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Mitsuye Endo Persevering for Justice

Mitsuye Endo challenged the constitutionality of the forced removals of thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans from their homes and eventually won.

On December 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that would thrust the U.S. into World War II. Two months after that deadly attack, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 9066, which authorized the forced removal of people of Japanese ancestry along the Pacific Coast and led to their detention in camps in the nation’s interior.

More than 100,000 Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes and businesses. Most of them were American-born Nisei (second generation) Japanese-Americans. Mitsuye Endo, a typist in the Department of Motor Vehicles in Sacramento, California’s capital, was among those dismissed from her job and sent to a relocation camp in Utah.

Nurse Hamaguchi and friends play a game of bridge.

A handful of Japanese-Americans challenged the constitutionality of the forced removals, Mitsuye Endo among them, and eventually won. Her lawyer, James Purcell, filed a Writ of habeas corpus on her behalf demanding she be charged or released from confinement in order to challenge her dismissal. The U.S. government responded by offering to release Endo outside the West Coast rather than test the constitutionality of detention. Endo bravely refused the offer and remained confined without charge for another two years as she pursued her case.

Mrs. Nakamura and her two daughters (Joyce Yuki and Louise Tami).

In December 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that Endo’s loyalty was clearly established and there were no grounds for confinement. Associate Justice Frank Murphy stated in concurrence, “…detention in Relocation Centers of persons of Japanese ancestry regardless of loyalty is not only unauthorized by the Congress or the Executive, but it is another example of the unconstitutional resort to racism in the entire evacuation program.” Following the ruling, the exclusion orders were suspended and Japanese-Americans were allowed to leave the interment camps. But many had no homes or businesses to return because their properties had been confiscated, abandoned or sold at enormous discount to profiteers when they were hurriedly and inhumanely forced into interment camps.

 

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