Arthur Barnett


Name Arthur Barnett
Born April 30 1907
Died October 23 2003
Birth Location Glasgow, Scotland

Gordon Hirabayashi's first lawyer and member of his defense team. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Barnett (1907–2003) moved to the Pacific Northwest with his family at age twelve. He grew up poor and was the first in his family to attend college, graduating from the University of Washington law school in 1932. He became a Quaker and a pacifist after a stint in the army and also worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration in the 1930s before starting his own law firm in 1935.

Barnett's wife, Virginia Norwood—the couple met the University of Washington and would remain married for 67 years—was the assistant director of the University of Washington YWCA, where they first met Gordon, who was active with the YMCA as a student. Gordon became a good friend and frequent house guest of the couple, who even named their first son "Gordon." When Hirabayashi decided to challenge the curfew and evacuation orders, Barnett advised him and accompanied him when he turned himself in to the FBI. As a member of Hirabayashi's defense committee, Barnett volunteered to be his lawyer. However, Barnett also wanted a more experienced and recognized attorney actually arguing the case, leading to the hiring of Frank L. Walters. Barnett remained a part of the legal team throughout and also helped to raise funds for Hirabayashi.

In addition to his role in the Hirabayshi case, he was active in groups that assisted Japanese Americans before, during and after their incarceration. He was chairman of the Japanese American Emergency Committee of the Seattle Council of Churches, a group that sought to help Japanese American families whose patriarchs had been arrested by the FBI, that protested the subsequent calls for mass roundup of Japanese Americans, and that helped transport the sick and elderly from Tanforan to Seattle for medical care once the roundup had taken place. Later, as a member of the Seattle Civic Unity Committee, he worked to ease the return of Nikkei to Seattle and even housed one early returnee.

After the war, he continued to work in the civil rights arena, continuing his practice into the 1980s. Some forty years after his initial work on the Hirabayshi case, he was part of the legal team on Hirabayshi's coram nobis case in the 1980s, the only one of the original lawyers for any of the defendants to do so.

He was awarded the William O. Douglas Award by the American Civil Liberties Association of Washington in 1983 and the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association Courage Award (along with Hirabayashi) in 1993. He died at age 96 in 2003.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Dye, Douglas Mark. "The Soul of the City: The Work of the Seattle Council of Churches during World War Two." Ph.D. dissertation, Washington State University, 1997.

Gonzalez, Maria. "Attorney Defended Civil Rights, Fought Against Internment." Seattle Times, Oct. 25, 2003.

Hirabayashi, Gordon, with Janes A. Hirabayashi, and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi. A Principled Stand: The Story of Hirabayashi v. United States. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013.

Irons, Peter. Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese American Internment Cases. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Lyon, Cherstin. Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011.

Preliminary Guide to the Arthur G. Barnett Papers, 1920-1997, University of Washington Libraries.