|Japanese American Redress: A View from the Midwest|
|Voices of Chicago|
|Written by William Yoshino|
|Sunday, 19 October 2008 16:18|
The purpose of this paper is to reflect on some of my activities related to the redress campaign during the 1980s and 1990s. I must also note that during the years I worked on the JACL Redress Campaign, I developed fond and lasting relationships with many individuals within and outside of the JACL. I was particularly honored to work with many Nisei from around the country and particularly from the Midwest and Chicago. Several stand out for their dedication and commitment over the nine years that we labored in this campaign. They are John Tateishi, Minoru Yasui from Denver, Shig Wakamatsu and Chiye Tomihiro from Chicago, Henry Tanaka from Cleveland and Grayce Uyehara from Philadelphia.
The Legislative Campaign to Establish the Commission
Following its decision to pursue the commission approach, the JACL began working on the language of the legislation to be introduced in the House and Senate. The final language of the legislation stated its intent to establish a federal commission to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the issuance of Executive Order 9066 and to recommend appropriate remedies. The JACL immediately began a legislative campaign to gain passage of the legislation. On March 7, 1979, I worked with our Detroit chapter and the JACL Midwest District Council to convene a Redress Conference at Wayne State University to begin drawing public attention to this issue. We invited John Tateishi, Congressman Norman Mineta and Professor Harry Kitano from UCLA. The two-day program also featured the photo exhibit, Executive Order 9066. In the months leading up to the introduction of the legislation in the fall of 1979, I was at work organizing the network of JACL Midwest chapters for the impending campaign to gather legislative support for the commission legislation.
Working with JACL’s Midwest Chapters
By the winter of 1980, we were well into the campaign to pass the commission bill. In February 1980, I arranged for a community meeting on redress at the JASC in Chicago. John Tateishi and Minoru Yasui spoke about the importance of our legislative campaign and the work that everyone had to do to make it a success. By April of 1980, we had increased the number of cosponsors in the House to 30, along with four senators. At this time, we also focused our efforts on specific Midwest senators because six of them were on the Senate committee where the bill resided. As it turned out all the Midwest senators on the committee voted to approve the legislation so that it could go to the Senate floor for passage. All of our efforts directed at the Senate had been worthwhile. The hours that we spent encouraging our Midwest chapters and contacting the senators with letter-writing, together with the efforts our chapters made had paid off.
The JACL National Redress Campaign
In addition, we set up a congressional database on our computer in the JACL Midwest Office. Though it is commonplace today, using a computer back in 1980 to track this type of information seemed progressive, at least for the JACL. Our databank included congressional voting records where we could ascertain where the congressman might lean on the redress issue. It also contained anecdotal information describing the contact we had had with the members of congress. This technology helped us to plan and track the lobbying effort between our chapters and the members of congress.
During this time, the national JACL did fundraising within the organization to finance the
Another important aspect of the campaign was to get other organizations to support the legislation. These endorsements were important to show that the redress issue had a broad base of support. It took the effort of many to gather this support, but we eventually received endorsements from groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Illinois Ethnic Coalition, various veteran’s organizations, labor groups, numerous churches and government entities such as the Chicago City Council. To illustrate the usefulness of these endorsements, at one important juncture late in the campaign, I asked Marcia Lazar, the president of the American Jewish Committee in Chicago to contact Congressman Dan Glickman, her former childhood classmate in Kansas. Glickman served on the subcommittee in the House where the redress legislation resided, so his support was important. The support of these organizations proved extremely helpful especially when they provided direct access to the members of congress.
During the spring of 1980, we turned our attention to the House of Representatives. One
A Visit to the White House
The CWRIC had eighteen months to complete its investigation and issue its recommendations. In consultation with the Nikkei members of Congress, the JACL did make recommendations to President Carter and the leaders in Congress regarding those who would serve as members of the commission. One of the recommendations made by JACL was Arthur J. Goldberg, the former Supreme Court justice. It was known that Goldberg strongly supported reparations for the internment. John Tateishi had written a letter to Goldberg asking his permission to submit his name to the President. In his response, Goldberg said, “You know, of course, of my deep feeling that a grave injustice was committed to Japanese-Americans by their internment during World War II…With respect to your submitting my name to the President, I have made it a practice to refrain from such a procedure…” Nevertheless, Goldberg’s name was on JACL’s list, and he was appointed and did serve as a member of the commission.
