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Lawyer, activist Yasui earns Presidential Medal of Freedom

COURTESY OF YASUI FAMILY - Minoru Yasui, a longtime activist for Japanese American civil rights who died in 1986, will be honored Nov. 24 with the Presidential Medal of Honor.Oregon lawyer and civil rights activist Minoru Yasui will be honored this month with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It was Yasui’s legal fight against the President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s February 1942 executive order to round up and imprison Japanese Americans on the West Coast that led to a June 1943 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the order. The fight continued in the courts for more than four decades, when in 1988 the Civil Liberties Act paid $20,000 in reparations to Japanese Americans who were forced into the internment camps.

The White House announced Yasui’s Medal of Freedom Monday afternoon. He will among 17 people honored with the award Nov. 24 at the White House.

“I look forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor,” President Obama said. “From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”

On the list to be honored are Yogi Berra, Shirley Chisholm, Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Willie Mays, Barbara Mikulski, William Ruckelshaus, Steven Spielberg, Barbara Streisand and James Taylor.

COURTESY OF OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIETY - The Yasui Bros. Hood River variety storefront is part of an exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society museum.Yasui was born in 1916 in Hood River and died in 1986 in Denver, where he moved after World War II. He was the first Japanese American to graduate from the University of Oregon law school.

COURTESY PHOTO - A bust of Minoru Yasui is a part of Denver's Sakura Square.Yasui came from a family of business people who operated a small Hood River variety store and became influential in the region as a center for Japanese American workers and their families The Yasui Bros. storefront is part of the Oregon Historical Society’s “Oregon My Oregon” exhibit.

In March 1942, Yasui went to a Portland police station and demanded to be arrested for violating a curfew imposed on Japanese, German and Italian West Coast citizens. His case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against Yasui.

After the war, Yasui moved to Colorado where he continued to advocate for civil rights and redress for Japanese Americans who lost their properties and businesses during World War II.

After Yasui’s death, the city of Denver established a community service award honoring his legacy.