Henry Miyatake


Name Henry Miyatake
Born April 28 1929
Died September 16 2014
Birth Location Seattle
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Aerospace engineer and redress activist. Henry Miyatake was the main author of the Seattle Plan, an early proposal for individual monetary reparations for the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Early Influences

Henry Miyatake was born in Seattle in 1929, the youngest of three children. He grew up in the family's grocery store and attended Bailey Gatzert elementary school as well as Japanese language school. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, authorities took the family's radio equipment (his brother was a ham radio enthusiast) and guns. His father had just spent nearly $10,000 a year prior remodeling the store, but was forced to sell it for $400 in the panic before being forcibly removed. The family was held at the Puyallup Assembly Center and at the concentration camp in Minidoka, Idaho, along with most other Japanese Americans from the Seattle area. At Minidoka, he worked on the camp's electrical crew and also was among those who did farm labor outside the camp. A civics paper in which he harshly criticized American racism led to a chain of events that saw him expelled from the camp high school.

Returning to Seattle after the war, he worked for a time as a gardener. With the help of his brother, he later got a job for the Federal Aviation Administration in Alaska in 1948 and joined the army reserves. Pressed into active duty during the Korean War, he did sound surveillance work and taught sound surveillance for the Counter Intelligence Corps. After the war, he got his degree from the University of Washington and worked as an engineer for Convair in San Diego, for a new venture called X-Onics, then for Boeing.

Inspired in part by the discrimination that Asian American employees faced at Boeing—as well as what he felt was the reluctance of Nisei in particular to speak up about it—he began to study the wartime incarceration in the late 1960s and to think about how Japanese Americans might seek redress for what had been done to them.[1] Through a lawyer friend, he was introduced to legal scholar Arval Morris at the University of Washington, who suggested books and articles to read. Morris advised against going through the courts because of the statue of limitations and amount of money that would be required. He subsequently began research on what taking a legislative course would require. He also found other Nikkei Boeing employees who were interested, including Mike Nakata and Ken Nakano, as well as Chuck Kato, a civil engineer with the Economic Development Administration, and Shosuke Sasaki, a retired statistician.

Redress Pioneer

In summer 1973, Miyatake happened to attend a meeting of the Seattle chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) representing the Asian Engineers and Technical Employees Association. By that time, he had begun giving presentations on wartime incarceration to local schools after preparing presentations for his son's and daughter's junior high school and high school classes. At that meeting, there was a call for volunteers to work on redress proposals, a result of Edison Uno's resolution at the 1970 JACL convention. Having been thinking about the issue for a few years, he volunteered. By the end of the year, he and his team had developed what would become known as the Seattle Plan. The plan called for individual reparations of $5,000 for anyone forcibly moved by the government during World War II, as well as $10 per for each day incarcerated. Funds for these payments would come via a tax check-off, whereby individuals could opt to have their tax money go towards these payments. Calling themselves the Seattle Evacuation Redress Committee (SERC), Miyatake and the others began giving local community presentations, gaining the support of many individuals and groups. The Seattle chapter and Northwest Regional District Council also came to support the plan after some initial opposition.

In April 1975, Miyatake was appointed to the JACL's Political Education Committee, though the national organization remained lukewarm to his ideas. Meanwhile SERC produced an information packet titled "An Appeal for Action to Obtain Redress for the World War II Evacuation and Imprisonment of Japanese Americans" that included an audio tape and questionnaire that was sent to all JACL chapters. At the 1976 JACL convention, the JACL's National Committee for Redress (NCR) was formed, with Miyatake a member. But though a resolution to seek individual reparations passed at the 1978 JACL convention, the NCR later voted to pursue a study commission rather than direct reparations on the advice of the Nikkei congressional delegation, with Miyatake casting a dissenting vote. Newly elected Congressman Mike Lowry—from whom Miyatake had secured a commitment to support a redress bill from prior to his election—did subsequently introduce redress legislation on the outline of the Seattle Plan in 1979. However the study commission bill—forming what would become the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians—passed in 1980, while Lowry's bill, without the support of Nikkei congressmen or the JACL, died in committee.

Miyatake also led efforts to seek a repeal of Executive Order 9066 that was ultimately successful and was also among the key organizers of the first Day of Remembrance held at the Puyallup site in 1978.

Due in large part to personal tragedies including the sudden death of his high school age son and a divorce, Miyatake became less active in the next phase of the Redress Movement. He later came to accept the the CWRIC hearing did play an important role in the ultimate success of the movement. Miyatake's role and that of his Seattle compatriots was highlighted in Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro's Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress published in 2001.

He passed away on September 16, 2014.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Henry Miyatake Interview, Densho.

Henry Miyatake. Discover Nikkei website. http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/interviews/profiles/104/.

Maki, Mitchell T., Harry H.L. Kitano, and S. Megan Berthold. Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress. Forewords Robert T. Matsui and Roger Daniels. Urbana: Univeristy of Illinois Press, 1999.

Shimabukuro, Robert Sadamu. Born in Seattle: The Campaign for Japanese American Redress. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.

Footnotes

  1. He felt Boeing managers specifically picked on Japanese American workers because they knew they would not fight back, that "You can treat as like crap, but we're still going to be loyal." In one instance, he was demoted and had his pay cut after the program he was working on was cancelled. His boss read him Mike Masaoka's "Japanese American Creed" as he demoted him, essentially daring him to quit. For familial reasons, he stayed on. Robert Sadamu Shimabukuro, "Born in Seattle": The Campaign for Japanese American Redress (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001), 12–13.