’s daughter, Holly, and for recognition of the 2018 winners of the Minoru Yasui Essay Contest.
4 p.m.: Walk from the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center to Portland Center Stage at The Armory.
4:30 p.m.: Awards ceremony for the Minoru Yasui Essay Contest
5 p.m: Screening of “Never Give Up!”
6 p.m.: Q&A with Holly Yasui and Peggy Nagae, Minoru Yasui’s lead attorney.
Minoru Yasui was born in Hood River, Ore. in 1916. He graduated from the University of Oregon School of Law and was the first Japanese American to practice law in the state. On March 28, 1942, in Portland, Yasui deliberately violated a military curfew imposed upon all persons of Japanese ancestry under Executive Order 9066. This order led to the incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. He challenged the discriminatory curfew in order to initiate a test case in court.
He spent nine months in solitary confinement at the Multnomah County Jail as he appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was released from jail in 1943, only to be sent to the Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho.
After the war, Yasui moved to Denver and continued to defend the human and civil rights not only of Japanese Americans but for ethnic and religious minorities, children and youth, the aged, low-income people, etc. As executive director of the Denver Commission on Community Relations, he helped to initiate and oversaw a plethora of programs and organizations serving diverse communities.
In the 1970s and ’80s, he spearheaded the movement to win reparations and a formal apology from the government for the injustices against Japanese Americans during World War II.
In 1983, he returned to Portland to reopen his wartime case in the U.S. District Court of Oregon. While his conviction was vacated, the court denied his request for an evidentiary hearing, which he appealed. His case was in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals when he died in 1986.
The mission of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment is to preserve and honor the history and culture of Japanese Americans in the Pacific Northwest, to educate the public about the Japanese American experience during World War II, and to advocate for the protection of civil rights for all Americans. Its projects include the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Waterfront Park, designed by landscape architect Robert Murase, and the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, a place to explore the culture and history of Japanese Americans, located in Portland’s historic Old Town neighborhood. For more information, visit www.oregonnikkei.org.