Densho Digital Repository
Seattle JACL Oral History Collection
Title: In Memory of Elaine Akagi Interview
Narrators: Ann Fujii Lindwall, Arlene Oki, Karen Yoshitomi
Interviewers: Elaine Kim, Bill Tashima
Date: March 13, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-sjacl-2-36-1

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BT: Hi, I want to thank everybody for viewing this video. My name is Bill Tashima, and I'm a past JACL chapter president, and also the current co-chair of our chapter Legacy Historical Project. And our project is funded by a national JACL Legacy grant, and it aims to preserve the rich history and legacy of the Seattle JACL, through online preservation of our historical documents, as well as supplementing this material by adding recorded oral histories and interviews on pivotal leaders. In this session, we will be having a conversation on Elaine Reiko Akagi. Elaine was the epitome of a devoted JACL-er and she devoted her life to JACL and the Japanese American legacy. Leading this discussion today will be Elaine Kim, a University of Washington Junior. She'll be joined by Ann Fujii Lindwall, Arlene Oki, Karen Yoshitomi and, from time to time, me. Each will introduce themselves more fully in a few moments.

And before I turn this over to Elaine, I would like to give a short bio on Elaine Akagi. Elaine was born in Detroit, Michigan, and she joined the Seattle chapter -- excuse me, the Detroit chapter of the junior JACL in the early '60s. And she was a junior JACL chapter president and held various district offices in the youth organization of the Midwest District Youth Council, which had eight chapters ranging from Ohio with Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Twin Cities. And she was really active in this organization, and I think that set a tone for her. She later transitioned to the Detroit JACL and was soon chapter president of the organization, as well as holding a lot of different offices in the Midwest District Council. And it was during her chapter presidency in Detroit that the Vincent Chin event happened. Vincent Chin was a Chinese American who was celebrating his bachelor party at a bar and was brutally murdered by a few white auto workers who saw Chin as Japanese, whom they blame for the American auto industry problems at that time. Many people saw this as a blatant hate crime, and Elaine helped organize a response to this outrage. This incident is seen by many as the beginning of the modern-day Asian American identity.

Elaine moved to Seattle and joined the Seattle JACL. She was a board member from 1992 to 2012. She became chapter president in 1996. She held many Pacific Northwest District Council offices and she served four terms as a Pacific Northwest district governor from 1997 to 2001 and from 2005 to 2009. She served and chaired many national JACL committees including credentials, nominations, the Governor's Caucus and the Education Committee. And while she was chair of the Education Committee, National JACL published their second curriculum guide to assist teachers and instructing students on the lessons of the Japanese American World War II experiences and relating these issues to contemporary society.

Elaine received her bachelor's and master's degree from Wayne State University. She majored in family life education, special education, and education for the visually impaired. Her career and her passion was teaching special education. She was a staunch advocate for the diversity of teachers to ensure that the teachers' diversity matched the diversity of the students whom they taught. As a testament to Elaine, the Washington Education Association in 2014, began the annual Human Rights and Civil Rights Elaine Akagi Award.

2012 was Elaine at her best. She had just endowed the Elaine Reiko Akagi scholarship for Seattle JACL. She was Seattle JACL co-president. She was a chair of the successful national JACL convention in Bellevue, Washington, where she was named JACL of the Biennium and also National Vice President for Operations. Sadly, a few weeks after the convention, Elaine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. National JACL awarded Elaine the Ruby Pin, the organization's highest honor, at its national gala in Washington, D.C. Elaine was thrilled to receive this award. Elaine passed away about a month later in October of 2012. We honor Elaine. We hope that this discussion today among Elaine's friends will lead to a deeper understanding of Elaine, her accomplishments, and more importantly, her gifts that allowed Elaine to have such a lasting impact for our chapter. And with that, I would like to turn things over to Elaine to introduce herself and to start things off.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.