‘It’s kind of humbling’: Raymond Uno, longtime activist and Utah’s first minority judge, honored with new archive at University of Utah’s Marriott Library

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) The papers, diaries and correspondence of retired 3rd District Judge Raymond S. Uno will be placed in the new special-collections archive at the University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library. Uno, 87, poses for a photo in his home, Thursday, April 26, 2018. Judge Uno will be also be honored at an event to benefit the archive and celebrate his life and contributions at the Cottonwood Country Club.

An Ogden boy educated in segregated schools and imprisoned at a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming during World War II would grow up to be the first ethnic minority to become a Utah judge.

Glimpses of Raymond Uno’s life experience — as the son of Japanese immigrants, as a soldier, a scholar, civil-rights champion, jurist and tireless community activist — are now being preserved in a new special-collections archive at the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library.

On the eve of a Thursday celebration of his legacy and the new Raymond S. Uno Legacy Archive, Uno, now 87, said the honor “is kind of humbling.” But more importantly, Uno said that preserving the collection of his papers, photographs, films, audio tapes, diaries and correspondence fulfills a lifelong aim.

“My hope is to perpetuate Japanese culture and history in Salt Lake City as a benefit to the community,” Uno said at his Salt Lake City home.

The retired judge’s papers will become the cornerstone of a Marriott collection devoted to chronicling the stories of Utah’s immigrants and ethnic communities, according to Greg Thompson, associate dean over the U. library’s special collections.

“What we hope to build will add on to that,” Thompson said. “Individual stories add up to a major story for each immigrant group.”

The immigrant-focused special collection is meant to convey an intimate and more personal side of history to future scholars and students, Thompson said, helping to educate them on groups whose narratives aren’t always included in mainstream histories.

“We have a good start on collecting the stories of the diverse peoples and communities of Utah, but we need to grow these collections,“ Thompson said in a written statement.

In Uno’s case, the U. associate dean said, his personal and professional experiences reflect a lifelong devotion to civil rights, social justice and involvement with the Japanese community in Utah.

Born in Ogden in 1930, Uno attended segregated schools in California before being forcibly evacuated with his family during World War II to a U.S. internment camp for the Japanese at Heart Mountain, outside Powell, Wyo.

Though kept under armed guard at the desolate camp for nearly three years — and losing his father at Heart Mountain — Uno would later enlist in the U.S. Army. He served as an interpreter in the 319th Military Intelligence Service and later as a special agent in Tokyo for the 441st Counterintelligence Corps.

He worked a wide range of menial jobs before becoming an attorney in 1958. Uno earned several degrees from the University of Utah in political science, the law and social work. He is set to be awarded the U.‘s highest honor — an honorary doctorate — at its 2018 commencement ceremony Wednesday. He also holds an honorary degree in humanities from Weber State University.

His legal career began with a position as referee in Utah’s juvenile court, followed by stints as a deputy Salt Lake County attorney and assistant Attorney General of Utah. Uno was in private practice in Salt Lake City when he was appointed as a city judge in 1976, becoming the first ethnic minority judge in Utah‘s history.

That began what would be 25 years on the bench, culminating with a six-year tenure as an active 3rd District Court judge and another 9 years on senior status. He retired fully in 2002.

His work as a civil-rights activist began in the early 1960s and has been a consistent thread throughout his life, with a particular focus on advocacy for minorities and the disadvantaged.

“Judge Uno is extrordinary as an individual who has gone through much of this experience, and in turn prepared himself and used his skills and education to try to help and address the issues of others in similar situations,” Thompson said.

Uno has also been actively involved in preserving Utah’s immigrant legacy through his own archive of personal papers and through support of other immigrant-centered efforts at Marriott, Thompson said.

“He’s been really, really engaged in trying to get this off the ground,” Thompson said of the archive. And while Uno remains “bashful about his contribution,” he said, “it’s huge.”