Commission Hearings in Chicago
Our most important hearing task was to identify and prepare witnesses to testify. I recall working closely with the Chicago Redress Committee to identify and prepare Chicago witnesses. At the same time, I coordinated a similar effort in the Midwest to identify and prepare witnesses from Midwestern cities. I recall working with John Tateishi and Minoru Yasui to put together a packet for JACL chapters related to the hearings. The packet outlined the hearing procedures and provided a template for written and oral testimonies. In Chicago, we conducted workshops and individual sessions with witnesses at the JASC on August 15, and at the Midwest Buddhist Temple on August 29, where we helped with the preparation of their written testimony and with their oral presentations before the commission. Though it was difficult to provide this same service to potential witnesses from outside Chicago, nevertheless I was able to assist a number of them with their written testimonies. In addition, I worked with the JACL chapters to identify witnesses who could provide compelling testimony. Maryann Mahaffey was one such individual. Ms. Mahaffey was then a member of the Detroit City Council, but during World War II she was a young social worker at Poston II. She gave emotional testimony saying, “I think I did some good. I think I helped. But I will be forever haunted by what could not be done, by the irreparable damage inflicted on an innocent, helpless and defenseless population.”
Bill Yoshino (lower right) at the Chicago Hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation
Redress Legislation in Congress
Following the issuance of the commission report, the JACL committed itself to gaining passage of legislation to incorporate the primary provisions of the commission recommendations. This effort would take six years, during which time the legislation was introduced in three separate sessions of Congress. The campaign also brought changes within the JACL to accommodate a more focused lobbying effort. The JACL formed a lobbying arm called the JACL Legislative Education Committee that had the ability to engage in more direct forms of lobbying. Minoru Yasui served as the chair of this committee and in 1985, Grayce Uyehara, a staunch JACLer from Philadelphia, was named as its executive director.
The effort to gain passage of the redress legislation was very similar to the effort to gain passage of the commission legislation, although, by degree, it was much more difficult because we were looking at a piece of legislation that would cost the taxpayers over $1 billion during a time of fiscal belt-tightening by a Republican Administration. Still, the legislative campaign in the Midwest focused on personal contacts with legislators, gathering endorsements by organizations and fundraising. My duties remained much the same from the CWRIC campaign. Min Yasui asked me to coordinate all JACL chapter and district council activities on redress. This meant serving as a communications clearinghouse for all incoming and outgoing information and data, which included the issuance of monthly reports. I enjoyed working with Grayce, who stressed close communications and always offered snippets of information such as when she heard that a small group of Senators were prepared to filibuster the redress bill upon introduction and that Senator Spark Matsunaga was working to diffuse the effort. It was her way of keeping people engaged on the issue.
It was a long haul from 1983 until 1987 when circumstances and events changed for the better, paving the way for Congress to finally pass the Civil Liberties Act. I recall working with others to get endorsements from a number of organizations including the Chicago City Council by arranging for JACL testimony at a committee hearing before Alderman Roman Pucinski. I will never forget the assistance provided by David Roth from the American Jewish Committee who worked through the Illinois Ethnic Coalition to gain the support of numerous organizations to do grassroots lobbying for the redress bill. I remember accompanying Chiye Tomihiro to talk to the chief fundraiser for Congressman John Porter to see if we could get him to convince the congressman to support the legislation. From time to time, I touched base with Congressman Sidney Yates, an old friend of the Japanese American community, to reinforce our thanks for his support. We knew eventually that we would also have to get the support of President Ronald Reagan, so I prevailed on my contacts to Republican Governor James Thompson to try to convince him send a letter to the President requesting his support. While a gesture such as this didn’t have a bearing in determining Reagan’s support, it was a way to get one more influential person to become aware of our cause. As a result of strenuous efforts by countless individuals, the House of Representatives voted to approve the Civil Liberties Act on September 17, 1987 by a vote of 243-141. The Illinois delegation voted 15-4, with three not voting. Senate action on the legislation finally occurred on April 20, 1988 when it voted 69-27 to approve the legislation.
As with the commission legislation, I was honored to be part of the JACL delegation to attend the Presidential signing of the Civil Liberties Act. At the time, I was attending the JACL national convention in Seattle. We boarded an overnight flight to Washington, D.C. The signing ceremony was held on August 10, 1988, in the press room in the Old Executive Office Building, where approximately fifty people gathered for this emotional event.
Office of Redress Administration
The Office of Redress Administration (ORA) was established to implement the Civil Liberties Act, including the writing of regulations that governed important issues such as eligibility. In the end, and to their credit, the ORA interpreted the Act in a liberal manner. I believe part of the credit for this is due to Cherry Kinoshita from Seattle, a member of both the LEC and the JACL boards. Cherry closely scrutinized the work of the ORA and never hesitated to weigh in for the benefit of the community.
The redress payments commenced during the fall of 1990 when the Justice Department began circulating the apology letters. The ORA organized for local ceremonies in a number of locations including Chicago where the oldest recipients were presented with their checks. The JACL played an important role in assisting the ORA in implementing their program. Through the JACL network of regional offices and chapters, we assisted in the distribution of ORA materials and we provided assistance to individuals in completing applications to make a claim. I recall receiving many inquiries, most involving the issue of eligibility or the lack of documentation to show that a person resided on the West Coast. In all respects, the ORA proved cooperative and effective in the administration of the program.