LOS ANGELES — On April 15, the Los Angeles-based Manzanar Committee announced that the late Keith Bright, a long-time resident of the Owens Valley and a former Inyo County Supervisor, has been chosen as one of the 2010 recipients of the Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy “Baka Guts” Award.
Bill Michael, the former Director of the Eastern California Museum in Independence, California, was also named as a recipient (see Bill Michael Named Co-Recipient of Manzanar Committee’s Sue Kunitomi Embrey Legacy Award).
The award, named after the late chair of the Manzanar Committee who was one of the founders of the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage and was the driving force behind the creation of the Manzanar National Historic Site, will be presented at the 41st Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, scheduled for 12:00 PM PDT on Saturday, April 24, 2010, at the Manzanar National Historic Site, located on U.S. Highway 395 in California’s Owens Valley, between the towns of Lone Pine and Independence, approximately 230 miles north of Los Angeles.
The Manzanar Pilgrimage is free and is open to the public.
“Baka Guts” can best be described as having courage no matter the odds and the grit to stick with it, a term often applied to Embrey during her years of dedicated struggle to preserve Manzanar and establish it as a National Historic Site.
Bright, who passed away on April 6, 2010 at the age of 95, was a key supporter of preserving Manzanar and worked tirelessly in his efforts to help establish the Manzanar National Historic Site, both during his tenure on the Inyo County Board of Supervisors and in his subsequent role as a member of the Manzanar National Historic Site Advisory Commission.
“Keith was instrumental in helping navigate the political scene,” said Bruce Embrey, Co-Chair of the Manzanar Committee. “He was a real powerhouse. Keith saw how creating the Manzanar National Historic Site was not just the right thing to do, but was an important part of Owens Valley history that needed to be talked about.”
“It’s no exaggeration to say that without Keith Bright’s support and determination we would not be where we are today,” added Embrey. “Keith loved this land, loved his community and quite frankly, we owe Keith and the Bright family a incalculable debt of gratitude.”
Bright used his political savvy and contacts within the State and Federal governments to help move the process of establishing the Manzanar National Historic Site forward.
“Keith was instrumental in pushing the various Federal agencies involved via his contacts in Washington, D.C. to get the land transfer from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to the National Park Service completed after being bogged down in red tape,” said Gann Matsuda, a member of the Manzanar Committee.
Bright’s tough and a bit gruff, yet down-to-Earth, friendly and personable approach was also a key factor in building support for Manzanar in the local community.
“Perhaps more important was that Keith was a crucial factor in building support in Inyo County,” said Matsuda, who served with Bright on the Manzanar National Historic Site Advisory Commission. “Keith was tough, but he had an easy-going, non-threatening demeanor at the same time. When you combine that with his ability to twist your arm without you realizing it, it’s easy to see how he was able to bring those with differing views together and nudge people towards the facts.”
“Along with Bill Michael, Keith did yeoman’s work in Inyo County to educate local residents who initially opposed the establishment of the site based on misconceptions and even racism.”
One of Bright’s repeated wishes was to see the gardens that were built by some of the former Japanese American prisoners during their time at Manzanar be rehabilitated.
“Keith spoke often of his desire to see Manzanar’s gardens restored so people could appreciate the resilience of the human spirit,” said Alisa Lynch, Chief of Interpretation, Manzanar National Historic Site. “Every time I saw him, he asked about the gardens.”
Thanks, in part, to his own efforts, Merritt Park, also known as Pleasure Park, was rehabilitated during the summer of 2008.
“In November 2009, Keith’s granddaughter Rose brought him to see Merritt Park,” said Lynch. “He sat on a rock, appreciating the beauty and talking about human rights. After twenty years, Keith finally had his garden at Manzanar.”
For more information, including bus transportation to the Pilgrimage and about the popular Manzanar At Dusk program scheduled for 5:00 PM that same evening, check out the Manzanar Committee’s official web site at https://manzanarcommittee.org or call (323) 662-5102.
The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site.
LEAD PHOTO: Keith Bright (lower right) was honored by the Eastern California Museum and the Friends of Manzanar on April 25, 2008. NPS Photo by Tom Clayton.
SECOND PHOTO: Keith Bright during a visit to Merritt Park at the Manzanar National Historic Site. Photo: Rose Masters.
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Thanks for the update. That is an inspiring honor!
It’s rather curious that Merritt Park (Rose Park) would be the garden that Keith would visit – the Block 34 Garden (San-shi-en) was excavated at least two years before Merritt Park . . . sour grapes? . . . maybe, but then the NPS has its own timeline . . . BTW, Keith was a close friend of mine.