Gordon Hirabayashi to posthumously receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Gordon Hirabayashi in the fall of 1983. photo courtesy of the Hirabayashi family

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama named civil rights icon Gordon Hirabayashi as one of the 13 recipients of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom on April 26. The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor and is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors, according to a statement from the White House.

“These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation,” said Obama regarding all 13 recipients. “They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award.”

Hirabayashi, who challenged the wartime curfew and exclusion orders during World War II, refused the order to report for the forced relocation to a concentration camp and instead turned himself in to the FBI to assert his belief that these practices were racially discriminatory. His exclusion case was vacated four decades later in 1987 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) expressed approval for Hirabayashi’s recognition by the President. “He had the courage and fortitude to stand up for civil rights during a difficult period when racism against Japanese Americans was rampant,” said JACL National Executive Director Floyd Mori. “We commend Gordon for his valiant effort and thank President Obama for this honor to Gordon which is an opportunity to tell the story of innocent Americans of Japanese descent during World War II when the constitution did not protect them and preserve their rights.”

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