Happy birthday, Fred Korematsu!

January 30 is Fred T. Korematsu’s birthday! He would have been 93 years old.

Gift of Tsuyako “Sox” Kitashima, Japanese American National Museum (98.152.1).

In 2010 Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 1775, calling for all Californians to annually recognize January 30 as “Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.” This is the first and only “day” named for an Asian American anywhere in the nation.

This day commemorates a young man who disobeyed the government’s 1942 order that excluded all people of Japanese ancestry, without due process, from the West Coast. Korematsu was arrested and eventually removed to a Japanese American concentration camp in Utah. He appealed his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 1944 the Court ruled against him, declaring that the exclusion and confinement of people of Japanese descent was justified.

[He didn’t mention any of this to his daughter, Karen. She only found out about it in high school when her classmate was assigned to read a book about a man named Fred Korematsu. She thought, “That can’t be my father!”]

In 1983 and with the efforts of a very sharp, pro bono legal team, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Though relieved, it concerned Korematsu that the decision Korematsu v. United States remains on the books. He continued to vigilantly fight for the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, filing two amicus briefs following 9/11.

Korematsu Institute’s Fred Korematsu Day Logo

Fred Korematsu passed away in 2005, at age 86. Karen continues her father’s legacy. She co-founded the Korematsu Institute and goes to schools to share her father’s story with young people.

This is just a brief post about Fred Korematsu. There are many ways to learn more. The Los Angeles County Office of Education‘s video from a recent student program featuring Karen Korematsu will soon be available on-line. (See Christy’s re-cap of the program here.) JANM has a high school mock trial lesson plan created by Texas teacher, Mark Hansen. On February 2, Korematsu will become the first Asian American to have his portrait included in the Struggle for Justice exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. And the Korematsu Institute is aggregating activities taking place around the nation to celebrate Korematsu Day 2012.

We hope that you, too, will celebrate the legacy of Fred Korematsu, a man who fought for our civil rights.

Allyson Nakamoto

Allyson Nakamoto is the Director of Education at the Japanese American National Museum.

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