State Schools Chief Urges Public to Observe Korematsu Day

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Tom Torlakson

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/.

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8 Comments

  1. Superintendent Torlakson should encourage teaching of the truth of the entire internment program, including the internment of Germsn Americans, Italian Americans, and denaturalization of German Americans.

  2. Robert L. Seward on

    The problem with focusing on Mr. Korematsu is that it is implies that Japanese were the ONLY people interned. The Japanese were slightly over half of the interned population. There were almost 200,000 people who were interned, all told. Internmet was not the be all and end all of discrimination for immigrants from Axis Countries and their American born children. According to the NY Times (4/1/42) there were 1.1 million immigrants in the U.S. from Axis countries, Italians being the largest number. These immigrants suddenly found their immigration status changed to Enemy Alien. All of these people, aged 14 and above had to report to their local FBI office, be fingerprinted, photographed and issued identification which they had to carry. they were restricted to within five miles of their residence requiring special permission to go beyond that. The FBI checked every one of their jobs to ensure they were not war related. The immigrants were required to report changes in employment to the FBI. The FBI knew where every one of these people who were servicemen were located. The Japanese immigration who were not interned lived like this as did the much larger German and Italian populations. A Korematsu Day promotes an environment in a history to easily pretend that this didn’t exist. A Korematsu Day doesn’t leave a lot of room to deal with the discrimination faced by the Italian and German immigrants of the Bay Area. For example Joe DiMaggio’s father had his fishing boat confiscated. Thousands of Italian and German immigrants were forced to leave their homes becasu of Executive Order 9066. On a side note, when Jimmy Doolittle was dropping his bombs, his bombadier, a man named Braemer’s father was interned. I think that it would be far more inclusive and accurate to make the anniversary of EX 9066 the holiday, because all of the story counts, not just the Japanese internment part.

  3. Robert L. Seward on

    Two little addenda on my previous post. If a Jewish refugee came from Germany, they were treated exactly the same as an ethnic German. The Jew was considered an Enemy Alien and required to live under the same restrictions. Some of the 60,000 German’s who were interned were Jewish.

  4. William J Hopwood, CDR USNR (Ret.) on

    Of course it would be nice and more honest if the whole story about Fred Koremtsu’s alleged
    “civil rights” protest were revealed. One can see it in the book “Juatice at War” by Peter Irons
    who wrote the following:
    “On the afternoon of May 30, 1942, the police in San Leandro, California, picked up a foung man walking down the street with his girlfriend. Under questioning by Lieutenant A.B. Poulsen…..the young man produced a draft registration card that identified him as ‘Clyde Sarah.’ The suspect claimed to be of Spanish-Hawaiian origin. He had been born in Las Vegas, the young man told Poulsen, and his parents had been killed in a fire that burned
    their house to the ground. The young man’s story quickly fell apart. He spoke no Spanish,
    and his draft card had been clumsily altered with ink eradicator.
    “Poulsen could not persuade the suspect to reveal his name, although he did admit he
    was of Japanese descent. (But upon apparently being recognized by an office employee)
    The thin young man told Poulsen that his name was Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu….Lieutenant Poulsen…notified the San Francisco FBI and he was intensively questioned by Special Agent
    Oliver T. Mansfield (who) encountered a cooperative prisoner who no longer held back the
    details of his life or of his violation (of the evacuation order)….
    “This is the statement that Korematsu dictated…to explain why he had tried to alter his
    appearance; ‘I am of Japanese ancestry. I have lived all my life in Oakland…with my folks
    until four weeks before we had to evacuate. Then i left home telling them i was going to Nevada (but) I stayed in Oakland to earn enough money to take my girl with me to the Middle West….She is a different nationality—Italian….the operation was for the purpose of changing
    my appearance so that I would not be subjected to ostracism when my girl and i went East.’

    Korematsu was approached by the ACLU to become their test case for a challenge
    to the Evacuation Orders. But in view his reasons for violating the order hardly seem
    to have been motivated by his intense feelings with regard to civil rights for which he has
    been so often celebrated during the rest of his life. It seems unlikely that the celebration
    being suggested by the current California School Chief will cover Korematsu’s real
    intentions with regard to his violation of the Evacuation Orders.

  5. Makes one wonder ” does not the Director of public Instruction,Tom Torlacson, have nothing more to do than attempt whitewashing a man who broke several laws and defied our military in a time of a war of survival”. Clyde Sarah Fred Koromatsu did all he could to break laws of our nation and sided with our enemy Japan. Yet , now—some 66 years later Californias Director of Public Instruction defies his oath of office in taking the side of our,then, enemy Japan. What next. he must be getting ready to run for President?…….

  6. Roosevelt’s order was “any and All” not Japanese are to be excluded from the West Coast War zone. Dewitt may have been over zealous, but he wanted to avoid the courts marshall that his cohort on Pearl Harbor was facing after the “infamy” attack on that base.
    My family was interned 27 man-years, Each of we five were interned longer than any Japanese. We lost our home to looters and foreclosure. My younger brother, born in Cincinnati was threatrened with placement in an orphanage if he wanted to avoid internment at age 12.
    We got no apology, nor that $20,000 each for losses that Japanese only received. Most of our internment was within and together with Japanese in Crystal City Texas. Every Japanese baby born there received those compensations, whereas NONE of the GERMAN babies born there ,with the very same innocence of political taint, recived a thin dime. Do the right thing just admit we were interned together.Today the Chicago Trib announced that the town of Crete South of Chicago will receive a 700 bed IMMIGRATIION DETENTION STATION– as are 7 other sites in the USA— Do you believe they will remain empty?

  7. And THIS is why I send my kids to private school. How DARE Mr. Torlakson support the rewriting of history and then mandate that all children under his care be brainwashed with it.

  8. Korematsu was nothing more than a patsy for the ACLU. There were many who attempted to avoid the evacuation from the west coast. Why didnt he move to any of the other states not affected by the evacuation order as hundreds of others did? Korematsu is NO hero! His eyelid surgery may have worked except for one thing; he broke the law, plain and simple. Torlakson is dead wrong and just another gullible victim of the infamous west coast brainwashing. Disgusting this is the caliber of a public ‘educator’!

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