Takuji Yamashita


Name Takuji Yamashita
Born 1874
Died 1959
Birth Location Ehime Prefecture, Japan
Generational Identifier

Issei

More information...

Issei who fought race based bans on citizenship and on land ownership in two landmark legal cases.

Called "one of the great Asian American lawyers of his generation" by legal scholar Gabriel J. Chin and "a pioneer of civil rights" by Washington Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander, Yamashita was born in Ehime prefecture in Japan and migrated to Tacoma, Washington, in 1892.[1] Proving to be a quick study, he graduated from Tacoma High School in two years and eventually went on to the University of Washington, graduating from its newly instituted law school in 1902, as one of just ten graduates from its second class. After passing the bar exam, he filed naturalization papers, since the state required lawyers to be American citizens. However, the state did not allow him to practice law claiming that he could not become a citizen because of his race. In response, he filed a brief with the Washington Supreme Court arguing, among other things, that the state accepted lawyers who had passed the bar in other states that did not have a citizenship requirement and also challenging the 1790 naturalization law that limited naturalization rights to a "free white person." On October 22, 1902, the court ruled unanimously against him.

Unable to practice law, he turned to business, opening hotels and restaurants in the Seattle area, while also providing informal legal advice to other Japanese Americans. He married and began a family. He later turned to farming, settling in Silverdale, Washington, where he collided with the law a second time. As was the case with most other western states, Washington passed an alien land law in 1921. To get around the law, Yamashita stated a land company, the Japanese Real Estate Holding Company, that would own the land. When the secretary of state refused to accept the articles of incorporation, he once again turned to the courts. Represented by George W. Wickersham, a former attorney general under William Howard Taft, the case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922. In a ruling issued on the same day as the landmark Ozawa v. U.S. decision that definitively designated Issei as ineligible for naturalization, the court ruled against Yamashita once again. He did grow strawberries in Silverdale, Washington, evading the land law by being a "manager" hired by a sympathetic white land "owner."

During World War II, Yamashita and his wife were forcibly removed along with all other West Coast Japanese Americans. The Yamashitas went first to the Pinedale Assembly Center in Central California, then to Tule Lake and later to Minidoka. Unable to keep up payments, they lost their farm. Upon returning to Seattle after the war, he lived with a daughter and worked as a housekeeper. He and his wife returned to Japan in 1957, where he died two years later at the age of 84.

After having been largely forgotten, interest in his story began anew as the University of Washington Law School prepared for its centennial. Yamashita's story captured the imagination of university media specialist Steven Goldsmith, who featured him in a story in their alumni magazine. Before long, the university, along with the state and Asian Bar Associations, were petitioning the Supreme Court to posthumously admit him to the bar. Before many of Yamashita's descendants, a ceremony on March 1, 2001, did just that.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Chin, Gabriel J. "Twenty Years on Trial: Takuji Yamashita's Struggle for Citizenship." In Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History. Edited by Annette Gordon-Reed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Cook, Rebecca. "Justice for Scholar Comes a Century Later." The Seattle Times, Feb. 24, 2001, B6.

Goldsmith, Steven. "A Civil Action." Columns: The University of Washington Alumni Magazine 20.4 (Dec. 2000): 26–30.

---. "Takuji Yamashita: State's Leaders Honor a Man Once Rejected Because of His Race." UW Today, Feb. 12, 2001. http://www.washington.edu/news/2001/02/12/takuji-yamashita-states-leaders-honor-a-man-once-rejected-because-of-his-race/.

Paton, Dean. "Posthumous Justice: Yamashita Passes the Bar." Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 2001. http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/0301/p1s4.html.

"Preliminary Guide to the Takuji Yamashita Photograph Collection circa 1880-1957." University Libraries, University of Washington. http://digital.lib.washington.edu/findingaids/view?docId=YamashitaTakuji5151.xml.

Verhovek, Sam Howe. "Justice Prevails for Law Graduate, 99 Years Late." New York Times, March 11, 2001, p. 28.

Wilma, David. "State Supreme Court Denies Citizenship for UW School of Law Grad Takuji Yamashita on October 22, 1902." HistoryLink.org: The Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=2870.

Footnotes

  1. Gabriel J. Chin, "Twenty Years on Trial: Takuji Yamashita's Struggle for Citizenship," in Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History, edited by Annette Gordon-Reed (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 103; Rebecca Cook, "Justice for Scholar Comes a Century Later," The Seattle Times, Feb. 24, 2001, B6.