WASHINGTON — Kiran Ahuja, executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, issued the following statement on Jan. 30, the birthday of the late civil rights icon Fred Korematsu:
“Today, we honor the legacy of Fred Korematsu, a Japanese American hero who stood his ground in the face of injustice.
“After the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941, Fred Korematsu challenged President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that authorized the U.S. military to forcibly remove more than 120,000 people, mostly of Japanese descent, from their homes and into incarceration camps throughout the country. Two-thirds of these people were American citizens.
“Mr. Korematsu went into hiding in the Oakland area, becoming a fugitive, and was arrested and convicted of violating the federal order. His case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-3 decision, the court upheld the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066 under the justification of national security.
“In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed a special commission to investigate Japanese American internment during World War II. The commission concluded that the decisions to remove those of Japanese ancestry to internment camps occurred because of ‘race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.’
“Four decades after the Supreme Court decision, a legal historian discovered evidence proving that U.S. intelligence agencies knew that Japanese Americans posed no military threat to the country during World War II. Mr. Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in 1983 by District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel.
“When Mr. Korematsu stood in front of Judge Marilyn Patel he said these famous words: ‘I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed, or color.’
“In a formal apology under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the U.S. government granted $1.6 billion in reparations to all Japanese Americans who had been interned.
“In 1998 when President Clinton awarded Mr. Korematsu the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, he stated, ‘In the long history of our country’s constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls. Plessy, Brown, Parks … to that distinguished list, today we add the name of Fred Korematsu.’
“Fred Korematsu died of respiratory failure at his daughter’s home in Marin County, California on March 30, 2005. To commemorate his legacy, on Sept. 23, 2010, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that designates Jan. 30 ‘Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.’
“Today, we honor the legacy of Fred Korematsu so we will never forget the injustices inflicted upon innocent citizens who were incarcerated, treated like second-class citizens, and denied due process and equal protection guaranteed to them by the Constitution. The stories of Fred Korematsu and of many other leaders in the fight for civil rights not only remind us of the wrongs in history, but also serve as a learning opportunity for all of us on how we should treat our neighbors and fellow citizens.
“Today, we remember the dangers of casting stereotypes based on race, religion, or sexual orientation. And we recommit to our country’s ideals of protecting civil rights and promoting an environment where people can strive to achieve the American dream based solely on the content of their characters, not on the color of their skin, where they come from, or who they love.”
In Sacramento, Gov. Jerry Brown issued a Fred Korematsu Day proclamation, which read, in part: “Fred Korematsu was, in the best sense of both words, an ordinary hero. A native Californian, born and raised in Oakland and a welder by trade, he simply refused to accept his government’s order to relocate under the brutal and misguided policy of Japanese American internment during World War II.
“Korematsu’s staunch determination to be treated like the loyal American citizen he was came to define his life story, in both his decades-long legal battle against internment and his later recognition as a leader in the cause of civil rights.
“On this 95th anniversary of his birth, we remember him as one who resisted injustice during a dark chapter in our nation’s history, and later worked tirelessly to prevent its repetition.”
Members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, including the following, also commemorated Korematsu Day.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), CAPAC chair: “Fred Korematsu is a civil rights hero, not only to Asian Americans, but to all Americans … His fight for justice inspires our vigilance in protecting the rights of all Americans.”
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), CAPAC whip: “It is with great pride that I commemorate the fourth annual Fred Korematsu Day. Fred’s story has personal significance for me, as my own family was forcibly removed from their homes and interned in Northern California. Fred was a hero for all Americans … Fred wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right during one of the darkest periods in our history. It is our job to ensure that Fred’s legacy lives on, so future generations can follow his example and fight to protect civil liberties for all Americans.”
Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), CAPAC chair emeritus: “Fred Korematsu’s civil rights – and the rights of thousands of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II, including myself and my family – were violated in the name of ‘national security.’ It is only with our collective voice, constantly calling for the strengthening – and not the evisceration – of civil rights for all Americans that we will move our country forward on these issues.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii): “Fred Korematsu was a civil rights trailblazer, and I’m proud to have known him and his family … As one of four states that celebrate Fred Korematsu Day, Hawaii is committed to recognizing Fred’s legacy and ensuring that his pursuit of justice will continue to inspire new generations of leaders.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii): “Mr. Korematsu’s fight for justice was not just for himself, but also for Japanese Americans who were interned around the country, including the Honouliuli camp on Oahu, or those who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. His selfless commitment to putting state-sanctioned discrimination to an end remains an inspiration as we continue to fight for civil rights and liberties today.”
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii): “The story of Fred Korematsu is a constant reminder of the difference one man can make. With tremendous courage and quiet dignity, he stood as a symbol of the ceaseless but vital fight against injustice. And yet we cannot forget that he was also a man, a real person who wanted nothing more than to be recognized and acknowledged as an American. I find strength in his example, and hope in the conviction that our nation will always be made better by committed individuals of great character.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland): “I am proud to celebrate Fred Korematsu Day, which recognizes one of America’s greatest civil rights leaders and a native of Oakland, Calif., which is my congressional district … While the Supreme Court made the wrong decision in his case, he refused to give up the fight for equality in the country he loved … It is an honor to represent Fred Korematsu’s hometown in Congress and fight for his vision of ending discrimination.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento): “In the face of war and discrimination, Fred Korematsu remained strong in his convictions, and challenged our nation to move beyond one of its darkest chapters. On this Fred Korematsu Day, we honor his pivotal role in the American civil rights movement, and remind ourselves to strive for truth, courage, and justice in our own lives.”