Chances are you've never heard of Mitsuye Endo.
And chances are you never would have, had it not been for a growing effort to have President Obama rescind Bill Cosby's Presidential Medal of Freedom.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is among those calling to have the nation's highest civilian honor taken away from Cosby in the wake of a growing body of evidence that he used drugs in order to have sex with dozens of women during his gilded heyday as "America's dad."
New York’s junior senator has been a national leader in calling for greater protections for women, particularly against sexual harassment and assault in the U.S. military and on college campuses. This latest effort gloves with her overall campaign to improve the way women are treated in this country.
So what does someone named Mitsuye Endo have to do with any of this?
Near the beginning of World War II, Endo was a 22-year-old living in California. But in the wake of anti-Japanese hysteria following Pearl Harbor, Endo — like more than 120,000 other Japanese-Americans — was stripped of her livelihood, her home and her family, and sent away to a government relocation camp.
But Endo didn't sit idly by and accept her fate. She was among a handful of Japanese-Americans who stood up and challenged the constitutionality of the mass detentions. Offered the opportunity for release in exchange for dropping her case, she steadfastly refused. Instead she remained held in camps for two years while her case made its way through the courts. In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in her favor. Around the same time, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the camps closed and the detainees released.
Endo, who died in 2006, is an American hero. And why her name appears in the same breath as Bill Cosby’s now is because there is a separate effort afoot to have her awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the same award many are now seeking to have taken from Cosby.
Bill Cosby made significant contributions to American society through entertainment, philanthropy, and his efforts to empower and educate blacks. But his disgraceful and potentially criminal conduct toward women in the wake of overwhelming evidence, including his own testimony in court, demands he forfeit his place of honor among the greatest American citizens.
Mitsuye Endo was a hero to her gender, a hero to her race, and a hero to all Americans. Yet Cosby holds our nation's highest civilian honor and Mitsuye does not.
How is any of this in any way right? And what message does that send?