Civil rights leader returns to Murray roots
Aug 05, 2019 05:09PM
By Shaun Delliskave
At age 80, Floyd Mori still advocates for racial equality and justice. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
Floyd Mori is an endless fount of fascinating stories about a lifetime of service to his country and to his heritage. Murray-born Mori has just published a book, “The Japanese American Story,” recounting his own history and that of the Japanese American Citizens League as well as his time as one of the first Asian-American assemblyman and as mayor of Pleasanton, California.
At age 80, Mori is still very much on the go; he’s helping Salt Lake City host the JACL National Convention, July 31–Aug. 1. It’s an organization he has served for years and led as National Executive Director/CEO. He and wife, Irene, are currently membership coordinators of the Mount Olympus Chapter of the JACL.
As a boy during World War II, Mori could detect racial prejudice against him. “Because of the treatment I received and the depictions I saw of the Japanese enemies, I developed a dislike toward who I was. I wanted to be white like most of the people around me.”
During the war, Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were forced into internment camps, but because his family had a farm in Murray, and later Sandy, they did not need to relocate. They did take in relocated family members as an alternative to the internment camps. His wife, Irene, was not so lucky.
Mori’s appreciation for his ethnicity and race changed when he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hawaii, with its large Asian population. “There was little choice in food for me in Hawaii other than Asian food, which I started to enjoy. I began to gain a greater appreciation and understanding of my own heritage and culture as a Japanese American and an Asian American.”
After graduating from BYU, he taught college in the San Francisco Bay area in the 1960s and saw campus protests over civil rights. Mori, himself, became charged with the idea to help Asian Americans, so he joined the JACL. Eventually, he was elected to the city council in Pleasanton, California, and later became its mayor. As mayor, he rubbed shoulders with other Japanese American leaders like Norman Mineta, then the mayor of San Jose. That friendship still stands strong today.
In the 1970s, Mori was elected as one of the first Japanese Americans in the California State Assembly. However, it was while serving as head of the 1978 JACL convention in Salt Lake City that the proposal to provide redress for imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II was first broached. Mori worked alongside Mineta and Senators Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and Spark Matsunaga (D-HI) to help pass this legislation.
“The passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (the Redress Bill), signed by President Ronald Reagan, was the culmination of over 15 years of dedicated effort to bring some sense of justice to the wrongs of the forced evacuation. Leaders within the JACL want to ensure that the unfortunate experience of the incarceration of innocent Japanese Americans and immigrants from Japan during World War II will not be repeated against any other people.”
Mori recently has been living in Murray to be close to his family (though he and wife will soon be moving to their daughter’s home) and has been involved with Japanese cultural festivals, including the Nihon Matsuri (Japan Festival) of which he is a founder. He also hasn’t lost his sense of involvement in the fight against discrimination and racism.
“I am very concerned about the Muslims living in America. Ever since 9/11 they have been mistreated. And with the [immigrant] internment camps on our southern border…. We have been down this way before.”
This year’s JACL convention will honor former University of Utah basketball player Wat Misaka and teacher/labor leader Arlene Inouye of California. More information about the convention can be found online at jacl.org.