Manzanar Committee Statement On The Passing Of Frank Seishi Emi

Frank Emi
Photo: Gann Matsuda

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee extends its deepest sympathies to the family of Frank Seishi Emi, 94, who passed away on December 1, 2010, in West Covina, California. He was among the over 110,000 Japanese Americans who were unjustly imprisoned in American concentration camps during World War II.

Born in Los Angeles on September 23, 1916, Emi was running his family’s thriving produce business just west of Downtown Los Angeles when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, authorizing the forced relocation and imprisonment of Americans of Japanese ancestry and their immigrant parents on the West Coast.

 

Emi and his family were sent to the concentration camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, where he would become a leader of the Fair Play Committee, a group of 63 Heart Mountain prisoners who resisted the draft when the United States Government began to recruit Japanese Americans out of the camps to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States.

Early in 1943, prisoners were required to complete a loyalty questionnaire that contained two, now infamous questions:

Question 27: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

Question 28: Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign government, power, or organization?

Emi’s response to both questions is among the most significant phrases in Japanese American History.

“Under the present conditions and circumstances, I am unable to answer this question,” he wrote.

Indeed, Emi and his fellow draft resisters refused to comply with the draft until their constitutional rights were restored. They would eventually be sent to the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas.

Emi spent 18 months there before his conviction was overturned by a federal appeals court.

After his retirement in the 1980’s, Emi continued to take principled stands against discrimination and injustice as a member of the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR; now known as Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress), a grass-roots organization that helped lead the fight for redress and reparations for Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in the World War II camps, and consistently stood in solidarity with others fighting inequality, injustice and racism.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Frank Emi, a hero to many,” said Kerry Cababa, Co-Chair of the Manzanar Committee. “On behalf of the Manzanar Committee, I want to offer our condolences to his family, friends and to the members of NCRR, with whom he worked so diligently on redress.”

“We mourn the loss of this man of conviction who stood his ground against what he believed was an egregious violation of the civil rights of our community,” added Cababa. “We are assured by his sacrifices and strength of conviction that this may never happen again.”

Emi is survived by his second wife, Itsuko; daughters, Kathleen Ito and Eileen Tabuchi; stepdaughter, Rie Nishikawa; sister, Kaoru Sugita; nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 10:00 AM on Friday, December 10, 2010, at Nichiren Buddhist Temple, 2801 East Fourth Street, Los Angeles, California, 90033.


The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site.


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