During the spring of 1942, in an act that denied thousands of citizens their constitutional rights, the U.S. government rounded up the entire West Coast Japanese American community and forced them into mass incarceration camps. Two years later, the war department announced that Japanese American men, despite their imprisonment, were reclassified as eligible for the military draft.
Incarcerated at the Heart Mountain, Wyo., camp, Frank Emi already believed the camps were a grave injustice. With the news of the draft, Emi felt that insult was being added to injury.
Although ineligible for the draft himself because he was married with children, Emi stepped forward as one of the leaders of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee (FPC), which organized the only collective movement to resist the draft among Japanese American incarcerees.
In March 1944, Emi helped pen the words to what is sometimes referred to as the FPC Manifesto, “One for All—All for One,” which was endorsed by the 400 participants at a Heart Mountain rally. As a result, one of every nine draft-eligible Japanese American men at Heart Mountain refused to go to war.
For these actions, Emi and six other leaders of the FPC were convicted on charges of conspiracy. Emi served 18 months at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.
Some 30 years later, Emi re-emerged as an important figure in the struggle for Japanese American redress and reparations, sharing the history of the FPC with younger activists, many of whom had never heard of any resistance movement in the camps.
A vital figure in U.S. history and an unsung hero, Frank Emi (and the FPC) deserves to be included in any curriculum that highlights resistance to injustice. We mourn the loss of a man who took on the fight of others as his own and continues to inspire generations of Asian American activists.
—Mira Shimabukuro and Wayne Au for the editors
(For more information, we recommend the documentaries Conscience and the Constitution and Rabbit in the Moon, and Eric Muller’s book, Free to Die for Their Country.)