Minoru Yasui was born and raised in Hood River as one of 9 children of Japanese immigrant fruit farmers, Shidzuyo and Masuo Yasui. In 1939, Yasui became the first Japanese American to graduate from the University of Oregon School of Law and the first Japanese American member of the Oregon Bar. On March 28, 1942, at the age of 26, he walked the streets of Portland to intentionally violate the military curfew imposed on Japanese American citizens in World War II, which eventually led to his arrest. He spent 9 months in solitary confinement, before being sent to the Minidoka concentration camp. He was allowed to leave in 1944 for a job in Chicago, as a laborer in an ice plant. By September of that year, he had moved to Denver. He made national history by challenging the constitutionality of the military curfew imposed on Japanese American citizens in World War II.
Minoru Yasui also fought discrimination beyond the Japanese community. He was a founding member of the Urban League of Denver, an African American organization, in 1946, and helped found the Latin American Research and Service Agency (an Hispanic civil rights organization) and Denver Native Americans United. Because of his cross-cultural advocacy, Yasui was appointed to Denver’s Community Relations Commission (later renamed Denver’s Human Rights Commission) in 1959, and was made executive director of the commission in 1967. Because he had such strong relationships with other minority groups, he was credited with preventing race riots during the turbulent civil rights era of the late ’60s. Yasui reached out to Denver’s Black community with diplomacy and Denver avoided the violence that erupted in other major cities. Yasui continued to fight his wartime arrest record until his death in 1986, On November 16, 2015, President Barack Obama announced that Yasui would receive a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Medal was presented to Lori Yasui in a White House ceremony November 24, 2015.
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