Grace Uyehara

Grayce Uyehara was the leading figure in the fight for an official government apology for the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War 2. From Stockton, California, she was a music student at the University of the Pacific when the United States entered World War 2. She and her family were imprisoned in a local camp, then sent to a camp in Arkansas.

Eventually, she was allowed to leave the camp to study at the Minnesota State Teachers College in St. Cloud. Then, she moved to Philadelphia and found a job as a social worker. Outside of her work, she organized the Philadelphia chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, and in doing so became one of the organization’s first women leaders.

It was only after she retired from social work that Uyehara became involved in the fight for an apology for imprisoned Japanese Americans. The JACL established a National Redress Committee in 1978, and Uyehara volunteered as the national director of the lobbying effort. She had no experience in politics, but she had strong relationships with JACL members nationwide that she used to pressure lawmakers. With her efforts, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was signed into law, issuing a formal apology and money to surviving internees. This act also required monuments, museums, and classrooms to teach the history of the wartime internment so similar discrimination would never happen again.

Grayce Uyehara remained very humble about her achievements; her son only ever remembered her talking about the campaign for redress if people asked her about it. Uyehara was recognized with the Standing Up for Justice award by Asian Americans United in 2013, the 25th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.