The Senate of Virginia unanimously adopted House Joint Resolution 641 this week to designate Jan. 30 of each year, beginning in 2016, as “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in Virginia.”
The legislative measure, which was introduced by Delegate Mark Keam, had already passed the House of Delegates in January on a unanimous vote.
Fred Korematsu was a national civil rights leader, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and an Asian American pioneer. Following the attacks on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Korematsu became one of approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry ordered by the U.S. government to be incarcerated in special prison camps for the duration of World War II.
At age 23, Korematsu refused to obey the military action issued under Executive Order 9066, which led to his arrest and conviction. He appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the legality of the government’s unprecedented scope of racial profiling based on “military necessity.”
Four decades later, in 1983, Korematsu’s case was re-opened and his criminal conviction was overturned by a federal district court. That same year, the Presidential Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians concluded that the federal government’s decision to send Japanese Americans to prison occurred because of “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
“Our nation’s history is full of unsung heroes who stood up to injustice to ensure that the promises embedded in our Constitution are not just empty words on paper,” said Keam.
“Fred Korematsu was an American hero whose actions deserve a prominent place in our history. By recognizing his birthday in Virginia – a state that played such a crucial role in drafting our Constitution – we will remind future generations of what Thomas Jefferson warned, that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance,” Keam continued.
The idea for a resolution designating Jan. 30 as Korematsu Day in Virginia was brought to Keam by Korematsu’s daughter, Karen, who heads the Korematsu Institute in San Francisco, Calif. The Institute works to educate the public about Americans who have suffered from prejudice, discrimination and civil rights injustices. More information about the Institute is available at http://korematsuinstitute.org/.
The text of the Virginia legislative resolution is below and can be found on the Legislative Information System’s website at http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?151+sum+HJ641.
HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION NO. 641
Designating January 30, in 2016 and in each succeeding year, as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in Virginia.
Patrons—Delegate Mark L. Keam; Senator Mark D. Obenshain
Offered January 14, 2015
WHEREAS, throughout history, the battle for civil liberties has been championed by ordinary Americans who have had the courage to stand up and fight for their basic constitutional rights; and
WHEREAS, the Commonwealth occupies a unique place in securing the rights and liberties of American citizens, having adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, which later influenced language in the United States Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights and articulated the principle that government exists to provide for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people; and
WHEREAS, during World War II, Fred T. Korematsu refused to comply with Civilian Exclusion Order 34, based on the federal Executive Order 9066, that imposed strict curfew regulations and required 120,000 permanent residents and American citizens of Japanese descent to leave their homes to be incarcerated in American concentration camps; and
WHEREAS, Fred Korematsu was arrested and convicted, but fought his conviction because he believed it violated the basic freedoms guaranteed to him by the United States Constitution; and
WHEREAS, Fred Korematsu’s conviction was ultimately overturned in 1983; the decision influenced the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which recognized that a grave injustice was done by forced relocation and incarceration of Americans citizens and civilian residents because of wartime prejudice; and
WHEREAS, schools and teachers in Virginia are encouraged to observe the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution on January 30, or the days surrounding it, and conduct exercises honoring the life of Fred Korematsu and recognizing the importance of preserving civil liberties, even in times of crisis; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED by the House of Delegates, the Senate concurring, That the General Assembly designate January 30, in 2016 and in each succeeding year, as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in Virginia; and, be it
RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates transmit a copy of this resolution to the Virginia Board of Education so that members of the Board may be apprised of the sense of the General Assembly of Virginia in this matter; and, be it
RESOLVED FINALLY, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates post the designation of this day on the General Assembly’s website.
Delegate Mark Keam (www.DelegateKeam.org, @MarkKeam) represents Virginia’s 35th House District located in Fairfax County, which includes Tysons, the Town of Vienna, Dunn Loring and portions of McLean, Oakton and Fairfax. Currently serving in his third term, Delegate Keam is a member of the House Commerce and Labor, Education, Finance and Agriculture committees and the Joint Subcommittee to Evaluate Tax Preferences.