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Korematsu Day honors civil rights activist

By From page A4 | January 29, 2013

Fred Korematsu proudly shows off his Presidential Medial of Freedom, awarded by President Bill Clinton. Korematsu died in 2005 at the age of 86. Photo courtesy of Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson encourages all Californians to observe the third annual Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, as well as participate in the Korematsu Day events throughout California.

“History offers us many lessons, among them the cost of war and racism, and the strength it takes to achieve justice,” said Torlakson. “Korematsu Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on all this and more.”

Korematsu Elementary School, 3100 Loyola Drive in Davis, is named in Korematsu’s honor.

Korematsu Day is Wednesday. Fred T. Korematsu was born in Oakland on Jan. 30, 1919. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, he defied President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized the U.S. military to forcibly remove more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent from their homes and incarcerate them in camps throughout the country. Two-thirds of the people were American citizens

Korematsu was arrested and convicted of violating the federal order. He lost appeals all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Four decades later, his conviction was overturned in federal court after a legal historian discovered evidence proving U.S. intelligence agencies knew that Japanese-Americans posed no military threat to the country during World War II.

Korematsu went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, not only seeking redress for Japanese-Americans who were wrongfully incarcerated, but also traveling the country to advocate for the civil rights of other victims, especially after 9/11. He received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Bill Clinton. Korematsu died in 2005 at the age of 86.

Karen Korematsu, Fred’s daughter and the co-founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education in San Francisco, visited the Davis school in 2011. When she entered the school’s multipurpose room, she was overcome with emotion when she saw more than 200 eager youngsters sitting quietly in rows — almost every one of the was wearing a white T-shirt bearing an image of her father’s face.

“This is so exciting,” she told the students. “He would be really amazed and proud of all of you.

“My daddy stood up for what is right — he thought that what the government did in 1942, when they decided to take anyone who looked Japanese and put them in prisons … he thought that was wrong. He decided to fight against the government because he thought he was right.

“So when you think of Fred Korematsu, stand up for what is right.”

Enterprise staff

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