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OBITUARY: Philip Hayasaka: “A Social Justice Warrior”

December 2020, Volume 70, Issue 11

Yoshiro Philip Hayasaka, known as Philip, was born in Seattle, Washington on June 2, 1926 to parents Harry Motosuke and Teru Suda Hayasaka.  He was the youngest sibling to sisters, Mitsu Dorothy (Tak) Takeuchi, and Ruri Ruth (Masami) Kawaguchi, and brother Tatsuro (Aya) Hayasaka. Phil passed away peacefully on the morning of Thursday, September 3rd, 2020.  

Philip grew up with his family on North Beacon Hill in a rental house, attending Beacon Hill Elementary, and later, Franklin High School, in an environment hostile to Japanese, both in sentiment and in Federal and State laws.  His parents were prohibited by Federal law from becoming naturalized citizens and prohibited by state law from owning property unless they were citizens.

The family business, one of few career options afforded Japanese in this country at the time, was a produce company located on Western Avenue close to the Pike Place Market.  All of the family worked together to make the business successful.

Leading up to the war with Japan, anti-Japanese sentiment grew stronger.  Curfews were imposed and FBI agents knocked on the doors of Japanese residents, searched their homes and confiscated possessions. 

Within days of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, the FBI began arresting community leaders, teachers and religious clergy.  Phil’s father was among them.  At the time, the family didn’t know where he was taken or if they would ever see him again.  It turned out he was taken to a concentration camp in Missoula, Montana and the family did not see him again until the end of the war. With their father gone and customers refusing to pay for goods and services, the family business took unsustainable losses. 

In February 1942, just two months later, President Roosevelt, as commander-in-chief, issued Executive Order 9066 that resulted in the imprisonment of Japanese Americans along the West Coast.  Army-directed removals began in March of 1942.  Phil’s family, like all the others, had between two days to one week’s notice to register and dispose of their belongings other than what they could carry.  They sold whatever they could of their property for a fraction of its worth and had to abandon all other possessions.  

They were required to report to centers near their homes and were transported first to a temporary detention center on the Puyallup fairgrounds, temporarily living in animal stalls and in the parking lot, before being relocated to barracks at Camp Minidoka in the desert of Idaho, surrounded by five miles of barbed wire fencing and eight guard towers. Phil’s high school education was disrupted as a result of this forced removal when he was around 15 years old; he completed it at camp.  His work assignment was cleaning latrines and at times taken out with others to nearby farms to harvest potatoes.

At the end of the war, in 1945, he and his family relocated to Philadelphia where he worked as an auto mechanic for two years before returning to Seattle to join his parents. He attended the University of Washington and graduated in 1951 with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the School of Business Administration.

After graduating from college, Phil married Lucy Yoshioka, who graduated from Nursing School at Temple University in Philadelphia.  In 1958, their first son David was born, followed by Dean in 1961. 

After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War from 1952 through 1954, Phil volunteered at the Jackson Street Community Council, a social service agency focused on improving living and working conditions of a multi-ethnic community.  In 1959, he became Director of the Council, establishing strong ties with the community and city officials, and in 1960, served as president of the Seattle Japanese American Citizens League (JACL).

Undoubtedly, Phil’s entire life experiences from boyhood, created a passion in him for working in the area of civil rights, with communities of color, to make a difference, and in 1963, at the age of 37, he was appointed by Mayor Clinton of Seattle, to be the Director of the newly created Seattle Human Rights Commission, which later became a department.  He was the first and only person of color at that time to become an agency head.  He took this position amidst a turbulent time of civil unrest across the country including Seattle.  

His first order of business was to prepare and propose an ordinance to the mayor and city council for fair housing to prevent discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, and known practices of redlining, a segregationist practice which systematically kept people of color confined to particular neighborhoods.  It took three votes by the citizens of Seattle, and four years of unrelenting effort for open housing to be accomplished. 

