Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu was an Oakland son, and a civil rights hero. He was born on January 30, 1919 to Japanese immigrant parents who ran a flower nursery in town. He experienced discrimination growing up. A young Korematsu tried to enlist in the National Guard and Coast Guard but was forbidden from joining because he was Japanese.
But everything changed when Pearl Harbor and World War II happened and President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 forced Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Japanese-Americans were forced to leave behind their homes and businesses and communities as they were rounded up for internment. In 1942 Korematsu refused to be interned.
Instead, Korematsu defied the order and stayed in the Bay Area until he was arrested months later in San Leandro and then sent to internment camps in California and Utah. He fought his case but was eventually convicted of violating the new law. That ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1944, which ruled that the mandatory internment of Japanese-Americans was a “military necessity” and had nothing to do with race. Four decades later civil rights attorneys reopened Korematsu’s case when they found evidence that the U.S. government knew that Japanese-Americans had not committed treasonous acts and were not a threat to national security and further, that Japanese-Americans had been held without due process. In 1983 a California judge overturned Korematsu’s initial conviction.
Korematsu is notable for his courage and activism, and his fight is all the more eerie given our present-day political climate. Swap out “Japanese-Americans” for any person who is or is perceived to be Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern or of South-Asian descent, and how far have we really come?
Korematsu died on March 30, 2005. But his legacy is still strong. In 1998, President Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom and last year California passed a bill marking January 30 Fred Korematsu Day. There’s a packed schedule of events and celebrations to honor the first ever Fred Korematsu Day in California this Sunday.
Today we’re celebrating Fred Korematsu, his love for his community and his lifelong commitment to justice for those the U.S. would sooner deny their basic civil rights. This Sunday we’ll be raising a glass to Korematsu.
You can find our more about Fred Korematsu here.
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