Mitsuye Endo


Name Mitsuye Endo
Born May 10 1920
Died April 14 2006
Birth Location Sacramento, California
Generational Identifier

Nisei

Plaintiff in the landmark lawsuit that ultimately led to the closing of the concentration camps and the return of Japanese Americans to the West Coast in 1945.

Mitsuye Endo was born on May 10, 1920, in Sacramento, California, the daughter of Japanese immigrants and the second of four children. After graduating Sacramento Senior High School, she went to secretarial school and got a clerical job with the state Department of Employment. In the weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the California State Personnel Board took a variety of steps that led to the ultimate dismissal of all Japanese American state employees by the spring of 1942, Endo among them.[1] She was one of the 63 employees (out of between 300 and 500, most of whom worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles) who sought to challenge their firings with the aid of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), enlisting lawyer James C. Purcell.[2] In the meantime, Endo was sent with her family to the Sacramento Assembly Center and then to the Tule Lake, California, concentration camp.

With the firings made moot for the time being by the removal and incarceration, Purcell began to look for a suitable plaintiff for a challenge of the incarceration through a habeas corpus petition. Starting with his civil service plaintiffs, he soon settled on Endo, in part because she was Methodist, had a brother in the army, and had never been to Japan. Sending a representative to see if she would be willing (Purcell and Endo apparently never met in person[3]), Endo was hesitant, but did reluctantly agree to do it. As she told John Tateishi many years later, "I agreed to do it at that moment, because they said it's for the good of everybody, and so I said, well if that's it, I'll go ahead and do it."[4] Purcell filed the petition on July 12, 1942, in federal district court in San Francisco, beginning a chain of events that would end with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in her favor in December 1944. The army opened up the West Coast to "loyal" Japanese Americans just prior to the Supreme Court decision, which had been leaked to government officials.

While her suit went through the various courts, she remained confined, moving to Topaz, Utah, after the segregation. Though she had the opportunity to leave camp early—the government in fact offered to release her in part to moot the lawsuit—she opted to remain in camp. When her suit was finally decided, she left Topaz in May of 1945 to live with a sister who had resettled with her husband in Chicago.[5] Upon her arrival, she chose among several job offers, taking a position as a secretary for the Mayor's Committee on Race Relations.[6] Two years later, she married Kenneth Tsutsumi, whom she had met in camp. The couple went on to have three children.[7]

In subsequent years, she kept a low profile, rebuffing interview requests with the exception of a very brief oral history that appeared in the anthology And Justice For All in 1984.[8] Because she was victorious in her suit, she was not a part of the coram nobis cases of the 1980s that brought renewed attention and fame to three other legal resisters, Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Min Yasui. Even her own daughter didn't know of her role in history until learning about it in her twenties.[9]

Mitsue Endo Tsutsumi lived in Chicago for the rest of her life and died of cancer on April 14, 2006.


Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

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.

Noel, Josh. "Mitsuye Tsutsumi 1920–2006." Chicago Tribune, April 25, 2006.

Ouchida, Elissa Kikuye. "Nisei Employees vs. California State Personnel Board: A Journal of Ex parte Mitsuye Endo, 1942–1947." Pan-Japan 7.1–2 (Spring/Fall 2011): 1–55.

Robinson, Greg. "Mitsuye Endo, Great in her Obscurity." Is That Legal? blog, June 5, 2006,

Tateishi, John. And Justice For All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps. New York: Random House, 1984. Foreword Roger Daniels. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999. 60–61.

Footnotes

  1. Morton Grodzins, Americans Betrayed: Politics and the Japanese Evacuation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), 122–27.
  2. Elissa Kikuye Ouchida, "Nisei Employees vs. California State Personnel Board: A Journal of Ex parte Mitsuye Endo, 1942–1947." Pan-Japan 7.1–2 (Spring/Fall 2011), 2, 7–8; Pacific Citizen, Mar. 23, 1946, p. 2, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19460323_002.jpg; Larry Tajiri, "Nisei USA," Pacific Citizen Sept. 20, 1947, p. 4, http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19470920_004.jpg, both accessed on July 14, 2014.
  3. In his definitive account of the wartime cases, Justice at War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), Peter Irons cites a meeting between Endo and Purcell in camp. However, both Endo, in a later oral history and Purcell, in a 1975 letter, claim to have never met. "Mitsuye Endo," in And Justice For All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps by John Tateishi (New York: Random House, 1984), 60–61; letter, James C. Purcell to Peter Linzer, associate professor of law, University of Cincinnati. June 11, 1975.
  4. Endo in And Justice For All, 61.
  5. Pacific Citizen, June 2, 1945, p. 3, accessed on July 14, 2014 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19450602_003.jpg.
  6. Pacific Citizen, July 14, 1945, p. 3, accessed on July 14, 2014 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19450714_003.jpg.
  7. Pacific Citizen, Dec. 6, 1947, p. 7, accessed on July 14, 2014 at http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digitalarchives/assets/images/full/PCN_19471206_007.jpg.
  8. Endo Tsusumi cited a bad experience with a reporter who interviewed her shortly after her arrival in Chicago as the reason for not doing subsequent interviews. Ouchida, "Nisei Employees vs. California State Personnel Board," 2, 41–42n4
  9. Josh Noel, "Mitsuye Tsutsumi 1920–2006," Chicago Tribune, April 25, 2006, accessed on July 16, 2014 at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-04-25/news/0604250259_1_supreme-court-japanese-american-population-japanese-american-citizens-league.