PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The jail cell that held Japanese American attorney Minoru “Min” Yasui during World War II is a symbol of a dark time in Oregon’s history. It was recently removed from the old Multnomah County Courthouse but will be preserved in a museum to serve as a reminder — and a warning.
Yasui was an American. He was born in 1916 to Japanese immigrants on the family farm in Hood River, Oregon. He graduated from the University of Oregon’s law school and became the first Japanese American to practice law in Oregon.
But the war changed everything.
Under Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S. military established exclusion zones and curfews targeting Japanese Americans during the war. In March of 1942, Yasui challenged the constituency of the 8 p.m. curfew by intentionally breaking it. He walked into downtown Portland’s Central Precinct, was arrested, and held for nine months in what was then the Multnomah County Courthouse as his case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Lynn Fuchigami-Parks, the executive director of the Japanese American Museum of Oregon, said Yasui’s jail cell in Multnomah County will be preserved in their new museum.
“He’s an American hero that really stood up for the principles of our country,” said Fuchigami-Parks.
Yasui’s daughter, Holly Yasui, produced a documentary about her father’s life.
“It’s necessary for this story to not be forgotten,” she said. “Not only because it is a piece of history but because history does repeat itself if we are not vigilant.”
After he was released from Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho in 1944, Yasui spent the rest of his life speaking out against injustice. He became a civic leader in Denver, Colorado, and passed away in 1986 at the age of 70.
Yasui was posthumously awarded the country’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom — in 2015.
The Japanese American Museum of Oregon, located in Northwest Portland, hopes to open in February of next year. The old Multnomah County Courthouse was sold to a private developer who agreed to the removal of “Min’s” jail cell.