Honors for 2 who fought interracial marriage ban
Arizona Daily Star
March  20, 2009


By Carmen Duarte

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/285182

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona is honoring longtime educator Henry "Hank" Oyama and his late wife, Mary Ann Jordan Oyama, at its 50th anniversary celebration tonight at the Westward Look Resort.

The couple made history as the ACLU of Arizona's first clients in a lawsuit challenging the state's anti-miscegenation law that prohibited interracial marriage.

Oyama is a Tucson native of Japanese descent, and Jordan was a white woman from Buffalo, N.Y., who moved to Tucson for health reasons. They met at the University of Arizona and began dating. They fell in love.

Oyama, 82, and Jordan, who died from heart failure in 1987 at age 55, will be honored "for having the courage to stand up for equality five decades ago," said organizers of the celebration.

Anthony D. Romero, ACLU national executive director, is the keynote speaker at the sold-out event.

Among others being honored are attorneys who defended the couple and founders of the ACLU of Arizona.

On Oct. 6, 1959, Oyama, 33, a Spanish and U.S. history teacher at Pueblo High School, and Jordan, 28, an American Airlines employee, were denied a marriage license in the office of the clerk of Pima County Superior Court.

A state law prohibited "the marriage of a person of Caucasian blood with a Negro, Mongolian, Malay or Hindu," according to a Star story.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Herbert F. Krucker declared the law unconstitutional on Dec. 23, 1959, and granted Oyama and his fiancée their request for a marriage license.

Attorneys Charles Ares, Frank Barry and Paul Rees argued that the statute violated the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and portions of the Arizona Constitution.

Oyama explained that the ruling was appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, but it was dismissed after the Legislature repealed the law.

Meanwhile, Oyama and Jordan did not wait. After Krucker's ruling, "I and Mary Ann got married a week later at St. Augustine Cathedral," Oyama said in an interview earlier this week.

Oyama recalled the "excellent preparation and presentation" of his attorneys, and said he was grateful for Krucker's insight.

"But the one that deserves my deepest gratitude and thanks is my late wife," said Oyama. "She was the courageous one that faced the most opposition," he said.

She was the one who did the explaining and endured the occasional disapproval while she carried a Japanese surname and took care of five children, Oyama said.

Oyama knows how it feels to be judged based on appearance. When he was a teen, he and his mother were sent by the U.S. government to an internment camp during World War II.

He later served with the Army's counterintelligence department and as a captain in the Air Force Reserve.

Oyama said it was his wife who taught him about building bridges of understanding and love. "It was her courage and unwavering support that inspired me to continue my involvement in educational rights of Mexican-American children and adults," said Oyama, who, along with other teachers, was nationally recognized for bilingual education in the 1950s at Pueblo High by Parade Magazine.

That recognition led him and five local educators to research bilingual education programs in 40 schools in the Southwest. They wrote a report, "The Invisible Minority," and held a national symposium in 1966 to discuss the findings. It attracted policymakers and educators, and two U.S. senators who introduced federal legislation that funded bilingual education, Oyama recalled.

Oyama left Pueblo in 1970 and became Pima Community College's director of bilingual and international studies, and then associate dean of the program in 1978.

In 1989, he was appointed vice president for multidisciplinary education and services at PCC. He retired as vice president emeritus after 22 years at the college.

Tucson Unified School District built an elementary school at 2700 S. La Cholla Blvd. and named it after Oyama in February 2003. He worked for the district for 18 years.

Oyama said he is accepting the recognition this evening in the company of his wife of 17 years, Laura Ann; daughter, Cathy Tate; son, David Oyama; and friends and colleagues.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or cduarte@azstarnet.com.