Conscience and the Constitution

Frank Emi Receives the Key to the City

News release from the National Conference for Community and Justice, Greater Long Beach chapter

Feb. 19, 2004

Frank Emi with Long Beach vice-mayor Frank ColonnaLONG BEACH, Calif. -- Two decades before the 1960s civil rights movement, another group of Americans utilized the act of civil disobedience in demanding the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.

Frank Emi, 87, a leader of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, shared about his World War II courtroom battles before a crowd of about 650 at the recent 13th annual Interfaith/Intercultural Breakfast, organized by the Greater Long Beach chapter of the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ).

Emi received a standing ovation from the multi-ethnic, multi-generational crowd that ranged from students, academics, businessmen, politicians and law enforcement officers, including the Long Beach chief of police.

Emi recounted the loss their family suffered when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered all West Coast Japanese Americans into relocation camps in 1942. Just prior to the war, the Emi family had invested $25,000 into their Los Angeles grocery operation, but when they were forced to evacuate, the family could only get a mere $1,500 for their business. After the war, Emi found out the buyer had resold the business for $100,000.

The Emi family ended up at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming. When the
government instituted the draft for camp internees, the Heart Mountain Fair Play
Committee -- led by Emi, Kiyoshi Okamoto, Sam Horino, Paul Nakadate, Minoru
Tamesa, Ben Wakaye and Guntaro Kubota -- advocated that members refuse to report to their draft boards unless their constitutional rights were restored.

For taking this stand, Emi and the six other leaders were tried on conspiracy to violate the Selective Service Act, and with aiding, abetting and counseling others to resist the draft. The seven leaders were convicted in November 1944 and sentenced to Leavenworth Correctional Institute, but in December 1945, their case was overturned on appeal.

"I think we proved that the JACL and the national ACLU were wrong when they criticized us," said Emi. "The appellate court judges ruled that we had the right to challenge this on legal grounds, openly and publicly, if we felt it was unconstitutional."

Long Beach Vice Mayor Frank Colonna handed Emi, a Long Beach Poly High School graduate, the key to the city.

"I wish I could have given this to you about 45 years ago," said Colonna.

Alan Nishio, president of NCCJ"s Greater Long Beach chapter, felt the story of the Nisei draft resisters had universal appeal.

"I grew up with role models like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez, these people who took a stand based on principles," said Nishio. "It wasn"t until later in life that I found out that there were people in the Japanese American community who had taken a stand. And that"s important not just because I"m Japanese American but because these people can be role models to others."

The NCCJ staff also edited and showed a 7-minute version of "Conscience and the Constitution," Frank Abe"s documentary on the Heart Mountain draft resistance.

Photo courtesy NCCJ

See also "Former Internee Tells Story of Resistance"


Updated: March 19, 2004