Fred Korematsu (1919-2005) with his Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Photo by Shirley Nakao, Courtesy of the Korematsu Institute).
AAP staff report
Sacramento, Calif. (September 23, 2010) – California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution bill making it the first day named after an Asian American in U.S. history. Korematsu Day is designed as a school curriculum program to encourage schools to teach students about the Fred Korematsu story and its relevance in the present post-9/11 environment.
“We are pleased that Gov. Schwarzenegger signed this historic bill to commemorate Fred Korematsu’s courage and advocacy for civil rights of all people,” stated Cheryl Hirata-Dulas of the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Education Committee.
“We hope that this prompts other states to follow California’s lead to ensure that students and the general public are educated about the significance of Korematsu’s story, which, post-9/11, is relevant today more than ever, so that what the injustice and loss of civil liberties that the Japanese American community experienced during World War II will never be allowed to happen again to any other groups based on race, ethnicity, religion or other attribute.”
The bill (AB 1775) passed the California legislature on August 24, and according to the Korematsu Institute, it went on to pass a series of unanimous votes on the Senate Floor (34-0) on August 9, the Senate Education Committee (8-0) on June 30, the Assembly Floor (69-0) on May 20, and finally the Assembly Education Committee (8-0) on May 5.
The Korematsu Institute expressed appreciation to the bill’s co-sponsors, Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D – South Los Angeles County) and Assemblymember Marty Block (D – San Diego), the California legislature, and to Governor Schwarzenegger as well. The also credited a listing containing hundreds of community organizations, ethnic bar associations and individuals that sent letters of support over several months in this effort to make history.
The effort was led by Karen Korematsu, who is Fred Korematsu daughter, their legal team, staff and interns at the Korematsu Institute and the Asian Law Caucus.
The first Fred Korematsu Day will be celebrated on his Birthday, January 30, 2011. The Korematsu Institute will hold a grand celebration that day in the Bay Area, in addition to various activities throughout the state. We are also in the process of designing K-12 curriculum to roll out into California classrooms.
Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu was born in Oakland, Calif. on January 30, 1919. He is most noted as an ordinary person who took an extraordinary stand and refusing to willingly comply with the forced internment of Japanese Americans in 1942 for the duration of the Second World War.
Korematsu was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order. He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court in 1944. It ruled against him with the decision of the majority court led by Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone calling the internment justified for “military necessity.”
Associate Justices Frank Murphy, Owen J. Roberts and Robert H. Jackson dissented – calling the decision a “legalization of racism” that has no part in a free, democratic and constitutional society where everyone has a origin from somewhere else and has equal application under the law.
In 1983, a group of young lawyers, most of whom were Japanese American, discovered key documents that government lawyers had hidden them from the Supreme Court in 1944. They were considered damaging to the case for internment and when presented as new evidence, the legal team re-opened Korematsu’s case on the basis of government misconduct.
It what is now considered a pivotal moment in civil rights history, the Korematsu conviction was overturned in the US District Court of the Northern District of California on November 10, 1983.
Korematsu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton in 1998. The honor signified the fact that Korematsu had stood up not only for his own rights and those of his fellow Japanese-American internees, but for the civil rights of all U.S. citizens.
The story of Korematsu’s heroism and educational outreach efforts inspired his own family and countless activists to continue in the struggle to demonstrate the importance of building cross-cultural alliances and strengthen the broader civil rights movement.
Korematsu passed away in Marin County, Calif. on March 30, 2005. His legacy lives on with Korematsu Day and with the Korematsu Institute. Read about his life and the legacy of his plight at http://korematsuinstitute.org.
The Twin Cities JACL has a collection of curriculum guides, books, oral histories, DVDs, archival photographs and other materials that are available to teachers on the topic of the Japanese American experience during World War II. Visit www.twincitiesjacl.org for more information.