U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, is asking President Barack Obama to posthumously award Mitsuye Endo the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Endo was one of 120,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. Endo and her family were forced into camps in California and Utah even though her brother was serving in the U.S. military.

While incarcerated, Endo challenged the constitutionality of the internment camps. The government offered to release Endo as long as she agreed not to return to the West Coast.

Mitsuye Endo

Mitsuye Endo

University Library. California State University, Sacramento

Instead, she chose to remain incarcerated to ensure her legal case remained active. She was imprisoned for three years.

But news of an impending Supreme Court ruling in favor of Endo led to the Roosevelt administration’s decision to rescind Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internment camps, on December 17, 1944. It was the day before the Endo decision was handed down.

Two weeks later, the internment camps were closed.

Endo was one of four Japanese Americans who challenged the legality of their relocation and internment all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. She was the only woman among them, and the only named plaintiff to win a case.

Schatz wrote that recognition of Endo’s courage and sacrifice as a civil rights heroine is long overdue.

“Ms. Endo was an ordinary person who made the extraordinary choice to forego her own freedom in order to secure the rights of 120,000 Japanese Americans who were wrongfully imprisoned,” wrote Schatz in the letter.  “Her story exemplifies a core American principle; we are a nation of laws where one person can stand up against an injustice and alter the course of our democracy.”

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