Researcher and activist Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga dies at 93

Former incarceree uncovered instrumental evidence for the Japanese American redress movement.

Activist and researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, best known as a hero of the Japanese American redress campaign that culminated in the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, died last week. She was 93.

The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed by President Ronald Reagan, granted reparations, and perhaps more importantly, an official apology to Japanese Americans who had been removed from the West Coast and incarcerated without trial by the United States government during World War II.

Herzig-Yoshinaga was a high school senior when she was incarcerated with her family at the Manzanar Relocation Center. After the war, while living in New York in the 1960s, she became involved with Asian Americans for Action, and engaged in a variety of political protests and demonstrations, including efforts to end the war in Vietnam and demonstrations against nuclear research.

After to moving to Washington DC in 1978, Herzig-Yoshinaga began looking through the information on the wartime exclusion and incarceration, which was publicly accessible in the National Archives. Over several years, she retrieved and cataloged thousands and significant documents -- including a key piece of "buried" evidence that would become instrumental in the movement for redress.

Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi, Michi Weglyn, William Hohri, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga and Harry Ueno in front of the Supreme Court in Washington DC on April 20, 1987

From Densho Encyclopedia:

As a result of her intensive work in the archives, Herzig-Yoshinaga was poised to become a pivotal figure in the movement for redress. In 1980, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC), was created, which was to be the foundation for legislative redress. That year, she also joined the National Council for Japanese American Redress (NCJAR), supporting its $27 billion class-action lawsuit with her archival research and documentation. The next year, she was hired by the CWRIC, and became its lead researcher. Her catalog and index were adopted by the commission for its work, and the thousands of pages she had amassed, along with contributions from Weglyn, formed the core of the CWRIC's primary documentation.

In addition to documenting the evidentiary trails of when, why and by whom decisions were made, she also unearthed an additional and indispensable piece of evidence while working at the CWRIC. In 1943, the military had attempted to destroy all the evidence of its original Final Report due to its unconstitutional statements, but memos showed that they were never able to find and destroy the tenth copy of the original printing. After years of work, Herzig-Yoshinaga found that tenth copy, which provided concrete proof that the army had seen no "military necessity" to deprive 120,000 Americans of their rights.

Herzig-Yoshinaga became an instrumental contributor to the CWRIC's 1983 final report, Personal Justice Denied. This document incorporated the historical and legal scholarship on the issue, the testimony of over seven hundred witnesses, and the information contained in the tens of thousands of pages of primary documents gathered by the commission. Angus Macbeth, the report's chief author, noted a "special debt" owed to Herzig-Yoshinaga, as she "in large part found and organized and remembered the vast array of primary documents from which the report was written."

Her work also served as critical evidence in throwing out the convictions of Minoru Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi and Fred Korematsu, who defied confinement orders and curfew laws targeting Japanese Americans.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, legislation that might not have been possible without Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga's extensive work. Earlier this year the Japanese American National Museum honored her with its Award of Excellence.

Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga is survived by her brother John Yoshinaga; sister-in-law Reiko Yoshinaga; daughters Lisa Abe Furutani and Gerrie Miyazaki; son David Abe; grandchildren Joey Furutani, Sei Furutani, Laurence Toshiro Moore, David Abe Jr., Kimberly Abe, and Lea Krogman; and great-grandchildren Harlee Furutani and Kiyomi Pizarro. Her husband Jack Herzig died in 2005.

angry archive