Rafu Staff and Wire Reports
SALT LAKE CITY — A man who challenged the World War II internment of Japanese Americans was honored in Utah under a declaration signed by Gov. Gary Herbert.
The declaration signed Friday establishes Jan. 30, 2013, as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. That date is Korematsu’s birthday; he died in 2005 and would have been 94 this year.
In 2010, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill establishing Fred Korematsu Day as an annual observance. Last year, Gov. Neil Abercrombie proclaimed Jan. 30, 2013 as Korematsu Day in Hawaii.
At the age of 23, Korematsu was arrested in Oakland in 1942 after disobeying government orders to report to an internment camp and remaining in the Bay Area under an assumed identity. His case led the U.S. Supreme Court to examine the constitutionality of the government’s actions.
Among the more than 100 guests at the Utah State Capitol’s Gold Room were several former internees of Topaz, a camp about 16 miles northwest of Delta that processed about 11,000 Japanese Americans from 1942 to 1945. Thousands of Japanese Americans living in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Korematsu’s family, were sent by train to the remote Utah camp. After his arrest and conviction, Korematsu was sent there as well.
Speakers included former Salt Lake County Councilmember Jani Iwamoto; Ling Woo Liu, director of the Korematsu Institute in San Francisco; Topaz Museum Board President Jane Beckwith; and Salt Lake JACL Co-president Jeanette Misaka.
Iwamoto, who met Korematsu when she was a law student at UC Davis and was present when his conviction was overturned by U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel in San Francisco in 1983, described him as “an ordinary individual who did extraordinary things.”
“The civil liberties we enjoy today were fought for and won by great men and women throughout America’s history, like Fred Korematsu,” Herbert said. “May we all learn from his example.”
The proclamation reads as follows:
“Fred Korematsu was an American citizen born in 1919 and raised in Oakland, Calif. Mr. Korematsu was one of approximately 120,000 innocent people of Japanese descent, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, who were subject to Executive Order 9066, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that required all Japanese Americans be removed from designated military areas and placed in internment camps.
“Mr. Korematsu refused to comply with this order and was arrested and later convicted in federal court, and placed along with his family members in the Central Utah War Relocation Center in Topaz, Utah.
“Mr. Korematsu courageously appealed his conviction all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, which, in the landmark case of Korematsu v. United States, voted 6-3 that the enforced internment, though constitutionally suspect, was justified based on ‘military necessity.’
“A review in the early 1980s found the U.S. solicitor general had intentionally withheld reports from military intelligence that denied that Japanese Americans had committed any wrongdoing. The conviction of Mr. Korematsu was overturned in 1983, and he continued his quest to assure civil liberties for all Americans.
“Mr. Korematsu traveled the nation before his death in 2005, teaching the next generation, ‘Protest, but not with violence, and don’t be afraid to speak up. One person can make a difference, even if it takes 40 years.’
“Now, therefore, I, Gary R. Herbert, governor of the State of Utah, do hereby declare Jan. 30, 2013, as Fred Korematsu Day in Utah.”
On Jan. 15, the Salt Lake County Council passed a resolution supporting the governor’s declaration. Iwamoto, who left the council earlier this month, addressed her former colleagues. Speakers also included Randy Horiuchi, a current at-large council member and past president of the Salt Lake JACL.