Fred Korematsu was an ordinary person who took an extraordinary stand. By resisting the U.S. military orders that imprisoned more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, he shows us how anyone can stand up for what is right—no matter the odds. His arrest and conviction, the constitutional issues raised by his U.S. Supreme Court case, Korematsu v. United States, and his vindication 39 years later stand as civil rights milestones.

Fred remained an activist throughout his life, standing up for Muslim Americans and other marginalized groups. His story teaches us not only about one of the most blatant civil rights violations in U.S. history, the Japanese American incarceration, but also about broader topics including other civil rights heroes and movements, World War II, the Constitution, global human rights, and Asian American history. Fred Korematsu’s story also connects to present-day civil rights discrimination and political scapegoating such as mass incarceration, anti-immigrant sentiment, and Islamophobia.

Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution—the only day named after an Asian American—is recognized on January 30 in a growing number of cities and states, including California, Hawaii, Virginia, Florida, and New York City.

How to start teaching Fred Korematsu?

One of the media items we offer is Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story, a two-time Emmy-award-winning documentary directed by Eric Paul Fournier and co-produced by Ken Korematsu. Released in 2000, Of Civil Wrongs and Rights takes viewers through Fred’s life and legal cases using a compelling narrative that features interviews with key figures and archival footage. Nearly 20 years later, it remains as relevant as ever to current events.

In the classroom

  • Explore the questions “What does it mean to be someone who stands for millions of people?” and “What does it mean to be an American?” with this lesson plan that accompanies the video below.

  • Show the 24-minute version of Of Civil Wrongs and Rights by requesting a free Korematsu Institute Curriculum Kit. All Kits include a DVD of the documentary with English, Spanish, and Japanese subtitles.

For many more resources and lesson plans on Fred Korematsu, the Japanese American incarceration, and the history’s current relevance, request a free Curriculum Toolkit.

Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story, three-minute version