OAKLAND — Fred Korematsu is immortalized in a sculpture entitled “Remember Them: Champions for Humanity” by Oakland artist Mario Chiodo, part of which was unveiled in Oakland on Sept. 6.
The “Remember Them” project has as its centerpiece a monument featuring 25 international humanitarians as well as eight Bay Area heroes.
Korematsu, who was born in Oakland in 1919, challenged the constitutionality of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him in 1944, his case was reopened in 1983 and a federal judge vacated his conviction for disobeying the internment orders.
Korematsu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. Since his death in 2005, three schools in Northern California have been named after him and Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution (Jan. 30, his birthday) has been established in California.
Among those attending the unveiling were Korematsu’s wife, Kathryn, daughter, Karen, and son, Ken, who have carried on his legacy; and Ling Woo Liu, director of the Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education at the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco.
In an interview with the Rafu Shimpo, Karen Korematsu described Chiodo as “not only a very creative sculptor but also a kind and generous person who cares about mankind.”
“Mario kindly invited my brother and me to preview the monuments at the foundry before the unveiling,” she said. “When my brother and I observed that my father wasn’t wearing his glasses, we asked if it would be possible to add them at some point … Mario said yes, he would be able to add the glasses, but it wouldn’t be possible before the unveiling.”
“My family is honored that my father was included, especially with other local champions,” Korematsu said. “His fight for justice was for all Americans, so that the incarceration of the Japanese Americans during World War II and the injustice that they incurred would not happen again to another ethnic group because they ‘looked like the enemy.’
“After my father’s conviction was overturned in 1983, his mission was education, and he wanted to remind young and old about the lessons of history. Monuments like ‘Remember Them’ are most significant and help educate and inspire all children of today and tomorrow so that they have the ability to make a difference as my father did many years ago, to stand up for what is right.”
The other local heroes are Oleta Kirk Abrams, co-founder of Bay Area Women Against Rape; community activist Carmen Flores; educator and administrator Dr. Marcus Foster; Henry J. Kaiser, industrialist and founder of Kaiser Permanente; poet Cincinnatus Hiner “Joaquin” Miller; businesswoman and community leader Joyce Taylor; and “Mother” Mary Ann Wright, advocate for the poor.
The project has developed a platform that will be made available for free to educators nationwide to introduce the concepts of human rights, peace and freedom through curricular materials developed in cooperation with the King Institute at Stanford University.
“Remember Them” is the first representational monument in the U.S. that honors diversity; the first depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King in a sculpture together; the first sculpture in a public setting featuring March on Selma figures, including Rosa Parks and Ralph Abernathy; and the largest sculpture in the world of Maya Angelou, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Mother Teresa, or Thich Nhat Hanh.
(Roosevelt is best remembered in the Japanese American community for authorizing the internment, but Chiodo said he chose the wartime president because he “overcame a tremendous physical disability to become one of our nation’s most revered leaders” and “made his handicap an insignificant limitation.”)
Also depicted are Susan B. Anthony, Ruby Bridges, Cesar Chavez, Chief Joseph, Sir Winston Churchill, Frederick Douglass, Shirin Ebadi, Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Harvey Milk, Oskar Schindler, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, the unknown rebel of Tiananmen Square, Elie Wiesel and Malcolm X.
After developing the concepts in the monument for years, Chiodo fully committed himself to the project following the fateful events of 9/11. He has donated his sculpting time, and the educational monument and curriculum will be established after raising more than $7 million in tax-deductible contributions. Upon completion, the monument and curriculum will be donated to the City of Oakland and the world.
The full-scale monument will be placed in Henry J. Kaiser Memorial Park, a new downtown Oakland development. The four-piece sculpture will stand 52 feet wide by 21 feet tall, cover 1,000 square feet and use 60,000 pounds of bronze.
A special feature for the visually impaired will allow visitors to explore life-sized bronze busts of each humanitarian, and will include information in Braille. The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., will permanently display a small-scale casting of the educational monument in their museum.
“I have chosen these humanitarians because, regardless of their individual backgrounds or missions, they share the common threads of courage, perseverance, education, sacrifice and a sincere desire to strive for a better life for all,” Chiodo says. “From the vast numbers of humanitarians in the world worth being acknowledged, this unique grouping offers 25 individuals who have touched my heart and inspired me in times of darkness.”
The monument is designed on a spiraling axis emulating the helix of the common DNA of all humans. The base will include sculptures of books to illustrate the importance of education in the lives and work of all of the humanitarians. It will also feature 14 interlocking men and women, symbolizing the seven continents coming together in harmony.
For more information, visit www.remember-them.org. Note: Profiles of the eight local heroes have not yet been posted.