Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Peter Irons Interview II
Narrator: Peter Irons
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Lorraine Bannai (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 27, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-ipeter-02-0020

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PI: The other significant thing I recall is the actual hearing before Judge Patel in San Francisco. And that to me was very powerful, emotional impact. I was not going to say anything in court -- that was Dale's job -- except to be at the counsel table. But we had arranged, and Judge Patel, I think herself had arranged to use the largest, the ceremonial courtroom they call it, in the federal courthouse in San Francisco that holds the most people, about 300 seats in that courtroom. And it's normally used by the Federal Court of Appeals. But we were using that courtroom, and it was absolutely packed. And people showed up who I don't think had been in a courtroom before or in fact people who had been in the internment camps and hadn't seen other people for many years. There were people I remember who recognized each other. "Oh, my God, you were in the camp." People hugging each other. So it was a very, very, very important aspect.

Before the hearing, Judge Patel had tried to, had had a meeting with the lawyers in her chambers and had tried to persuade Victor Stone to make a definitive stand on the part of the government. Were they going to oppose the petition, join the petition, or what? And he kept trying to get out of it. He kept saying, "I've got to go call my office in Washington." And we were very frustrated by that. He finally came back. And when Judge Patel called the case and we started out as the petitioners, Dale Minami spoke first and basically reviewed the petition and what was in it. And then to my surprise -- and I don't know if this had been arranged in advance -- but Judge Patel asked Fred Korematsu if he would like to make a statement. This normally does not happen. Defendants are not, this was not a trial. It was a hearing and usually only the lawyers talk. But Judge Patel asked Fred if he would like to speak. And Fred got up and gave a very short statement, but it was probably the most, the most powerful statement I've heard in person. The only other thing I can, that matches it for me is being, standing at the foot of the, of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963 when Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. I was right there when he did that, and that was tremendously powerful.

Fred was not an orator like Martin Luther King, but in many ways even more impact because of his sort of inner humbleness. And I remember Fred saying, "Your Honor, I remember forty years ago when I was brought in handcuffs into this courtroom -- wasn't actually the same one, in San Francisco -- and treated as a criminal. And I was suspected because of my ancestry, and all persons of Japanese ancestry were suspected of being spies." And he said, "I remember being sent to the, to the assembly center, to the racetrack, and my family being there and staying in horse stalls." And Fred said, "These were made for horses, not for people." Says, "And I'll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, if they look like the enemy of our country." And it probably wasn't more than two or three minutes, but it was so powerful.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.