Governor Signs Bill Creating Fred Korematsu Day

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September 25, 2010
Fred Korematsu, third from left.  Photo courtesy of Karen Korematsu.
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On September 23, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB 1775 designating January 30 as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution in California. 

Each January 30 (which was Korematsu's birthday) the state of California will encourage schools across the state to teach students about Fred Korematsu’s story and its relevance in today’s post-9/11 environment.

In 1942, police arrested twenty-three year old Fred Korematsu (pictured here third from left) for not complying with the military’s orders forcing all Japanese Americans to leave the west coast to be incarcerated in desolate camps. Korematsu was one of a handful of Japanese Americans who challenged the government's orders.  Represented by the ACLU of Northern California, he brought a lawsuit against the forced exclusion of Japanese Americans. 

In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him, accepting the government's argument that there was a "military necessity" for the mass removal of Japanese Americans.

Nearly forty years later, attorney and political science professor Peter Irons was researching the Korematsu case in the National Archives and discovered documentation that during World War II government attorneys in their arguments to the Supreme Court had deliberately omitted relevant evidence favorable to Japanese Americans and instead provided misleading information. Based on this evidence of government misconduct, Korematsu petitoned for his criminal convication to be reversed.  He was vindicated in 1983 when a federal judge overturned his conviction.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Korematsu spoke out vigorously about civil liberities violations against others. In 2004, he commented on racial profiling, saying: "No one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. If that principle was not learned from the internment of Japanese Americans, then these are very dangerous times for our democracy."

Fred Koremastu died in 2005 at the age of 86.

(Photo Courtesy of Karen Korematsu)