Remembering Clifford Uyeda
Presented at the memorial for Clifford Iwao Uyeda on Wednesday, August 18, 2004 (at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California in San Francisco’s Japantown)
By KENJI G. TAGUMA
I am deeply honored to be here this evening to talk about a man who has and will always have a profound impact on me and my life decisions. A man who has been a supporter, a friend, a mentor and a role model.
As a young Sansei, I am very humbled to be here tonight to talk about one of the last true giants of Japanese America…
Clifford Iwao Uyeda left us on Friday, July 30, 2004, leaving behind his beloved wife Betty. But his lasting legacy will be remembered by all of us who he touched.
People have called him a “Man of Principle,” a “Voice for the Voiceless,” a “Champion of the Underdog,” a “Beacon of Hope” and a “Fearless Leader.” He will be remembered as a human rights icon who dedicated much of his later years to social justice.
Clifford was a staunch fighter and human rights activist who often took principled, if unpopular, stands.
He was a doctor, a healer who attacked an issue like he would attack a disease.
Clifford was a champion for many causes, such as spearheading an anti-whaling campaign, leading a drive to educate Japanese Americans about the plight of Native Americans, and serving as a lead advocate to call for a pardon for Iva Toguri, who was falsely accused of being the so-called “Tokyo Rose” during World War II.
“Doing the right thing” was
his guiding principle.
Clifford Iwao Uyeda was born in Olympia, Washington on January 14, 1917, to Matsutaro, who raised Olympia oysters for some 40 years, and Kimiyo Uyeda. He was one of three children, which included brother Masao, or “Bud,” who passed away in 1983, and sister June, who passed away in 2003.
Upon graduating high school in Tacoma, he left the city in 1936 for the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a B.A. degree in English in 1940. He then earned his medical degree from the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans in 1945.
From 1948 to 1949, Clifford had his residency and pediatric training at Harvard Medical School.
During the Korean War, he became a captain in the U.S. Air Force. Upon relocating to San Francisco in 1953, Clifford became a staff pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, running a variety of clinics.
In 1960, Clifford would take the first of some 30 trips to Hawaii with his first wife, Helen, who passed away in 1992.
Clifford maintained a strong interest in Japanese American history and culture, as witnessed by his co-founding of the Center for Japanese American Studies in 1969 — which helped to develop curriculum for the fledgling Ethnic Studies program at San Francisco State University — and serving as one of the first board members of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California.
He was also chair of the Issei History Project of the JACL.
Clifford retired in 1975 at the age of 58. But unlike many who would reward themselves with a relaxing “retirement,” merely golfing or traveling the world, he would just start his “second” career – that of a dedicated activist.
Clifford first heard of the case of the infamous “Tokyo Rose” in 1973, and became passionately involved in a campaign seeking to overturn the post-war conviction of Iva Toguri, who was falsely accused, tried and sentenced for treason against the United States during World War II.
Toguri was accused of broadcasting anti-American propaganda to American POWs as “Tokyo Rose” on radio.
Working with Wayne Merrill Collins, son of famed civil rights attorney Wayne Mortimer Collins, Clifford brought national attention to the case. An intense effort by Clifford and others in the JACL’s National Committee for Iva Toguri — which he chaired from 1975-77 — culminated with a full pardon for Iva Toguri d’Aquino by then-President Gerald Ford on Jan. 19, 1977.
Clifford not only fought on behalf of people, he also spoke out against harm done to mammals.
In 1974, he formed the National Whale Issue Committee within the JACL, which was a four-year effort.
Clifford was placed in the unique position of on the one hand, supporting whale conservation and the efforts for a moratorium on commercial whaling, and at the same time opposing the blanket boycott of Japanese goods because of its “misdirected racism” against the Japanese people and Japanese Americans.
This campaign worked directly with numerous American conservation organizations, answering hundreds of letters explaining their positions.
Clifford’s persistence and leadership convinced major conservation groups to withdraw their support of the economic boycott and instead work to develop cooperative ties with the Japanese conservationists.
In 1977, he went to Japan to protest commercial whaling.
Although the concept of redress for concentration camp survivors was coined by Edison Uno years earlier, Clifford was asked in October of 1977 to “take over” the chairmanship of the JACL campaign because the program was not moving forward.
In 1978 he successfully ran for the national presidency of the organization, thus vacating his role as redress chair.
Clifford’s role in the redress campaign was critical, as the campaign was launched into a national forum.
