Educator receives Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice

Sam Mihara was named the recipient of the 2023 Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice. (Matthew Chetnik)

SALEM — History educator and author Sam Mihara is the recipient of the 2023 Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice, Voices Against Injustice announced on Friday. The annual award recognizes and celebrates individuals and organizations that confront fear and social injustice with courage.

As a survivor of Japanese American incarceration during World War II, Mihara has spent more than 20 years speaking to audiences about both his family’s experience and contemporary injustices around mass incarceration and the detention of undocumented immigrants. In 2014, Mihara joined the Board of Directors of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which “works to preserve what remains of the World War II Japanese American confinement site in Park County, Wyo., and to tell the stories of the more than 14,000 people unjustly incarcerated at the site.”

Mihara is also the author of “Blindsided: The Life and Times of Sam Mihara,” which describes his family’s harrowing experience with Japanese American incarceration. In 2022, he received the Japanese American of the Biennium Award for Education and Humanities. The award honored his work educating more than 100,000 students and teachers worldwide by sharing the history of Japanese incarceration and the human costs of detention.

Mihara was nominated for the Salem Award by House of the Seven Gables Executive Director Dakota Russell. As the former executive director of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, Russell says, “Sam inspires me because he made a choice, late in life, to revisit this painful chapter in his family’s story. He was willing to do that because he believed he could spark a little empathy and convince others to see the world through different eyes. It takes a lot of bravery to get up in front of audiences across the nation — audiences who often hold entirely opposing views — and tell a story that personal.”

“The board is honored to recognize Sam Mihara as this year’s award winner,” said VAI Co-Chair Sara Moore. “His willingness to share his family’s deeply personal story, and to connect the legacy of Japanese American detention to contemporary social-justice issues, provides an invaluable opportunity for both education and action.”

Voices Against Injustice, formerly the Salem Award Foundation, has selected award recipients since 1992, the tercentenary of the Salem Witch Trials. VAI fosters empathy and reconciliation by encouraging the community to “remember, honor, and act.” The organization publicly recognizes individuals and organizations working to help those who experience discrimination and injustice, supports the Salem Witch Trials Memorial in downtown Salem, and offers educational programming that broadens the community’s awareness and understanding of current human-rights and social-justice issues.

Of receiving the award, Mihara says, “There is a commonality between the purpose of the Salem Award and the purpose of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, that social injustice and the violation of human rights took place in both places. Such injustice should never happen again to anyone.”

An awards event honoring Mihara for the 2023 Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice will be held Friday, Nov. 10 at the House of the Seven Gables. For more information or to submit a nomination for next year’s award, visit, email [email protected], or follow VAI on social media. VAI accepts award nominations year-round.

More Stories From Lynn