Civil rights icon Yasui to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

teven-Okazaki Farallon Films / National Japanese American Historical

Steven Okazaki Farallon Films / National Japanese American Historical Society

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama named civil rights icon Minoru Yasui and 16 other people as recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a statement issued Nov. 16 said.

The nation’s highest civilian honor is presented to those “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,” the statement said. The awards will be presented Nov. 24 at the White House.

A graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law, Yasui “challenged the constitutionality of a military curfew order during World War II on the grounds of racial discrimination, and spent nine months in solitary confinement during the subsequent legal battle,” the statement said.

“In 1943, the Supreme Court upheld the military curfew order. Yasui spent the rest of his life appealing his wartime conviction. At the time of his death in 1986, he had successfully convinced a trial court to vacate his arrest, and a case challenging the constitutionality of his conviction was pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Yasui also spent his life fighting for the human and civil rights of all people,” the statement said.

The Japanese American Citizens League commended the nomination of Yasui.

“He joins Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi who were previously recognized for their wartime courage,” said JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida. “These men and Mitsuye Endo, whose case led to the release of Japanese Americans, challenged the government’s ability to deny loyal Americans their basic rights. Their cases continue to remind all citizens of this great country of the strengths and fragility of the rights promised by the Constitution.”

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