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-01-0037

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MC: I wanted to explore a little bit some of the dynamics at the final hearing when Judge Patel announced her decision. Can you describe a little bit the atmosphere within the courtroom?

LB: It was very exciting. We had certainly prepared for that day for a long time, had anticipated the day, had worked towards the day. We had contacted people in the community to say that this hearing was going to happen, and lots of community members came out for the hearing. Again, I think there really was a feeling that this was much more than Fred's case. It was a case for the community. They had to move the courtroom from Judge Patel's regular courtroom to the large ceremonial courtroom at the Northern District of California to accommodate the number of people who were there. So even before the hearing, the atmosphere was charged with anticipation about what was going to happen at the hearing.

So everybody filed in, took their seats, and Judge Patel came in, and the attorneys had their arguments, presented their cases. And then Fred was given an opportunity to say a few words. It was absolutely quiet, and you could hear a pin drop in the courtroom as he stood up to speak. I don't think it was lost on anyone that this was the exact same court -- it was not the same courtroom -- but he was again before the Federal District Court in the Northern District of California a little over forty years later. When he appeared in 1942, he was alone. It was just him and his attorney and the judge and the U.S. Attorney. No one was there to support him. No one really cared necessarily that he was there being charged. And here on this day so many years later, the courtroom was packed with anticipation about his case.

So when he stood and he spoke, I think the thing that stands out in my mind the most is something that has always stood out in my mind about him, that he speaks with quiet dignity. He's a very soft-spoken man and a very modest man. And he spoke in that fashion, talking about his experience being arrested, talking about his prior experience in the court, and talking about what this case meant to him. And I think in speaking, he was speaking for all of the other former internees in the room. It was a real powerful moment.

After the presentations had been made, Judge Patel announced her decision. And her decision basically said that she was granting the petition for writ of error coram nobis, that she had to accept the allegations in our petition that the government had suppressed, lied, and destroyed material evidence, and that because of that, it was necessary to correct the Court's records and vacate Mr. Korematsu's conviction. It was a fairly long, fairly technical decision. And when she was done, there was a silence in the courtroom, as people were trying to figure out what had just happened. And in fact, Fred leaned over to us and said, "What just happened? Did I win?" And we said, "Yes, Fred. You won. Your conviction's been vacated." And there was cheering in the courtroom. And people just felt so pleased and so relieved. After the hearing was over, there were tears, many Nisei feeling as if they had finally been exonerated of the guilt that they had lived with for all of those years. It's very difficult to reduce to words what an exciting day that was.

MC: Can you remember specifically any thoughts that any Nisei might have shared with you or the rest of the team that day?

LB: I know that in Steve Okazaki's film, he captured some interviews of some of the Nisei right after the November 10th hearing. And what I recall from that day are things along the lines that they felt that it was a really happy day, where they felt that this great burden had been lifted off of their shoulders, that someone had heard their case and knew that what had been done to them was wrong. In addition, there were expressions, many expressions of thanks for the work that we did. And we have always found that tremendously embarrassing to us, when people have come up to us, as they have on numerous occasions, and thanked us for our work on the case, and said that they really appreciated it, when any courage it might have taken for us to do this case -- and I don't think it took courage for us to do this case -- but if it did, it just paled in comparison to the courage that the Nisei and the Issei who went to camp exhibited, to live under those circumstances, to leave camp and build their families and rebuild their communities. There was nothing that we did that could compare at all to the strength that the Nisei and Issei exhibited in their own ways. So, I remember all of those things and all that gratitude, and it's so very hard to understand and to accept, given what they went through.

MC: Do you remember talking to your own family about the decision and the consequences for the community?

LB: I think it was very much the same thing. My sister and I were both involved in the case, and they were tremendously proud of us and tremendously glad that we participated in this litigation. They cut out the newspaper clippings and mailed them to us, and took pictures and mailed them to us, and I think that they really very much felt the same way. They shared the feelings of many of the Nisei that day. And again, it was very strange to take the thanks from them, when in fact, they had been the ones who led us to the point where we had the skills and the ability to do this work, through their sacrifice, through their support, we were able to do this. So the thanks really went to them.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.