Pasadena Congresswoman Judy Chu commemorated Fred Korematsu Day Monday by reminding citizens to be “always vigilant in protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”
“By challenging the unjust incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, Fred Korematsu served as a beacon of hope during an otherwise shameful time in our nation’s history,” Chu said in a statement released Monday.
Chu said vigilance has become more necessary in light of what she referred to as President Trump’s “abhorrent” immigration executive order which impacts immigrants, refugees, and Muslims.
“Korematsu Day is also a reminder of the importance of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee this week,” Chu said. “I urge my Senate colleagues from both parties to resist nominees that will provide legal justification for oppression. Instead, we must recommit ourselves to opposing discrimination and speaking out against intolerance and injustice whenever it occurs.”
Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu was born in Oakland, California on January 30, 1919. He was the third of four sons to Japanese immigrant parents who ran a floral nursery business in the city.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Korematsu tried to enlist in the U.S. National Guard and U.S. Coast Guard, but was turned away due to his Japanese ancestry. Korematsu trained to become a welder and landed a job at the docks in Oakland, starting as a shipyard welder and rising through the ranks to foreman.
One day, he was suddenly fired from his job due to his Japanese ancestry.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing the military to remove over 120,000 people of Japanese descent, the majority of whom were American citizens, from their homes and forced them into American prison camps throughout the United States.
Korematsu defied the orders, and was later arrested and convicted. He appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which, in 1944, ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration was justified.
In 1983, Prof. Peter Irons, a legal historian, together with researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, discovered key documents that government intelligence agencies had hidden from the Supreme Court in 1944. With this new evidence, a pro-bono legal team that included the Asian Law Caucus re-opened Korematsu’s 40-year-old case on the basis of government misconduct.
On November 10, 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco. It was a pivotal moment in civil rights history, and the decision influenced the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
Korematsu remained an activist throughout his life. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton. In 2010, California passed the Fred Korematsu Day bill, making January 30 the first day in the U.S. named after an Asian American.
On March 30, 2005, Korematsu died of respiratory failure at the age of 86. During a memorial service, hundreds of people packed the First Presbyterian Church in Oakland to pay their final respects to a civil rights icon.