Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Lorraine Bannai Interview
Narrator: Lorraine Bannai
Interviewers: Margaret Chon (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 23 & 24, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-blorraine-01-0026

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MC: So going back to the time when Dale walked into your office and said, "Do you want to take this case?" can you sort of describe some of the events that happened including the decision to take the case and what vision you had for this particular case?

LB: When, I know that when he came to my office and asked me and told me that it was a case involving Fred Korematsu and the Japanese American internment, I might not have known it exactly at that point in time, but certainly probably soon knew that this was just a tremendous opportunity, a case of a lifetime. It involved my parents' internment, our parents' internment, Dale's family; many of the members of the legal team were from families who had been interned. It was a case that would reopen not only Fred's individual case, but also the whole question about the internment in general. I was only a year or two out of law school when Peter Irons called us up. And it was really exciting. I mean, you go to law school, and you read Roe v. Wade. You read some of these ground-breaking cases, and wouldn't it be great to be able to work on a case like that one day. And I think we realized very early on, not the magnitude of the work -- we certainly didn't have a sense of what we were going into or how much time it would take or how hard it would be -- but we certainly knew that it was important to us personally and to our community to be involved in this case. So we were real excited about it.

Of course, we didn't know Peter Irons. We didn't know who he was, what he wanted, or what our role would be. So we approached it probably with a healthy degree of skepticism and waited to meet with him and meet with Fred and, and learn more about it. So I recall that there was some correspondence going back and forth between Peter and Dale. Dale and I had called some other people in the area to ask them if they wanted to get involved. So somewhere along the line, we put together a meeting with Peter at Dale's house, with maybe about a half a dozen of us local attorneys with him. We thought that he'd be a real stuffy college professor type, real scholarly and intellectual, and it turned out that he really was not our preconceived notion of what a university professor was. He was very down-to-earth, rather irreverent, actually. So we knew we liked him immediately, and I think that he liked us immediately.

He told us what he had found and showed us the documents, and we were stunned, and very excited, and knew that there was a case here. We then at some point set up a meeting with Fred and Kathryn Korematsu at their home. And I remember that all of us were really excited about that meeting. He's a cultural icon in some ways, particularly for law students. We read his case. We knew that he had fought the internment. So we were very excited about meeting him, and we went to his home. They were extraordinarily gracious people. They really welcomed us into their home. We could tell that they were really quite skeptical about these really, really young-looking lawyers handling their case. But they were still very welcoming to us. And I think they really believed in us and that we would be able to do it. So Fred said, "Okay. Let's go ahead." Certainly I remember at one of our very early meetings, perhaps our first meeting with Fred, he was really gung-ho to go forward. He really wanted to reopen the case. But he had one condition, and that was that he really didn't feel comfortable talking to the press or talking in public, and would it be okay if we did the talking for him. And we said, "That's fine. You're not going to have to say anything to the press. You're not going to have talk to anyone. We'll do the talking for you. Don't worry about it." And it's so interesting because this case certainly has certainly transformed him as a person, and he's really been such an active, outspoken advocate for redress. And he's gone all over the country talking about the case now. So I think back to that really early meeting and, and smile.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.