Fred Korematsu. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Fred Korematsu. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution will be observed Monday in California, honoring the welder who defied President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s lWorld War II executive order authorizing the incarceration of more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent in camps throughout the nation.

The day is particularly important this year as backers of President Donal Trump have cited the-then executive order and subsequent law that allowed the forced internment of people of Japanese descent — many of whom were American citizens — as precedent for new immigration orders barring immigrants from Muslim nations.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the law has never been overturned. Korematsu was at the center of that court decision.

Korematsu was arrested in 1942 and convicted of violating the federal order. He lost an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1944 that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity.

In 1983, legal historian Peter Irons and researcher Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga discovered key documents that government intelligence agencies had hidden from the Supreme Court in 1944. They consistently showed that Japanese Americans had committed no acts of treason to justify mass incarceration, leading a federal court to overturn Korematsu’s conviction in 1983.

“After my father’s conviction was overturned in 1983, his mission was education,” said Karen Korematsu, a co-founder of the San Francisco-based Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education.

Fred Korematsu went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, not only seeking redress for Japanese Americans who were wrongfully incarcerated, but also traveling throughout the nation to advocate for the civil rights of other victims, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Fred Korematsu received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Bill Clinton in 1998. He died in 2005 at the age of 86.

Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution was established under a bill by then-Assemblymen Warren Furutani, D-Harbor Gateway, and Marty Block, D-San Diego, and signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 23, 2010.

The day is observed on Jan. 30, the anniversary of Korematsu’s birth in 1919 in Oakland. It is the first day in U.S. history named after an Asian American.

Karen Korematsu will receive a proclamation Monday on the Assembly floor from Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance.

In his proclamation declaring Monday as Fred Korematsu Day, Gov. Jerry Brown wrote, “Fred Korematsu was, in the best sense of both words, an ordinary hero. Korematsu’s staunch determination to be treated like the loyal American citizen he was came to define his life story, in both his decades-long legal battle against internment and his later recognition as a leader in the cause of civil rights.

On this 98th anniversary of his birth, we remember him as one who resisted injustice during a dark chapter in our nation’s history, and later worked tirelessly to prevent its repetition.”

—City News Service

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