Join the commemoration of Fred Korematsu Day in Florida, a tribute to a civil rights icon’s enduring legacy.
- Date: January 30
- Main Components: Celebrating the life and legacy of Fred Korematsu, a civil rights activist who resisted the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII
- Popularity: Recognized by four states (California, Hawaii, Virginia, and Florida) and several cities and counties in the US
- Pairings: Educational events, community programs, art exhibits, film screenings, etc.
- Variations: Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and Education
Fred Korematsu Day is a state holiday that honours the legacy of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American civil rights activist who fought against the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. He challenged his conviction in the Supreme Court but lost in a landmark case that upheld the constitutionality of the internment. Decades later, he reopened his case and cleared his name, exposing the government’s misconduct and lies. He received official apologies and reparations from the government, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US. He also founded the Korematsu Institute to promote awareness and education about the internment and its lessons for today. Fred Korematsu Day is celebrated on January 30, his birthday, in four states: California, Hawaii, Virginia, and Florida. It is also recognized by several cities and counties across the country. The day aims to commemorate his courage and sacrifice, as well as to uphold the values of civil liberties and the Constitution.
The Internment of Japanese Americans
The internment of Japanese Americans was a policy of forced relocation and incarceration of over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast of the US during WWII. It was authorized by Executive Order 9066, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941. The order allowed the military to designate areas as “exclusion zones” and to remove anyone deemed a potential threat to national security. The majority of those affected were American citizens or legal residents who had lived in the US for decades. They were given only a few days or weeks to pack their belongings and leave their homes, businesses, property, and communities. They were sent to temporary assembly centers and then to remote incarceration camps surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. They lived in harsh conditions, facing overcrowding, poor sanitation, inadequate food and medical care, and loss of privacy and dignity. They also faced discrimination, prejudice, and hostility from the government and the public. They were denied their basic rights as citizens and human beings.
The Case of Korematsu v. United States
Fred Korematsu was one of the few Japanese Americans who resisted the internment. He was born and raised in Oakland, California, where he worked as a welder in a shipyard. He had a Caucasian girlfriend whom he planned to marry. He did not want to leave his home and his life behind. He refused to report to the assembly center and went into hiding. He even had plastic surgery on his eyes to look less Asian. However, he was arrested on May 30, 1942, and convicted of violating the military orders. He appealed his case to the circuit court of appeals and then to the Supreme Court, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). His lawyers argued that the internment was based on racial prejudice and violated his constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court heard his case on October 11-12, 1944. On December 18, 1944, it announced its decision in a 6-3 vote. The majority opinion was written by Justice Hugo Black, who stated that the internment was a “military necessity” justified by the “gravest imminent danger” posed by Japanese Americans during wartime. He claimed that there was evidence of disloyalty and espionage among some members of the group, and that it was impossible to separate the loyal from the disloyal without endangering national security. He also asserted that the internment was not based on race, but on “military urgency”. He concluded that “compulsory exclusion” was a “valid exercise” of the war power.
The dissenting opinions were written by Justices Frank Murphy, Robert Jackson, and Owen Roberts. They criticized the majority opinion for being based on “misinformation”, “distortion”, “fallacy”, and “legalization of racism”. They argued that there was no evidence of any threat or sabotage by Japanese Americans, and that the internment was a clear violation of their constitutional rights. They warned that the decision would set a dangerous precedent for future violations of civil liberties.
The Reopening and Overturning of Korematsu’s Case
Fred Korematsu spent the rest of the war in various prisons and incarceration camps. He was released in 1945, but he carried a federal conviction that affected his life and career. He tried to move on and rebuild his life, but he never gave up hope of clearing his name and restoring his rights. He married Kathryn Pearson, a Caucasian woman, in 1946, and they had two children, Karen and Ken. He worked as a draftsman, real estate broker, and office manager. He also became active in various community and civil rights organizations.
In the late 1970s, a team of lawyers and researchers led by Peter Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, discovered documents that showed that the government had lied to the Supreme Court about the threat posed by Japanese Americans during WWII. The documents revealed that the military and the Justice Department had suppressed, altered, or destroyed evidence that contradicted their claims of military necessity and national security. They also showed that there was no proof of any disloyalty or espionage among Japanese Americans, and that the internment was based on racial prejudice and political pressure.
Based on this new evidence, Fred Korematsu filed a petition for a writ of coram nobis to reopen his case in 1983. A writ of coram nobis is a legal remedy that allows a court to correct a fundamental error or a gross injustice in a previous judgment. Fred Korematsu argued that his conviction was based on false or misleading information, and that it violated his constitutional rights. His petition was supported by the ACLU, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), and other civil rights groups.
