PASADENA — Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution is the first day in U.S. history named after an Asian American. It is celebrated every Jan. 30, which is Korematsu’s birthday.

The Fred Korematsu Day bill, AB1775, was signed into law by then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 23, 2010.

Karen Korematsu (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto)

In 2011, a group of citizens went before the Pasadena City Council, Pasadena Unified School District Board and Pasadena City College Board with a resolution for an annual Fred Korematsu Day observance. Pasadena became the first Southern California city to pass such resolution.

The city’s first Fred Korematsu Day was celebrated in 2012 with a distinguished group of panelists at Donald Wright Auditorium, Pasadena City Library.

The 2013 event will be held on Saturday, Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon at McKinley School Auditorium, 325 S. Oak Knoll, Pasadena (free parking across the street).

Registration at 9:30 a.m. includes light refreshments and exhibit of “Internment Camp Photos: 1942-46” by educator and photographer Stone Ishimaru, who was sent to the Poston camp in Arizona.

The guest speaker will be Karen Korematsu, co-founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education. The daughter of Fred and Kathryn Korematsu, she shares her father’s passion for social justice and continues to advance his legacy by advising the institute and speaking at events around the country.

She is also a board member of the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, the institute’s parent organization, as well as the Asian American Justice Center.

The 2000 documentary “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story” will be screened. Korematsu’s son, Ken, served as executive producer.

The program also includes welcoming remarks by Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and a presentation on the Tule Lake camp by Yukio Kawaratani, who was an inmate there, and Rafu Shimpo columnist Phil Shigekuni.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, will be one of the presenters. Kathy Onoye of the Pasadena Unified School District will discuss what is being planned in the city’s schools for Fred Korematsu Day.

The event is co-sponsored by the Pasadena Unified School District and WOW! Event Productions, and supported by the City of Pasadena and Pasadena City College.

For more information, contact Wendy Anderson at (626) 683-8243 or or go online to

Karen Korematsu will also be the guest speaker at the Fred Korematsu Day Program at the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library in Torrance from 2 to 4 p.m. on Jan. 26.

The Korematsu Story

In 1942, at the age of 23, Fred Korematsu refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity.

In 1983, Prof. Peter Irons, a legal historian, together with researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, discovered key documents that government intelligence agencies had hidden from the Supreme Court in 1944. The documents consistently showed that Japanese Americans had committed no acts of treason to justify mass incarceration. With this new evidence, a legal team of mostly Japanese American attorneys re-opened Korematsu’s 40 year-old case on the basis of government misconduct.

On Nov. 10, 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco. It was a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

Korematsu, who passed away in 2005, remained an activist throughout his life. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton.

Korematsu’s growing legacy continues to inspire people of all backgrounds and demonstrates the importance of speaking up to fight injustice. The Korematsu Institute advances pan-ethnic civil and human rights through education. It develops and distributes free curriculum about Korematsu’s story, the Japanese American incarceration, Asian American history, and current civil rights issues to classrooms around the U.S.

The institute promotes Fred Korematsu Day community involvement through school curriculum, community events, and support for legislation and resolutions around the country. Each year, the institute also hosts RightsFest, a pan-ethnic civil rights film festival.

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