On November 16, President Barack Obama posthumously named Minoru Yasui as one of 17 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation’s highest civilian honor. The award is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom for my father is a historic achievement for the community and such an honor for my family,” Holly Yasui, daughter of Minoru Yasui, said in a statement. “We are thankful to President Obama for the award and to Senator Mazie Hirono for making the nomination, and Representative Honda and others for supporting my father for this honor.”
Yasui was a civil and human rights leader known for his continuous defense of the ideals of democracy embodied in our Constitution. A graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law, Yasui challenged the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 during World War II on the grounds of racial discrimination, and spent nine months in solitary confinement during the subsequent legal battle. Yasui was incarcerated at the Minidoka War Relocation Camp as he appealed his case to the Supreme Court. The Court ruled in 1943 that it was constitutional to restrict the lives of private citizens during times of war. After World War II ended, Yasui continued to fight for reparations and justice for Japanese Americans and communities of color. While his conviction was vacated in the 1980s after filing a writ of coram nobis, Yasui passed away in 1986 while appealing the government’s conduct during his case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“I am deeply appreciative of the recognition from President Obama of Minoru Yasui for his lifelong achievement in furthering civil and human rights,” said Peggy Nagae, lead Yasui coram nobis attorney, in a statement. “Not only did he step forward as a young lawyer to test the constitutionality of the military curfew, he also understood the importance of cross-racial/ethnic partnerships and helped to found African American, Latino, and Native American organizations.”
In addition to Yasui, recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom include: Yogi Berra (posthumous), Bonnie Carroll, Shirley Chisholm (posthumous), Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Billy Frank, Jr. (posthumous), Lee Hamilton, Katherine G. Johnson, Willie Mays, Barbara Mikulski, Itzhak Perlman, William Ruckelshaus, Stephen Sondheim, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, and James Taylor.
The awards will be presented at the White House on November 24.
“I look forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor,” Obama said in a statement. “From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”
Yasui, former chair of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) National Redress committee, was also recently posthumously recognized with the Martin Luther King Jr. Business Award by the Asian Chamber of Commerce.