On November 10, 1983, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the federal district court in San Francisco heard his case. She granted his petition and overturned his conviction in a historic ruling. She stated that the government had committed a “manifest injustice” by concealing or misrepresenting the evidence to the Supreme Court. She also stated that there was no evidence of any military necessity or national security justification for the internment. She declared that the internment was “a grave wrong” that violated the constitutional rights of Japanese Americans. She concluded that “a loyal citizen may not be imprisoned or detained without charge by his own government simply because of his ancestry”.
Related: Holocaust Memorial Day in UK 2023
The Recognition and Honors for Fred Korematsu
Fred Korematsu received official apologies and reparations from the government for his wrongful conviction and incarceration. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which acknowledged that the internment was “a grave injustice” motivated by “racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”. The act authorized payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee, as well as funds for education and research programs. Fred Korematsu received a letter of apology and a check from President Reagan in October 1988. In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Fred Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US. He praised him as “an American hero” who “stood up for our nation’s founding principle of equal justice under law”.
Fred Korematsu also received recognition and honors from various state and local governments, as well as from civic and educational institutions. He was honored with several honorary degrees, awards, resolutions, proclamations, statues, monuments, streets, buildings, parks, libraries, schools, scholarships, etc. He was featured in books, films, exhibits, and curricula that told his story and its significance for today.
Fred Korematsu also became a symbol of civil rights activism and education. He founded the Korematsu Institute in 2009 to promote awareness and understanding of the internment and its lessons for today. The institute provides educational materials and resources to teachers and students, organizes events and programs to commemorate Fred Korematsu Day and other occasions related to civil liberties and the Constitution, supports initiatives and campaigns to advance social justice and human rights for all people, and partners with other organizations that share its vision and mission.
Fred Korematsu Day is one of the main projects of the Korematsu Institute. It was first established in California in 2010 by a bill signed by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was first officially commemorated on January 30, 2011 at the University of California, Berkeley1. Since then, it has been recognized by three more states: Hawaii (2013), Virginia (2015), and Florida (2016). It has also been recognized by several cities and counties across the country. Fred Korematsu Day aims to celebrate his life and legacy as a civil rights hero who stood up for what is right against all odds. It also aims to uphold the values of civil liberties and the Constitution that he fought for throughout his life.
How to Celebrate Fred Korematsu Day
There are many ways to celebrate Fred Korematsu Day and to honor his legacy. Here are some suggestions:
- Learn more about Fred Korematsu and his story. You can read books, watch films, visit exhibits, or explore online resources that tell his story and its significance for today. Some examples are:
- The book Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and His Quest for Justice by Lorraine K. Bannai
- The documentary film Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story by Eric Paul Fournier
- The traveling exhibit Courage Under Fire: The Story of Fred Korematsu by the Korematsu Institute
- The online resource Fred Korematsu: A Civil Rights Hero for Today by Teaching Tolerance
- Attend or organize events and programs that commemorate Fred Korematsu Day and educate others about his case and legacy. You can join or host lectures, panel discussions, workshops, film screenings, art shows, performances, etc. that celebrate his life and achievements, as well as raise awareness and understanding of the internment and its lessons for today. Some examples are:
- The annual Fred Korematsu Day Celebration hosted by the Korematsu Institute
- The annual Fred Korematsu Lecture Series hosted by the Asian American Bar Association of New York
- The annual Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and Education hosted by various schools and universities
- Support or participate in initiatives and campaigns that advance social justice and human rights for all people, especially those who face discrimination, oppression, or injustice based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, or other identities. You can donate, volunteer, advocate, or take action for causes that align with your values and beliefs, as well as with Fred Korematsu’s vision and mission. Some examples are:
- The Stop AAPI Hate campaign that tracks and responds to incidents of hate and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US
- The Black Lives Matter movement that fights for freedom, justice, and equality for Black people in the US and around the world
- The ACLU that defends and preserves the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the US
Fred Korematsu Day is a state holiday that honours Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American civil rights activist who resisted the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. He challenged his conviction in the Supreme Court, but lost in a landmark case that upheld the constitutionality of the internment. Decades later, he reopened his case and cleared his name, exposing the government’s misconduct and lies. He received official apologies and reparations from the government, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US. He also founded the Korematsu Institute to promote awareness and education about the internment and its lessons for today. Fred Korematsu Day is celebrated on January 30, his birthday, in four states: California, Hawaii, Virginia, and Florida. It is also recognized by several cities and counties across the country. The day aims to commemorate his courage and sacrifice, as well as to uphold the values of civil liberties and the Constitution.