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Gordon Hirabayashi to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

Posted: May 24, 2012

 What do musician Bob Dylan, former astronaut John Glenn, and noted author Toni Morrison have in common with Gordon Hirabayashi? They are among 13 individuals who will soon be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Although civil rights icon Hirabayashi’s courageous story of defying the WWII internment orders is legendary in the Japanese American community, his story will now have a much wider audience as his legacy is honored this Spring at a White House ceremony.

“These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation,” said President Barack Obama said. “They've challenged us, they've inspired us, and they've made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award."

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is given to “individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” according to a White House statement.

Hirabayashi was a 24-year-old student attending the University of Washington in 1942 when President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, sending tens of thousands of Americans of Japanese ancestry to desolate relocation camps. Defying those orders, Hirabayashi turned himself into the FBI asserting that the order was discriminatory.

Hirabayashi was convicted by a U.S. Federal Court for defying the exclusion order and violating curfew. His fight would take him all the way to the Supreme Court where in 1943 his conviction was upheld and he was imprisoned. After the war Hirabayashi earned his doctorate in sociology and became a noted professor. In 1987, his WWII conviction was finally overturned by a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He passed away earlier this year. Read more here.

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