Even though people may have disagreed with him, Clifford was able to gain their respect.
In the 1990s, Clifford became active in uncovering truths that had been suppressed. He advocated for the publication of what has become known as the “Lim Report,” which uncovered the questionable wartime role of Japanese American Citizens League leaders.
In his later years, he would oppose the inscription of a controversial JACL leader’s quote on the National Japanese American Memorial in Washington, D.C.
He was an early supporter of Nisei draft resisters — who as young men refused to be drafted from behind barbed wire concentration camps until their families were released from the camps and their civil rights were restored. They were being asked to fight for the very freedoms that they did not enjoy. For years, these resisters were ostracized by the so-called Japanese American community leadership, namely those associated with the JACL.
In 1997 he told a group of resisters how close he was to being a resister himself, that he made up his mind that if the orders came to report, he would not go.
It is his support for resisters that first drew me to Clifford. A little over 10 years ago, he asked me to write an essay for Nikkei Heritage, the journal of the National Japanese American Historical Society, on my father Noboru, himself a Nisei draft resister from the Granada, Colorado concentration camp. Clifford helped to restore the dignity of the resisters by organizing public forums on the issue, and as the son of a resister, I will be forever grateful to him for his determination to strive for historical accuracy.
Clifford also gave vocal support for redress for the more than 2,000 persons of Japanese descent who were virtually kidnapped from their homes in Latin America and held in American detention camps for use in hostage exchanges with Japanese POWs. He often wrote in support for Japanese Latin Americans.
Clifford's actions speak to a new generation of activists.
To many, Clifford was a staunch, yet reasoned, “voice of the voiceless.”
In 1983, he formed the Committee for the Big Mountain People with the JACL, writing more than 40 reports over four years on the plight of the Navajo people, who were fighting the government’s attempts to forcibly remove 10,000 of them from their ancestral homeland.
Clifford was an influential leader in the National Japanese American Historical Society, including his tenure as the Historical Society’s president from 1988-94. He was instrumental in broadening the base of the organization.
Clifford served in various capacities with the Historical Society, including research chair and chair of its Capital Fund. He also edited the organization’s publication, Nikkei Heritage, for a number of years.
He was very instrumental in the formation of the Historical Society’s 1995 exhibit “Latent August,” which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Gary Otake, who edited Clifford’s year 2000 memoirs, entitled “Suspended: Growing Up Asian In America,” remembered Clifford’s “enormous appetite for food.” His appetite for food was perhaps only matched by his thirst for knowledge.
Peter Yamamoto, who also worked with Clifford at the Historical Society, remembers that Clifford “was always up for a good game of tennis.” Peter also recalled that Clifford and Betty were avid walkers, who used to walk all the way from Japantown to the Marina and back.”
Clifford was also a prolific writer, who said he could write 100 pages in one night. Those skills, undoubtedly, came in handy. In the process of writing his memoirs, his computer crashed, causing him to start over from scratch.
Clifford was already diagnosed with prostate cancer when, in 1998, he began what was to be the last chapter in his remarkable book of activism — his final battle.
He was the founding co-chair of what became the Rape of Nanking Redress Coalition, a group of Asian American and other activists demanding that the Japanese government apologize and give redress to victims of Japanese military atrocities during World War II.
A second-generation Japanese American himself, Clifford thought it was important for Japanese Americans, who themselves fought for and won redress for wartime injustices committed upon them by the U.S. government, should join the call for redress for the heinous acts of brutality imposed upon millions of victims of Japanese military aggression.
He led rallies to protest the Japanese government even in a wheelchair.
He said “Japan needs to realize the errors she committed, acknowledge its truth, apologize and pay the necessary restitutions.”
He added, “Japan has everything to gain, and little to lose by practicing this action. If Japan continues to be stubborn as she is doing now, she will become a true target of world hatred. We do not want the Japanese people to have to suffer the consequence of such action.”
His co-chair in the RNRC, now-retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Lillian Sing, said Clifford’s “passion for justice was unmatched.”
Clifford was, and will always be, a true visionary ahead of his time.
How can we ever adequately remember Clifford Uyeda? Perhaps that is the challenge he left us.
One of the most important lessons that Clifford has taught me is that we should always strive simply to do what is RIGHT, NOT what is politically convenient. Clifford was not concerned about popularity.
Some 87 years after he entered our world, Clifford Iwao Uyeda left it a much better place for generations to come.
Updated: September 3, 2004