“If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up.”
By Kenrya Rankin
As the Trump Administration seeks to restrict entry into the United States via travel bans and border walls and proposed Muslim registries, Google used its Google Doodle today (January 30) to celebrate an activist who put his life on the line for immigrant rights.
In 1942, Fred Korematsu, whose parents were from Japan, refused to report to a government internment camp during World War II. He endured arrest and conviction for ignoring the order, but continued to fight the discrimination all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court called the incarceration of Japanese Americans a “military necessity” and upheld his conviction. Korematsu was exonerated four decades later—but only after the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians ruled that the internment was the illegal result of “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.”
Korematsu went on to work with the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations and successfully lobby for reparations for families who were imprisoned in the camps. He also filed briefs with the Supreme Court in support of Muslims being detained at Guantanamo Bay following 9/11, warning that history was repeating itself. He received the Presidental Medal of Freedom in 1998, and famously said these ever-relevant words: “If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up.”
Korematsu died on March 30, 2005. The Fred T. Korematsu Institute carries on his advocacy work. Today would have been his 98th birthday—it’s also Fred Korematsu Day in California, Florida, Hawaii and Virginia. When it was established in California in 2010, it was the first state-wide day in United States history to be named after an Asian American.