Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Dale Minami Interview
Narrator: Dale Minami
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Margaret Chon (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: February 8, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mdale-01-0027

<Begin Segment 27>

MC: Do you remember, can you tell us a little bit about your first meeting with Fred Korematsu, with your client?

DM: Yeah, the strategy we developed was, Peter said, "Fred is very shy. He feels really reluctant to do this. He's not sure whether his boss is not interested in having him, quote, 're-open these old wounds.'" So Fred was very unclear about what he was -- not unclear, he wanted to do this, but he was a little bit hesitant. So Peter said, "You know, the family is, is very, very shy. We don't want to freak them out." So the idea was for Peter and I to visit 'em at first. So we drove to San Leandro. And the vision in my mind was, of course, having read the Korematsu decision and read all the original papers, knowing that this guy had, had attempted plastic surgery. So I didn't know what this guy was gonna look like. I had no concept of what he looked like anyways. And I just hoped that I didn't spend excess attention focusing on his nose or something when I met because it might turn him off. [Laughs]

Anyway, so we knocked on the door and the guy looked like a regular Japanese Nisei guy. I couldn't see any evidence of any plastic surgery so, but he was very quiet. And Peter and I talked to him. We told him our experience and we got an unexpected ally, Kathryn Korematsu, his wife, who is a very outspoken, brilliant woman. She's really sharp, Caucasian American from South Carolina, married Fred in Detroit on the same day I was born, just about. I think it was one day earlier. Anyways, side stories, because she came into the room and when we met she goes, "Oh, I know, you're the one who did the JACL case in Spokane." So she knew who I was. "You've been very active in civil rights." And so we kind of bonded, you know, a little bit. So Peter and I talked with Fred and told him what we thought we could do and we wanted to see if he wanted to go forward. And he said, "Yes." And his children happened to be in the, come into the room and said, "Well wait. Okay, who is gonna pay for all of this? Nobody does anything for free."

MC: How old were they?

DM: They were probably in their mid-thirties.

MC: Uh-huh.

DM: Probably mid-thirties. And I said, "Well, we are doing it for free. We're not charging." And he thought we had to have an angle. And he said, "Then, why are you doing this?" And we told him we think this is a really important thing to do. I told him, "My parents were put into camps. I read this decision in law school. This decision is a terrible decision. It validates the principle of racial discrimination forever. I know my parents had nothing to do with this. I think your father had to carry this burden for all these years. I think it's time we have to change all of that."

MC: Was Fred aware that his case had become a standard constitutional law case that law students studied?

DM: He had awareness of that. I don't think he knew how broadly it was studied. But I think he was aware that it was being studied. But I don't think he knew how broadly it was studied, how universally it was studied.

MC: So what do you think made him decide that he wanted to move forward with the case? At first he was ambivalent, but he ultimately decided, "Yes, I'm gonna move forward."

DM: You know, I shouldn't say "ambivalent." I think he was weighing things and, after I got to know Fred he was a very different person than I thought he was when I first met him. He's small and frail. He's soft-spoken. He's just a regular kind of person. He doesn't have the fury oratory skills as a Min Yasui had or the intellectual cerebral approaches that Gordon Hirabayashi had. He was like an everyday person. But I think Fred always, always believed that he was totally wronged. I honestly believe now that this was not a question -- I mean, clearly it wasn't for publicity. It upset his life terrifically and made him more vulnerable to losing jobs or not getting jobs. It took time away from his family. He wasn't gonna get any money out of it. I think he did it absolutely a hundred percent for the principle that this was wrong.

MC: When did he get a chance to meet with the other members of the team? So, the first meeting was with you and Peter Irons. Did he ultimately meet everybody?

DM: Yes. What happened is that the next meeting we brought everybody there and everybody got a chance to meet Fred and we talked some more. And Fred was still a little bit shy at the time. And Kathryn, of course, was talking away and you know, asking the sharpest questions. I mean, she was really smart. She's not a lawyer but she... and all these people were gathered around. Fred recounted later, he goes, "Geez, you looked like a bunch of high school kids." And he was kind of worried. But then we reassured him that we had a lot of experience. And now he tells that story in retrospect humorously, but I think he was slightly, you know, little bit worried at the time 'cause we did actually look much younger than we do, like right now in this camera.

MC: Was there someone on the team who eventually developed into being the main contact person with Fred? Or did pretty much everyone on the team keep in touch with him?

DM: Not really. Peter and I probably the most, I probably did it the most, because of my position. I was in the Bay Area.

MC: And were you designated formally as the leader of the team?

DM: No, what happened is that -- and these always become very difficult decisions, we have to decide a structure out of a mass of people, some who know each other and some don't. And basically I think because I had the most experience, my designa-, we decided that I would be coordinating attorney. I felt that you needed to coordinate among Portland, Seattle, and San Francisco, 'cause at that time we decided to file in three separate jurisdictions, or three separate venues, excuse me. So we needed a coordination of this, and somebody to, one person to be the contact. So I was named, I was asked to be coordinator and the lead counsel for Fred Korematsu's local San Francisco team.

MC: Okay. And each of the other cities had a lead counsel for --

DM: Correct.

MC: -- their team.

DM: Yes, Peggy Nagae in Portland and Kathryn Bannai in Seattle.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.