Clifford Uyeda


Name Clifford Iwao Uyeda
Born January 17 1917
Died July 30 2004
Birth Location Olympia, WA
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Dr. Clifford Iwao Uyeda, pediatrician and activist, championed the movement to pardon Iva Toguri D'Aquino, led the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in the successful struggle for redress, and supported the cause of the wartime Nisei draft resisters.

Doctor and Writer

Born Iwao Uyeda in Olympia, Washington, on January 17, 1917, he was the second of three children of Matsutaro Uyeda, an oyster farmer and lumber mill worker, and his wife Kimiyo. The young Clifford grew up in Tacoma. He spent several summers working in canneries in Alaska. He attended the University of Wisconsin, and later claimed that moving away from West Coast racism felt like being released from confinement. After graduating cum laude from Wisconsin in 1940, Uyeda was accepted as a student in a premedical program at Tulane University in New Orleans. He later recounted taking his first streetcar ride and being reproved when he unknowingly took an empty seat in the "colored" section of the segregated car—the conductor soon settled the matter by taking the "colored" sign out from the slot in front of Uyeda's seat and sliding it in back of him, thus moving him into the "white" section! Uyeda added that when he was studying at Tulane, he was treated as just another student.[1]

Although Uyeda had been granted admission by Boston University Medical School, in Spring 1942 the university rescinded his admission, presumably on racial grounds. He thus enrolled at Tulane's medical school. Meanwhile, Uyeda's family was confined by the U.S. government at Pinedale and Tule Lake. (Clifford's brother Masao "Buddy" Uyeda later served as a translator in the Military Intelligence Service). Clifford remained in New Orleans, outside the excluded zone, where he attended school and worked at the city's Charity Hospital. After graduating from Tulane in 1945, he moved to Boston, where he was hired as a clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School and then did an internship in pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital. During the Korean War, Uyeda was drafted by the military, and served in Japan as a doctor in the United States Air Force from 1951–53. Following his discharge, he moved to San Francisco and worked as staff pediatrician at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Group, remaining there until his retirement in 1975.

In addition to his medical practice, Uyeda pursued various outside interests. In 1959 Uyeda published a novel, The Deer Mountain, about a summer tour of Alaska. While all the characters were white American, the book was drawn from Uyeda's own summer experiences in the territory.[2] One reviewer commented, "The book is not only an exciting adventure story in a colorful locale but a probing character study of a young man's coming-of-age in a harsh land among harsh men."[3] In 1960 he served as San Francisco chapter chair of the JACL- sponsored Japanese American Research Project, preserving oral histories of Issei. The following year, he was named chapter president.

During these years, he emerged as a bitter critic of the Civil Rights Movement and of nonviolent protest. In 1961, he proclaimed that Japanese Americans had overcome far greater discrimination than present day Negroes, but without sharing their "excessive crime rate," and added that "the re-education of the minority groups themselves towards better citizenship" was more important than legislation in fostering equality.[4] In June 1963, after Hokubei Mainichi editor Howard Imazeki stirred controversy by calling on African Americans to improve their own communities before asking for equal rights, Uyeda was quick to express his agreement, deploring civil rights protest. "Violence and threats are [protesters'] current method....Congress cannot be intimidated into voting for equality. It must be persuaded." Blacks, he concluded, must show good citizenship and loyalty to their country, as the Issei and Nisei had done.[5] Uyeda added another letter the following week condemning Black leaders for minimizing "the sordid record of violence and crime" in Black communities. Given the excessive crime rate in African American areas, Uyeda commented, how could Blacks be trusted to be good neighbors if permitted to move elsewhere?[6] In 1967, when the JACL National Leadership warned that the imposition of tuition fees at the University of California, which was then free, might harm Japanese American educational achievement, Uyeda supported the tuition fees and objected that the JACL and its president were acting as partisan Democrats.[7] Uyeda seems never to have addressed or distanced himself from these views in his later years, when he became a leader in movements for racial justice.

