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Gordon Hirabayashi was born April 23, 1918 in Sandpoint, Washington, USA. His father, Shungo Hirabayashi, immigrated to the United States in 1907, and Mitsuko, Gordon’s mother, came to the United States in 1914. Both of Gordon’s parents came from the Nagano prefecture in Japan. Prior to immigrating to the United States, both Shungo and Mitsuko had studied English at Kenshi Gijuku academy in Japan and it was there that they converted to Christianity.
Hirabayashi went to study at the University of Washington in 1937. He was active with the YMCA and attended a leadership conference at Columbia University in the summer of 1940. After that summer he returned to University and registered with the Selective Service as a conscientious objector and joined the Religious Society of Friends. Though born in the United States and thus a citizen, as a Japanese American his rights were continually encroached upon during WWII. President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the mass removal and internment of Japanese Americans from the West Coast on February 19, 1942 with Executive Order 9066. Instead of following these orders, Hirabayashi began to resist. He left school and began to volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee and defied the newly placed curfew on those of Japanese Ancestry.
In order to create a test case against these new laws, Hirabayashi turned himself into the FBI for not obeying the imposed curfew. He argued he was not guilty as the laws were prejudice and unconstitutional. His case, Hirabayashi v. United States, (320 U.S. 81) culminated with him serving time in prison. After his release, he spent another year in prison after refusing to complete the Selective Service Form 304A, "The Statement of United States Citizens of Japanese Ancestry" from the draft board as it singled out Japanese Americans.
After the war, Hirabayashi completed his B.A., then went on to earn an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington. He taught around the world, and eventually settled in Edmonton at the University of Alberta in 1959. In 1987, shortly after his retirement, lawyers contacted him seeking permission to reopen his wartime conviction. That year the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of his case, vacating his personal conviction.
Gordon Hirabayashi passed away on January 2, 2012. Later that year he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama for his stand against Japanese American internment.
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Created March 8, 2023 by E Carroll.
Ehrlich, Dorothy M., “Remembering Gordon Hirabayashi.” American Civil Liberties Union, January 11, 2012. https://www.aclu.org/news/racial-justice/remembering-gordon-hirabayashi
Lyon, Cherstin, M., “Gordon Hirabayashi.” In Densho Encyclopedia, 2020, https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Gordon%20Hirabayashi
National Association of Japanese Canadians. “Dr. Gordon Hirabayashi Human Rights Award.” Accessed March 8, 2023. https://najc.ca/funds-and-awards/dr-gordon-hirabayashi-human-rights-award/