Wayne Mortimer Collins (1899-1974), the San Francisco-based lawyer who represented more than 5,500 renunciants at the close of WWII, and was primarily responsible for securing their U.S. citizenship back in the landmark case Abo v. Clark, is the subject of a new documentary by filmmaker Sharon Yamato and Visual Communications, Inc., due for completion in 2021.
Collins spent 23 years preparing and filing more than 10,000 affidavits in federal court to ensure that all those who renounced as a result of governmental duress while incarcerated would not be deprived of their legal right to U.S. citizenship. He worked in conjunction with the Tule Lake Defense Committee under the leadership of former Tule Lake inmate Tex Nakamura, who later became a Los Angeles attorney.
Notable for taking unpopular cases involving Japanese Americans that no one else would consider, together with the aid of Northern California ACLU’s Ernest Besig, Collins represented those imprisoned in the infamous Tule Lake stockade, known as the “jail within a jail” at the government-imposed segregation center. At the close of the war, he also helped prevent deportation to Japan of Japanese Peruvians taken hostage by the U.S. government and imprisoned at Crystal City, Texas.
Two of his well-known Japanese American cases were the defense of Fred Korematsu, who challenged the government’s exclusion order, as well as accused traitor Iva Toguri d’Aquino, so-called “Tokyo Rose.” In addition, he was invited by attorney James Purcell to provide a written argument for the Mitsuye Endo case before the Supreme Court.
Perhaps his most hard-earned accolades are a result of the Herculean task of representing thousands of renunciants. Not only has he been heralded by Tule Lake survivors and their descendants, he has been featured in the dedications of no less than four books, including Michi Nishiura Weglyn’s landmark “Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps”and Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s “Swimming in the American: A Memoir and Selected Writings.”
In addition, actor George Takei has noted, “I am one of those whose life was changed by Wayne Collins. I often wonder what my life might have been like had it not been for the strong fight he mounted to regain my mother’s U.S. citizenship.”
Yamato, whose other films include the World War II documentaries “A Flicker in Eternity,” based on the life of teenager Stanley Hayami, and “Moving Walls,” chronicling the barracks remaining at the Heart Mountain camp, is currently looking for individuals, including Tule Lake families and their descendants, who had interactions with or knowledge of Collins and his associates. Those with any information are urged to contact her at [email protected]
The film is being produced with a grant from the Department of Interior, National Park Service (NPS) through the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) program. With these funds, JACS grants are awarded to private nonprofit organizations; educational institutions; state, local, and tribal governments; and other public entities to preserve and interpret U.S. confinement sites where Japanese Americans were detained during World War II. Additional funding has also been received from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Project.
For more information on this project, contact Yamato at [email protected] For questions regarding the JACS grant program, contact JACS Program Manager Kara Miyagishima at (303) 969-2885.