SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on Tuesday encouraged all Californians to observe the annual Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution on Korematsu’s birthday, Monday, Jan. 30.
“It’s critical for Californians to know the story of Fred Korematsu: his fight against racism and wrongful internment and his devotion to righting a great wrong,” said Torlakson. “That’s why I urge everyone to take a moment to study this case, so that we may never repeat the shameful moments of our nation’s past.”
Korematsu was born in Oakland in 1919. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, he defied President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized the U.S. military to forcibly remove more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent from their homes and incarcerate them in camps throughout the country. Two-thirds of these people were American citizens.
Korematsu was arrested and convicted of violating the federal order. He lost appeals all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Four decades later, after 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, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in federal court.
“After my father’s conviction was overturned in 1983, his mission was education,” said Karen Korematsu, co-founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education in San Francisco. “He believed it was important to teach about his fight for justice, as well as the Japanese American internment, so that the mistakes of history would not be repeated in the future. This day encourages students to learn and discuss the lessons of American history and their relevance to current discussions regarding civil liberties and the Constitution.”
Fred Korematsu went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, not only seeking redress for Japanese Americans who were wrongfully incarcerated, but also traveling the country to advocate for the civil rights of other victims, especially after 9/11. He received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Bill Clinton in 1998. Korematsu passed away in 2005 at the age of 86.
Legislation co-sponsored in 2010 by Assemblymembers Warren Furutani (D-South Los Angeles County) and Marty Block (D-San Diego) officially made Jan. 30 Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.
California Education Code Section 37222.15 encourages schools and local educational agencies to “conduct exercises remembering the life of Fred Korematsu and recognizing the importance of preserving civil liberties, even in times of real or perceived crisis.” This recommendation is advisory only and does not constitute a mandate.
“Fred Korematsu was a role model for Californians and all Americans,” said Ling Woo Liu, director of the Korematsu Institute. “The Korematsu Institute provides a wealth of free curriculum to help teachers share Korematsu’s inspiring story, discuss the forced relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II, and connect this part of history to current civil rights challenges.”
For more educational resources on civil rights and the U.S. Constitution, visit the California Department of Education’s website at www.cde.ca.gov/ci/hs/im/. To learn more about Korematsu, download free teaching kits developed through private donations, and access online educational resources, visit www.korematsuinstitute.org/.