Communicator of the Month: Marii Hasegawa

Our Communicator of the Month series showcases individuals whose voices have made a lasting impact on our country. In 2023, we recognize 12 Proponents of Peace who were dedicated to resolving conflict and envisioned a world without violence. Whether they advocated for civil education classes or found the common link between the civil rights and peace movements, the efforts of these activists mitigated hostile conditions in many of the world’s most divided countries — including our own. Their cooperative processes led to negotiation, reconciliation and growth — and are still teaching us how to connect back to our shared humanity, even in times of strife.

“Peace is not just the absence of war, but a world without repression; government which puts people first, with civil rights and civil liberties; an economic system which is not exploitative; housing and education of the kind each person wants; consumerism under control; the environment being helped to recover; universal health care.” Marii Hasegawa

September 17, 1918 — July 1, 2012

Marii Hasegawa was less than a year old when her father, a Buddhist priest, moved the family from Japan to serve Buddhists in California. Although Hasegawa lived in the U.S. nearly her whole life, she continually faced discrimination for being Japanese American.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. government forcibly confined hundreds of thousands of people of Japanese descent in desert internment camps — including Hasegawa and her family who were forcibly removed from their own home. For three years, they were held at the Central Utah Relocation Center in Topaz, Utah, surrounded by formidable chain link fences and living in barracks with hundreds of other internees. When atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Hasegawa began what would become her life’s work: advocating for peace and equality for all.

For 50 years, Hasegawa held various positions within the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), an organization working for a world of permanent peace built on feminist foundations of freedom, justice, nonviolence, human rights and equality for all. WILPF strongly opposed the internment of Japanese Americans and helped to relocate and readjust those who were freed. It also called upon other nations to join in the causes of nuclear disarmament and the reduction of all arms.

In the early 1960s, Hasegawa participated in the Nike Missile Protest and during the Cold War, she helped organize the historic series of conferences between American and Soviet women. She sat on the board of the Richmond Human Relations Council and was a founding member of the Richmond Peace Education Center, also helping to organize the first Hiroshima Day commemorations in Richmond, Virginia. When she was president of the WILPF U.S. Section during the Vietnam War, she organized protests and led a peace delegation to North Vietnam. Hasegawa would go on to travel the country for the remainder of her life, giving lectures, urging educational reform and uniting women in nonviolent activities for peace.

In 1996, Hasegawa received the Niwano Peace Prize for her achievements. A documentary about her life, “Marii Hasegawa: Gentle Woman of a Dangerous Kind,” premiered in 2012. In 2018, she was named one of the Virginia Women in History honorees. She remains an inspiration to women around the world.