Kunitake Morgan Yamanaka

1924 – 2017

Vigilant role model for civil and constitutional rights

Kunitake Morgan Yamanaka is considered an “icon” in the social work community, inspiring students for 44 years as a faculty member in the School of Social Work at San Francisco State University. Throughout his social work career, Yamanaka was a strong advocate for equal rights, constitutional protections, and social justice for the oppressed, under-served and under-represented populations.

In 1942, two months before graduating high school, Yamanaka and his family were ordered to leave their home in San Francisco to report to one of the fifteen assembly centers in the United States where 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry experienced the same fate. The U.S. was at war with Japan and Japanese Americans were sent to concentration camps based solely on their ancestry. Yamanaka’s family was held at the Santa Anita Race Track in Arcadia, California for six months living in a horse stall until they were transferred to Camp Topaz, a War Relocation Authority camp in Utah described as a “barren, sand-choked wasteland”. He was later re-located to Tule Lake, another camp in Northern California for three more years. Protesting for his rights and for proper treatment, Yamanaka was considered a disloyal troublemaker and was often thrown into the stockade. He was one of the last 200 detainees to leave camp in 1946.

Yamanaka moved back to San Francisco where he attended the University of California, Berkeley and received his BA in Sociology in 1950 and his MSW with an emphasis in Group Work in 1953. Later, the San Francisco Board of Education recognized that Japanese Americans were forced out of the public schools during the WWII internment and 54 years after he left high school, Yamanaka finally received his high school diploma in 1996!

He was active in numerous civic, social and professional organizations including the Board of Japanese American Citizens League, San Francisco Chapter. In the School of Social Work at San Francisco State University, he served as the Director of the Institute for Multicultural Research and Social Work Practice. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s he was the elected treasurer of the Golden Gate Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of California.

Kunitake Morgan Yamanaka dedicated his teaching career to the undergraduate social work program. He formalized the field work program, developed a course that introduced students to the social service communities, and was instrumental in developing the curriculum for the graduate field education. Additionally, he taught a course that he initiated in Asian American Studies, “The Legacy of Japanese American Internment in American History”. He leaves a strong impact on the professional standards that many of the students he mentored during his 44 years as a professor, aspire to uphold.

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