Densho Digital Repository
Seattle JACL Oral History Collection
Title: Kathryn Bannai Interview
Narrator: Kathryn Bannai
Interviewers: Elaine Kim, Bill Tashima
Date: March 17, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-sjacl-2-38-9

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EK: And so, like you said, you worked on the coram nobis case for Gordon Hirabayashi and I just wanted to say that I... largely why I wanted to possibly go into law was because of the Korematsu and Hirabayashi case, and so I'm just thrilled to hear about your work with it. But, if you could share a bit about your experience and if there was anything specific during your time, and just during your experience with us, you would like individuals to know about Gordon Hirabayashi and his experience and also just with the case.

KB: Sure. I'll first note that I wrote an article about my work and on Gordon's case for the Seattle Journal of Social Justice which is available for free online. And so that's something that, we're... I won't certainly cover that today. It's not possible to overstate how meaningful it was for me as a lawyer and as a Japanese American whose family members were removed -- subjected to wartime removal and incarceration -- to have the opportunity to represent Gordon and to bring his case before the judicial system with newly discovered evidence that showed that the government's lies and other misconduct that led to Gordon's convictions, and supported the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans. It was truly a privilege to be able to take that before the courts. For the attorneys involved in the coram nobis cases, it has been important to speak out when the Japanese American experience and coram nobis cases are relevant to government actions. And this is, I'm now speaking about the period after the coram nobis cases were decided and involve, and also, I think we feel compelled to speak out and be involved in other relevant issues such as anti-Asian hate and violence and African American reparations which also flow from issues related to the coram nobis cases. I'll note that, that project speaks out about what people should know and understand about the coram nobis cases and related matters and provide speakers and useful resources. And so, I think it's an excellent, it's an excellent resource that people should consult if they're interested in this.

So I'd like to speak kind of more to my, what I think, beyond that, maybe, which typically doesn't get highlighted about Gordon's case. I would encourage people to know about and reflect about Gordon Hirabayashi and his uncommon courage. Judge Voorhees, who was a judge in Gordon's coram nobis case in Seattle, wrote a piece in which he compared Gordon's courage and the significance of his conduct to the iconic figures in British history. This is something he wrote in a legal memorandum as a part of Gordon's case but it's... I've only seen it published in one place.

So, I would also like to raise something that is more accessible and also about Gordon's courage. Judge Mary Schroeder, who wrote the opinion of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Gordon's successful case to have both of his convictions for violation of the military orders vacated, wrote an article entitled, "What Gordon Hirabayashi Taught Me about Courage." It's really a wonderful piece and it is available for free on the Seattle Journal for Social Justice website. I think that it is important to the inspirational aspect of Gordon that will hopefully, for the ages, be remembered.

And finally, I would want people to know about Arthur Barnett, whose conduct as an ally shows what a critical role allies play. Arthur literally stood by Gordon's side when he surrendered to the FBI by taking a principled stand of resistance to the military orders. I mean, Gordon literally had a piece of paper, a statement of principle, as to why he was resisting, and Arthur was by his side. Arthur stayed by his side during Gordon's case, during wartime, and, in so many ways, was always by his side as a legal adviser and a lifelong friend. Arthur also worked to ensure that Japanese Americans returning to their homes in the Seattle area, after removal and incarceration, would be welcomed home and be supported. Arthur also participated Gordon's coram nobis case. Arthur's access, support, and solidarity with Gordon and the Japanese American community is inspiring and I understand that it cost him professionally and financially. And so that is another story that I hope will be remembered and told over, told over and over. It is... Gordon and Arthur knew each other because they were members of the Quaker, the Friends meeting in the University District. They were both Quakers. And I think that, it is just another one of those examples of how the Quakers have stepped up for people of color throughout the history of this country, including enslaved people.

EK: Thank you. Something that I just... the term "uncommon courage" is just, that's sitting with me still. It's gonna sit with me for a while. To coin that term, I don't know , for that to... I guess that's just like a perfect way to describe Gordon Hirabayashi's actions. And so I'm going to definitely look into those sites and the documents on Arthur and Gordon Hirabayashi as well.

KB: I would be happy to share them with you because some are rather difficult to find. Certainly Judge Voorhees -- what Judge Voorhees wrote I'd be glad to share with you. I only know of one place where it's published. And I have a couple of articles from a Quaker publication that Arthur Barnett sent me with articles from Arthur and from Gordon.

EK: Okay, perfect. I would love that. Thank you so much.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2022 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.