Conscience and the Constitution

About the JACL apology to the Heart Mountain resisters

Our film, Conscience and the Constitution, ends with the on-screen tag, "In July 2000, the national Japanese American Citizens League voted to apologize for its suppression of wartime resistance. Several JACL old-timers walked out in protest." 

graphic: video cameraNational JACL President Floyd MoriOn Saturday, May 11, 2002, about 300 people filled the gym at the San Francisco Japanese American Community and Cultural Center for the Nisei Resisters of Conscience of World War II Recognition and Reconciliation Ceremony. Watch a 73-second QuickTime clip of the actual words of apology from National JACL President Floyd Mori (the image is muddy and due to an error in editing there is distracting double audio in places, but it will be awhile before we can recut it) [requires free Quicktime Player]. Read the full speech.

Heart Mountain resistance leader Frank Emigraphic: video cameraWatch a 70-second QuickTime video clip of Heart Mountain resistance leader Frank Emi's remarks in response to the JACL apology. Emi graciously acknowledged the reconciliation, but then raised the stakes by challenging JACL to address the question of its wartime collaboration with incarceration, and apologizing to the entire community for its policy of compliance with expulsion and initial waiver of civil rights for an entire people. Read the full speech.
Here is Emi's closing:

"I wish to extend my appreciation to the JACL for sponsoring this ceremony. As a civil rights organization, I believe it is a step in the right direction. 

Having said that, I think it would be entirely appropriate for JACL to go one step further and hold a similar program directed towards the Japanese American community for the excesses committed by wartime JACL leaders, such as acting as informants for the government causing many innocent people to suffer, as recorded in the Lim Report.

I believe such action would finally put to rest, JACL's unholy ghosts of the past and would be a worthy way to start the 21st century. 

The United States government apologized for their wartime excesses.  Can JACL do less?"

That was unexpected, but on reflection it is typical Frank Emi. Never afraid to take a stand. It is his image, by the way, at the top of this page.

Frank's thoughts were immediately echoed and expanded upon on stage by fellow resister Yosh Kuromiya. Read the full speech by Yosh.

The event was remarkable for a number of reasons:

  • The event captured the imagination of the media locally, nationally, and even worldwide. Effective outreach by Keith Kamisugi and his site caught the attention of editors who framed this as another WW2 "sixty years later" reconciliation story. Japanese NHK-TV was there, as was the Wall Street Journal and many local broadcast and print media.

  • The event succeeded in drawing out 21 draft resisters from Heart Mountain, Amache and even the lone resister from Jerome, Joe Yamakido, who told me he just wanted to see it but didn't want to be introduced. We got his name to the organizers, and after he came up to receive his ceremonial gift and returned to his seat high in the bleachers, his daughter gave him a big hug and wiped away her own tears. It was also a shock to finally get to meet George Kurasaki, Halley Minoura, Bob Nagahara, and other Heart Mountain resisters who are in the courtroom photo but never wanted to come out in public until now.

  • JACL National President Floyd Mori (pictured above) and Executive Director John Tateishi took a great risk in fulfilling the membership's mandate to hold a public ceremony. Twelve years ago it would have been unthinkable to see the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee admitted as a group to a JACL meeting, much less be the center of honor and attention. Even when Frank Emi and Mits Koshiyama spoke at the 1994 JACL convention in Salt Lake City, there was an uneasy air about the invitation and a local white scholar was brought in to mediate the proceedings. In the 20th century a convention resolution deemed ill-advised by the Nisei old guard would have simply been redirected or undermined by JACL leadership. By following their own consciences, and the mandate of their members, Mori and Tateishi have elevated the JACL of today to a new level of credibility as the civil rights organization it has strived to be since resettlement.

Martha Nakagawa of the Pacific Citizen and Kenji Taguma of the Nichi Bei Times wrote the most knowledgeable reports on the ceremony, which are linked below. The Associated Press sent award-winning news photographer Paul Sakuma to the ceremony, and you can see four of his photos online.

Here are links to online news coverage, updated on June 7, 2002:

Go to the past updates leading up to the JACL ceremony.


Updated: June 1, 2011