Jerry Enomoto, first APA U.S. marshal, dies

Jerry Enomoto, the first Asian American to head the California Department of Corrections and to be appointed as a U.S. marshal, passed away Jan. 17, 2016. He was 89.

A lifelong civil rights advocate based in Sacramento, Calif., Enomoto and his wife Dorothy helped to organize local Martin Luther King, Jr. Day events. He served two terms as president of the National Japanese American Citizens League, and chair its Legislative Education Committee during the Japanese American Redress Movement.

Community activist Andy Noguchi, the co-president of the Florin chapter of the JACL, called Enomoto the “patriarch of the Asian American Movement.”

“That’s how many of us in the Florin JACL saw, admired, and loved Jerry Enomoto through the 30 years that we worked together on redress, hate crimes, anti-Muslim backlash, and many other civil rights issues,” Noguchi told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “My wife Twila Tomita and I remember Jerry as always being ready to stand up for what is right, yet also a very humble and private individual.”

A Nisei, Enomoto was born in San Francisco and attended Lowell High School when his education was interrupted by the forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast during World War II. He graduated as a valedictorian of his high school behind barbed wire at the Tule Lake concentration camp in Northern California.

Enomoto had a three-decade career as a law enforcement official, full of many “firsts.” He was tapped by then-Governor Ronald Reagan to be the first Asian American to serve as a prison warden, and a few years later he would be appointed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown as the first Asian American to manage a state department in California history as head of the state’s Department of Corrections.

In 1994, then-President Bill Clinton appointed Enomoto the first Asian American U.S. marshal, serving the Eastern District of California — which covered 34 inland counties from Bakersfield to the Oregon border.

“I am deeply saddened upon hearing the passing of former National President Jerry Enomoto,” said current JACL National President David Lin. “Jerry led JACL admirably from 1966 to 1970. He was a staunch civil rights champion with a distinguished career in public service.”

Enomoto was named the “JACLer of the Biennium” in 1992. “JACL benefited tremendously from his leadership and vision and we will always be grateful to his many contributions to the JACL,” added Lin. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Dorothy and his entire family.”

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