JACL in Selma: From Manzanar to Montgomery

JACL is in Selma, Alabama this weekend to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the 1965 voting rights demonstrations and marches that led to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act. The JACL delegation is attending the events with Todd Endo, a longtime JACLer who participated in the demonstrations in 1965 and covered the events in a series of articles for the Pacific Citizen Newspaper.

kota and ryan

Ryan Kenji Kuramitsu and Kota Mizutani at the SPLC Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, AL

By Kota Mizutani and Ryan Kenji Kuramitsu

Representatives from the JACL are in Selma this weekend to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King’s historic march for voting rights. Our delegation is comprised of two members of the NY/SC (Kota Mizutani and Ryan Kenji Kuramitsu), Korinne Sugasawara and Craig Shimizu from the JACL DC Office, Bill Yoshino from Chicago, and Todd Endo, his wife Paula, and their two grandchildren, Aidan and Lily. We spent the afternoon flying in from our respective cities and making the drive from Birmingham to Montgomery, about 50 miles from Selma. We consist of multiple generations and intersectional Japanese American identities brought together to remember, reflect, and continue the legacy of the Civil Rights March 50 years ago.

Sharing our first meal of the weekend with Todd Endo was a special experience. Todd, forever humble yet powerful in his words and memories, immediately engaged us in storytelling and discussion over classic Southern BBQ dinner. It was also a time for the entire delegation to bond with each other and share our passions and our reasons for making this pilgrimage.

We continued our dinner discussion in an intimate setting with Congressman Mark Takai (D-HI) for about an hour and a half, as Todd shared more memories and experiences from his original trip to Selma fifty years ago. Remembering the past led to an insightful discussion on current political issues, such as the Voting Rights Act, immigration, civil rights and liberties.

One of the most salient points from our conversation with Congressman Takai was discussing the collaboration of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, as well as its working relationship with its Latino and Black caucus counterparts and colleagues. In politics, as elsewhere, community leaders can often find a groundswell of support for social change when they intentionally work across ethnic lines, standing in solidarity with various minority communities who share in our struggles for social justice and equality. Asian American activism in particular owes much to the examples of the civil rights movement, and it is incumbent upon us to enter into a conversation on racism and prejudice that has been going on for countless decades.

Coming out of 2014 – a year marked with the nationwide protests in support of police reform and in protest of the slayings of black men, women, and children – Americans of all races are increasingly recognizing that the fight of the civil rights movement continues today. From Manzanar to Selma, Tule Lake to Ferguson, Oakland to New York City, it is the responsibility of truly all Americans to actively work towards our common dream of equality and justice for all. Indeed, Japanese Americans were here fifty years ago, in 1965, marching in solidarity with our African American neighbors. We are here this weekend, in 2015, doing much the same thing. We look forward to celebrating all that civil rights leaders have accomplished in the past half century, and taking on the work that remains.

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