Under Phil’s direction:

• The City Ordinance on fair housing was passed
• A City Ordinance on fair employment practices was passed
• A Contract Compliance Ordinance was passed ensuring minority access to contracting with companies doing business with the City of Seattle
• Established working relationships with communities of color
• Around 27 human relations neighborhood councils were established to assist the agency to ease tensions and work together to meet the needs of neighborhoods across Seattle
• Human Relations training programs were designed for schools, universities, city departments and business organizations.
• Increased dialogue took place with the Seattle Police Department to improve police/community relations
• A number of public education programs were created to promote understanding and awareness of needs of diverse populations
• He proposed an executive order on equal opportunity and affirmative action which the Mayor enacted. The major then expanded Phil's role by appointing him as the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for the City of Seattle
During this time, Phil worked as relentlessly on his off time as well as at his job despite threats such as a cross burned on his lawn, in the early 1970’s.  He gathered a group of folks together to form the Asian Coalition for Equality around 1968, to give Asians a voice, and an increased presence, realizing the political advantage in coalescing as a significant group of color.  


As community activist Bob Santos said, "The Asian Coalition for Equality, founded by Phil Hayasaka, was the first pan-Asian American activist organization in Seattle.  It was the forerunner of the International District Improvement (Inter*Im), a multiethnic group formed to improve the declining conditions of the ID.” Bob, who served as executive director of Inter*Im during its years of fighting for the preservation of the ID (1972-86), also noted. that "Phil actually was the one who got a lot of us involved."  In 1972, Phil was appointed by Governor Dan Evans as the first chairperson of the Washington State Asian Advisory Council, an entity Phil and others convinced the Governor was needed.

In 1976, Phil remarried.  He and his wife, Lois have been married for 44 years.

Philip served the City of Seattle under four Seattle mayors for twelve years, before retiring and moving to a position with the State of Washington as Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity within the Department of Social and Health Services.  He served in this capacity for twelve years.

Upon retiring from the City of Seattle, Washington Supreme Court Justice Charles Z. Smith said:

“I’ve observed Phil Hayasaka in action as a grass roots communicator, human rights advocate, government representative and peacemaker.  In my view he stands tall and strong as a person whose gentle, but firm approach, and whose credibility throughout the community have helped Seattle survive critical problems of unrest which have crippled other cities.  I have respect for his integrity and admiration for his forthrightness and ability to prod our conscience. 

With his staff, he’s worked hard promoting racial understanding and equality in Seattle, lessening racial tensions in the community and schools, monitoring contract compliance and affirmative action programs, training city personnel and providing liaison with state and federal agencies.

I fully recognize that no individual is indispensable, but I do think we need more persons like Phil Hayasaka in sensitive areas of government responsibility.”


 Especially in these current times of civil unrest and turmoil, not unlike the 1960s and 1970s, perhaps one can look upon Phil’s life and reflect on valuable lessons embedded within, those of acceptance and working together to heal and build a better tomorrow, a better today.  Keep fighting the good fight wherever possible.

As his granddaughter, Jenni states: "Grandpa Phil (Hayasaka) was the only grandpa I’ve ever met and known. He was a Nisei who lived through Japanese concentration/prison camps as a kid, hunting rattlesnakes and collecting their rattles. He was the first Director of the Human Rights Commission and authored an ordinance that became the national standard for anti-discrimination laws. He and my grandma started ACE, the Asian Coalition for Equality and united Seattle Asian groups during the civil rights movement. He made a difference as a social justice warrior before that was a thing. I’m proud to be able to build on the foundation my grandparents set for my generation and future generations. Love you, Grandpa. Rest in Power."

Phil is survived by his wife, Lois, his son David (Terry) Hayasaka and his son Dean Hayasaka, step-children Debbie Flores, Greg Fleming and Mark Fleming and grandchildren Jason Flores and Jenni Flores, along with many dear nieces and nephews. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation, Northwest Harvest, or a charity of your choice.