This past Tuesday, President Obama bestowed upon 13 individuals the highest honor the United States can bestow to a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Among the distinguished group of recipients was Gordon Hirabayashi:
“Along with some Americans more famous than he, and one other person from the Seattle area, epidemiologist William Foege, Hirabayashi is being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. On Feb. 19, 1942, following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, ordering the removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the Pacific Coast. Hirabayashi was a senior at the University of Washington. He had been born in Seattle, was a U.S. citizen, and there was no case of disloyalty against him. No matter; he was subject to an Army order, the first part of which was an 8 p.m. curfew that applied to persons of Japanese ancestry only. Hirabayashi broke curfew, was arrested and filed suit. He said that as an American, he couldn’t accept a curfew applying to one race only. He took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Americans celebrate those who fight and win. Hirabayashi lost.”
In 1987, Hirabayashi’s case was reheard by the federal courts, and his conviction was overturned. Unfortunately, Hirabayashi passed away this January at the age of 93. Hirabayashi’s surviving wife Susan Carnahan accepted the honor on his behalf. Hirabayashi follows in the footsteps of another Japanese American civil rights legend, Fred Korematsu, who I had blogged about previously, who also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.