SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on Friday encouraged all Californians to take a moment during the last week of January to observe the third annual Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, as well as participate in the Korematsu Day events throughout California.
“History offers us many lessons, among them the cost of war and racism, and the strength it takes to achieve justice,” said Torlakson. “Korematsu Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on all this and more.”
Korematsu Day is Wednesday, Jan. 30. Fred T. Korematsu was born in Oakland on that day in 1919. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, he defied President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066. The order 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 the 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, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in federal court after a legal historian discovered evidence proving U.S. intelligence agencies knew that Japanese Americans posed no military threat to the country during World War II.
“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. “At the Korematsu Institute, we’ve worked hard to provide teachers with free teaching materials so they can teach about my father and the overall Japanese American internment.”
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. Korematsu passed away in 2005 at the age of 86.
Legislation co-sponsored in 2010 by then-Assemblymembers Warren Furutani (D-South Los Angeles County) and Marty Block (D-San Diego) officially designated Jan. 30 as Korematsu Day, the first day in U.S. history named after an Asian American.
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 is advisory only and does not constitute a mandate.
The Korematsu Institute is working with communities across the country to commemorate Korematsu Day. In California, events will take place in Foster City, Oakland, Pasadena, San Diego, San Leandro, San Francisco, Stanford, and Torrance. One of the largest events will be the Institute’s “Fred Korematsu Day Heroes” event on Sunday, Jan. 27, at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. That day, the institute will unveil its poster of 16 Asian American and Pacific Islander civil rights heroes. The living heroes, along with many of their descendants, will be in attendance.
“Most Americans have never heard of these courageous individuals,” said Ling Woo Liu, director of the Korematsu Institute. “It’s time to honor these overlooked American heroes.”
For more educational resources on civil rights and the U.S. Constitution, visit the California Department of Education’s Web page on Instructional Materials.
To learn more about Korematsu, download free teaching kits developed through private donations, and access online educational resources, visit the Korematsu Institute website.