Activist Edison Tomimaro Uno was born in Los Angeles, California, on October 19, 1929. He was the ninth of his parents' 10 children. When Uno was 12 years old, just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents took his father, Japan-born George Uno, to four different concentration camps and did not allow him to contact his family for over a year. The U.S. government soon forced the rest of the Uno family to leave their southern California home for an “assembly center” at Santa Anita Race Track. The Unos were then moved to the Amache War Relocation Center in Granada, Colorado. Four of Uno's brothers soon volunteered for military service, while his mother and the younger members of the family were transferred to Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas, where they finally reunited with Uno's father. When all Uno's family members were released
except for his father, he elected to remain in the camp. He stayed in Crystal City for a whole other year, until his father persuaded him to return to Los Angeles to complete his education. The Crystal City officer-in-charge told him upon his fall 1946 departure that, after spending 1,647 days in internment, Uno was the last U.S. citizen to be released.
Outside the concentration camps' walls, Uno quickly assumed multiple leadership roles. In his senior year at Marshal High School, he was elected class president. He also served as president of the YMCA youth group Hi-Y before becoming the youngest chapter president in the history of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), whose East Los Angeles chapter he led at age 18. After graduating from Los Angeles State College with a degree in political science, Uno matriculated at Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. Halfway through his law school education, however, he suffered his first heart attack and dropped out after his doctors advised him to choose an alternative career.
Uno helped establish a small weekly English-language Japanese American newspaper in 1951, and for the next four years he worked as an advertising and publicity agent for five Los Angeles–based Japanese American publications. After a series of other odd jobs, Uno decided to enter the field of education and became operations manager of the University of California, San Francisco, Student Union in 1964. Five years later, he became a financial aid officer at the school—a position that allowed him to work with students and address issues of welfare and civil rights. In 1969, Uno spoke out in favor of the San Francisco State College students who held strikes that called for an increase in minority faculty, an elimination of restrictions on freedom of speech, and an implementation of ethnic studies programs.
Soon thereafter, Uno and Raymond Okamura helped organize a campaign to get the U.S. government to remove Title II of the Internal Security Act of 1950, a law that gave the president the authority to detain without trial any citizens who were suspected of espionage or sabotage during national emergencies. For 15 years, Uno tried to persuade U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren to apologize for his support of the evacuation of California's Japanese (American) families when he was the state's attorney general in 1942. Warren never made a public apology during Uno's lifetime, though he did eventually write in a memoir that he regretted his wartime support of the incarceration.
In 1970, Uno published Japanese Americans: The Untold Story, a children's book about the wartime mass removal and confinement. Three years later, he joined a campaign started by San Francisco pediatrician and activist Clifford Uyeda to win a presidential pardon for Iva Toguri, a Japanese American who was convicted of treason on September 29, 1949. Toguri had been one of the 13 female broadcasters collectively labeled “Tokyo Rose”—hired to host a radio program of music, comedy, and news on Tokyo Radio's “Zero Hour” show during World War II. When the war ended, the U.S. government claimed that Toguri had used her position as broadcaster to promote Japanese propaganda. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $10,000, in addition to losing her U.S. citizenship. Believing in Toguri's innocence, Uno, Uyeda, and other members of the JACL distributed
10,000 booklets with evidence demonstrating the unfairness of Toguri's trial. Major newspapers, religious organizations, and veterans groups endorsed the campaign, and eventually 60 Minutes interviewed Toguri, bringing national attention to her case. She finally received a presidential pardon after Republican senator S. I. Hayakawa met with President Gerald Ford and convinced him to provide a full and unconditional pardon for Toguri on his last full day in office in January 1977.
Unfortunately, Uno did not live to see the results of his campaigning efforts, as he died of a heart attack mere weeks before Toguri's pardon—on December 24, 1976. A wife and two daughters survived him. More than 700 people attended Uno's memorial service in San Francisco, and his legacy lives on through numerous honors, including awards from the American Civil Liberties Union and the San Francisco Bar Association. His activism on behalf of students while an assistant dean between 1967 and 1974 led the University of California, San Francisco, to establish a Chancellor's Edison Uno Public Service Award, given each year to the student who best exemplifies Uno's selfless character.
Finally, Uno's efforts to get the U.S. government to redress Japanese Americans for their wartime confinement culminated in landmark legislation long after his death. Told repeatedly that a redress movement would rock the boat, cost mil lions, and lose several politicians' support for the JACL, Uno continued to fight for justice on his own. Once the Toguri pardon campaign proved successful, the fight for redress was rekindled and Congress eventually passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, providing each surviving detainee a national apology and $20,000 in compensation. At the ceremony celebrating the bill's passage, Japanese American leaders felt that, though Uno had been dead nearly 14 years, his spirit was powerfully present, and they paid tribute to him for sparking the ultimately successful movement.
Japanese American Journey: The Story of a People. San Mateo, California: Japanese American Curriculum Project, 1985.
Uno, Edison. Edison Uno Papers, 1964–1976. Department of Special Collections, Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.