WASHINGTON — The National Portrait Gallery commemorated Fred Korematsu, one of the Japanese American community’s most iconic figures, by unveiling two photos of him in the “Struggle for Justice” exhibit on Feb. 2.
The first photo is the now-famous picture of a young 21-year-old Korematsu before Executive Order 9066, circa 1940. The second photo depicts several of his family members in their family-owned nursery in Oakland, circa 1939. These new additions mark the second time an Asian American has been honored with a permanent portrait at the National Portrait Gallery.
The two original photographs, donated by the Korematsu family, were part of a collection that Korematsu’s father hid in the rafters of their nursery prior to the exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast.
“We’re very fortunate they are here today; these represent 120,000 Japanese American people who were interned,” said Karen Korematsu, the daughter of the civil rights icon, who spoke at the ceremony.
The unveiling followed celebrations of Fred Korematsu Day throughout California on Jan. 30, which is Korematsu’s birthday.
Other notable speakers included Martin Sullivan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery; former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta; Reps. Mike Honda (D-San Jose), Judy Chu (D-El Monte), and Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento); and JACL National Executive Director Floyd Mori.
“I am delighted that these photographs will reside in the museum’s exhibition ‘The Struggle for Justice,’” said Sullivan. “Korematsu’s courageous advocacy in the courts on behalf of interned Japanese Americans was essential to ending legislated segregation.”
“We are eternally grateful to Fred for his act of defiance in 1942 and for his determination in the pursuit of justice,” Mineta said.
Ling Woo Liu, director of the Korematsu Institute in San Francisco, spoke about the development of the Smithsonian’s new Korematsu teaching kits. These free and easily accessible kits allow teachers to learn more about Korematsu’s plight through educational videos and handouts. It is the Smithsonian’s hope that with these kits, Korematsu’s legacy and the story of the internment camps will never be forgotten.
Many in attendance were well-respected civil rights leaders whose advocacy was inspired by Korematsu’s refusal to go to camp and the subsequent decades of court appeals. They called Korematsu a pioneer for all Asian Americans who have dedicated their lives to the fight for equality.