When President Barack Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on Gordon K. Hirabayashi in 2012, he said the man “knew what it was like to stand alone.”
That’s because Hirabayashi, a University of Washington alumnus who had died Jan. 2 of that year, was one of the few people who legally opposed the internment of Japanese-American citizens such as himself during World War II. Hirabayashi earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and his doctorate in sociology from the UW and taught sociology until his retirement in 1983.
Hirabayashi took his case over internment to the U.S. Supreme Court, and lost. “It would be another 40 years before that decision was reversed, giving Asian Americans everywhere a small measure of justice,” President Obama said.
Now, that Presidential Medal of Freedom is coming to the UW, where Hirabayashi’s widow, Susan Carnahan, will present it to UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce during an afternoon-long public symposium and celebration of Hirabayashi and his work.
“Courage in Action: A Symposium on the Life and Legacy of Gordon K. Hirabayashi” will be held from 1 to 5:30 p.m. Feb. 22 in 120 Kane Hall, and will be hosted by KING 5 TV’s Lori Matsukawa. It’s free, but registration is requested at www.UWalum.com/Hirabayashi.
The medal will be part of a collection of Hirabayashi’s journals, photographs, letters and legal papers his family has donated to UW Libraries Special Collections. Many of these are on display in the Allen Library North Lobby in an exhibit titled “Civil Disobedience!”
The symposium will feature comments by members of Hirabayashi’s family as well as UW faculty members and Mary Schroeder, the U.S. Court of Appeals judge who wrote the 1987 opinion vacating his curfew and exclusion convictions. Panel discussions will be moderated by Tetsuden Kashima and Gail Nomura, UW professors of American Ethnic Studies.
There also will be book-signing in Kane Hall’s Walker Ames Room from 3 to 4 p.m. by Lane Hirabayashi, co-author of the University Press book “A Principled Stand: The Story of Gordon Hirabayashi.”
President Obama concluded his remarks at the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony by quoting Hirabayashi himself, saying, “It takes a crisis to tell us that unless citizens are willing to stand up for the [Constitution], it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”
He then added, “This country is better off because of citizens like him who are willing to stand up.”
For more information about the seminar, contact A.C. Petersen of UW Libraries at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-543-9389.