After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Frank Seishi Emi, a Los Angeles grocer, was among the approximately 110,000 law-abiding Japanese-Americans in the US who were suddenly regarded as threats to national security and herded by federal authorities to detention camps, mostly in the midwest, where they spent most of World War II living under armed guard without any recourse to due process.
When the US government issued incarceration order, Emi was forced to sell his family business for six cents on the dollar. He and his family were imprisoned at the Pomona Assembly Center before being shipped to the Heart Mountain War Relocation Authority (WRA) camp in Wyoming.
When the Roosevelt Administration decided in early 1944 to reopen the draft to Japanese American men in the camps, Emi joined six other Heart Mountain internees to oppose the order. They formed the Fair Play Committee, an ad hoc group that attracted more than 300 detainees in ten different camps, that asked how they could be ordered to fight for freedom and democracy abroad when they were denied liberty at home.
As the New York Times eulogized:
"Mr. Emi and six other internees at Heart Mountain formed the Fair Play Committee. They held meetings in mess halls, distributed fliers throughout all the camps and sought to initiate a court case to re-establish their rights as citizens. To those who believed that they were doing harm to Japanese-Americans over all, the resisters became known as the “no-no boys.” Some, particularly those so proud of the volunteers in the 442nd Regiment, called them cowards and traitors. But as far as Mr. Emi was concerned, he told The Los Angeles Times in 1993, “We could either tuck our tails between our legs like a beaten dog or stand up like free men and fight for justice.” Charged with draft evasion, all of the more than 300 resisters were sentenced to prison terms of approximately three years."
Emi was the last surviving member of the committee when he recently passed away.
This interview with Emi, conducted nine years ago by the The National Coalition for Redress, gives a sense of what moved him to act so courageously in the face of one of America’s most dishonorable historical episodes.