Redress Movement Leader

Uyeda became increasingly active in Japanese communities during this period. In 1969, he co-founded the Center for Japanese American Studies, which was designed to help develop curriculum tools for the pioneering program in Asian American studies at San Francisco State University. In 1972, be came one of the first board members of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. In 1973, he became heavily involved in the movement to win a pardon for Iva Toguri D'Aquino, a Nisei who had worked in Japan during World War II and been convicted of treason as "Tokyo Rose." Uyeda was convinced that she had been the victim of an unjust trial, and fought tirelessly to clear her name. In 1975, Uyeda agreed to chair the JACL National Committee for Iva Toguri. He mobilized opinion and wrote pamphlet and publicity materials in her support. Uyeda also secured a timely endorsement from his longtime friend S.I. Hayakawa, then newly elected to the U.S. Senate. The campaign was crowned with success in January 1977, when President Gerald Ford pardoned Toguri on his last full day in office.[8]

During this time, Uyeda became an active supporter of reparations for the wartime confinement of Japanese Americans, and in October 1977 he became director of the JACL redress campaign. He insisted that his primary goal was to educate citizens nationwide about the wartime injustice. The money was merely secondary, especially as he argued that no monetary amount could make up for the damage caused to Japanese communities by confinement.[9] (Since Uyeda himself had left the West Coast for college before December 1941, he was presumably ineligible for individual payment in any event). In 1978, he was elected JACL national president. Uyeda later stated that he disagreed with the JACL on many points and had agreed to run for President solely to further redress. Under his guidance, the JACL increased its lobbying and outreach to other groups. On the last day of Uyeda's two-year term as president, he visited the White House to attend the ceremony marking President Jimmy Carter's signing of the bill creating the U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. Although his organizational role diminished after 1980, he remained active as a public speaker and writer in support of redress.

Later Activism

In the following years, Uyeda maintained a regular column in the Pacific Citizen, and continued his work as an activist and writer. He worked for environmentalist groups such as Sierra Club and Greenpeace and defended Navajo land rights. When Vietnamese refugee fishermen in California were threatened by racist attacks, Uyeda helped organize a committee to defend them, and produced a documentary, "Monterey's Boat People" (1982) on their cause. As director of the National Japanese American Historical Society from 1988–92, he produced a volume on the work of Nisei in the Military Intelligence Service.[10] Uyeda was equally visible during the 1990s in calling on the JACL to make public the "Lim Report," a 1990 study of JACL actions during World War II. He also worked to publicize the actions of the wartime Nisei draft resisters and helped broker the historic apology offered in 2000 by the JACL to the resisters. Meanwhile, in 1998, Uyeda helped found the Rape of Nanking Redress Committee, which was formed to publicize military atrocities committed during World War II, including the massacre of Chinese civilians in Nanking during the Japanese invasion in 1937. Beyond his own writing and lobbying efforts, Uyeda served as a mentor for a younger generation of activists. In 2000, Uyeda published a memoir of his wartime experience, Suspended. He died on July 30, 2004.

Authored by Greg Robinson, Université du Québec À Montréal

For More Information

Uyeda, Clifford I. "The Pardoning of 'Tokyo Rose': A Report on the Restoration of American Citizenship to Iva Ikuko Toguri." Amerasia Journal 5.2 (Fall 1978): 69-93.

__________. Suspended: Growing up Asian In America. San Francisco: National Japanese American Historical Society, 2000.

Taguma, Kenji, G. "Activist Clifford Uyeda, Champion of the Underdog, Left Legacy of Principle." Nichi Bei Times, August 5, 2004.

Footnotes

  1. Clifford I. Uyeda, Suspended: Growing up Asian in America (San Francisco: National Japanese American Historical Society, 2000), pp. 78, 139-140.
  2. Clifford Iwao Uyeda, The Deer Mountain : The Adventures of a New England Youth During a Violent Summer in Alaska (New York: Exposition Press, 1959).
  3. "Life in Alaska Told in Book," Annapolis Evening Capital, December 9 (1959): 11.
  4. Clifford Uyeda, "Rhetorics over Racial Discrimination," Pacific Citizen, November 10, 1961, 4.
  5. Clifford Uyeda, "This is Our Voice," Pacific Citizen, July 19, 1963, 3.
  6. Clifford Uyeda, "This is Our Voice," July 26, 1963, 3.
  7. Clifford Uyeda, "Less Partisan?" Pacific Citizen, February 17, 1967, 6.
  8. Clifford Uyeda, "The Pardoning of 'Tokyo Rose': A Report on the Restoration of American Citizenship to Iva Ikuko Toguri," Amerasia Journal 5:2 (Fall 1978), 69-84.
  9. Susan Ager, "$3 Billion, Lest We Forget," Frederick Post, October 27, 1978, A-3.
  10. Clifford Uyeda and Barry Saiki, eds., Pacific War & Peace: Americans of Japanese Ancestry in Military Intelligence, 1941 to 1952 (San Francisco: National Japanese American Historical Society), 1992.