Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Ernest Besig Interview
Narrator: Ernest Besig
Interviewers: Chizu Omori (primary), Emiko Omori (secondary)
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: October 1, 1992
Densho ID: denshovh-bernest-01-0003

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EO: Now, to get into the internment, what was the ACLU position on it?

EB: What was the ACLU position with respect to the exclusion and internment of persons of Japanese ancestry? "Internment" may not quite be proper, but in any case, the ACLU took the position that any person born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction is a citizen thereon, and is entitled to the same treatment as some other citizen. And if he, the individual behaves himself, then he shouldn't be treated any differently. The Japanese born in the United States fell into that category. Those who were aliens, of course, could be interned as aliens. The law provides for that. But when you're born in the United States, then you should be treated the same as any other citizens. And we took the position that these citizens couldn't be forced out of the community or placed into detention camps of any kind unless they had committed some offense; then they could be arrested. That was our position and we met with a Japanese group... what's the name of the group?


EB: JACL, as my friend Wayne Collins used to call them, the "jackals." And I met with the leadership of that group, several of them, at a YWCA on a street here in San Francisco and I discussed this problem and urged them to oppose the exclusion. But they didn't seem to be particularly interested in the exclusion or discussing it. And nothing came of that meeting. But we undertook to secure a test case. It was very difficult to secure a test case. Finally I learned of the detention of Korematsu. And I went to see him in jail, and told him that the ACLU would undertake to file a test case in his behalf. And we undertook to put up bail for him, but even when we put up bail, they detained him at the local detention place. And I objected to that and I wanted my money back. But when they, once I demanded my money, then they put him in jail again. And I put up the money once again, and they sent him down to Tanforan, which was the detention center. And, in any case, Korematsu became our case, our test case. And Wayne Collins, who was on the ACLU board, he undertook to handle the Korematsu case.

CO: Under the ACLU.

EB: Under the auspices of the ACLU, merely that. Not as his, as a case in his law business.

CO: So, tell us about the progress of that case.

EB: The progress? Well, it went to the, it... there were technicalities involved with the trial of that case. Various issues arose and the issue finally came to the U.S. Supreme Court. Our national office was opposed to our handling of the Korematsu case. And they wanted us to drop, as an organization, to drop representation of Korematsu and file, and to file an argument setting up the right to a fair hearing. That was their limited position, that the Japanese were entitled to a fair hearing. We thought that their rights went beyond a fair hearing. We thought that they had the same rights as every other citizen. And we were faced with some arguments from the national office. Roger Baldwin came out here to try to dissuade us from handling the case and ultimately we were even faced with possible exclusion from the ACLU. But that didn't happen. And as a matter of fact, after this was all over, Roger Baldwin agreed that he had made a mistake. But we continued to handle the Korematsu case, and as you know, the case was decided, unfortunately, 6 to 3 against us.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1992, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.