Fred Korematsu

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Toyosaburo Korematsu
Fred Korematsu NPS.jpg
Born (1919-01-30)January 30, 1919
Oakland, California, United States
Died March 30, 2005(2005-03-30) (aged 86)
Marin County, California, United States
Cause of death Respiratory failure
Resting place Mountain View Cemetery
37°50′06″N 122°14′12″W / 37.83500°N 122.23667°W / 37.83500; -122.23667
Monuments  • Fred T. Korematsu Elementary School in Davis
 • Fred T. Korematsu Campus of San Leandro High School
 • Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy in Oakland
Residence  • Topaz War Relocation Center
 • Salt Lake City, Utah
 • Detroit, Michigan
Nationality American
Ethnicity Japanese-American
Citizenship United States
Education High School
Alma mater Castlemont High School (Oakland, California)
Children 2 (1 daughter 1 son)
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom

Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu (是松 豊三郎 Korematsu Toyosaburō?, January 30, 1919 – March 30, 2005) was one of the many Japanese-American citizens living on the West Coast of the United States at the onset of World War II. Shortly after the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the Secretary of War and his military commanders to remove all individuals of Japanese ancestry from designated "military areas" and place them in internment camps in what is known as the Japanese American internment. When such orders were issued for the West Coast, Korematsu instead became a fugitive. The legality of the internment order was upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States, but Korematsu's conviction was overturned decades later after the disclosure of new evidence challenging the necessity of the internment, evidence which had been withheld from the courts by the U.S. government during the war.

To commemorate his journey as a civil rights activist, the "Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution" was observed for first time on January 30, 2011, by the state of California, and first such commemoration for an Asian American in the US.[1][2]


Early life[edit]

Fred Korematsu was born in Oakland, California, in 1919, the third of four sons to Japanese parents who immigrated to the United States in 1905.[3] Fred resided continuously in Oakland from his birth until the time of his arrest. He attended public schools, participated in the Castlemont High School (Oakland, California) tennis and swim teams, and worked in his family's flower nursery in nearby San Leandro, California. He encountered racism in high school when an army recruiting officer was handing out recruiting flyers to Korematsu’s non-Japanese friends. The officer told Korematsu, "We have orders not to accept you."[4] Even his girlfriend Ida Boitano’s Italian parents felt that people of Japanese descent were inferior and unfit to mix with white people.[5]

World War II[edit]

Korematsu was rejected by the U.S. Navy when called for military duty under the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, due to stomach ulcers. Instead, he trained to become a welder in order to contribute his services to the defense effort. First, he worked as a welder at a shipyard. He went in one day to find his timecard missing; his coworkers hastily explained to him that he was Japanese so therefore he was not allowed to work there. He then found a new job, but was fired after one week when his supervisor, who had just returned from an extended vacation, found that there was a "Jap" working at his business.[5] Because of his Japanese descent, Korematsu lost all employment completely following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On March 27, 1942, General John L. DeWitt, commander of the Western Defense Area, prohibited Japanese Americans from leaving the limits of Military Area No. 1,[6] in preparation for their eventual evacuation to internment camps.[7] Korematsu underwent plastic surgery on his eyelids in the unsuccessful hope of passing as a Caucasian, changed his name to Clyde Sarah,[8][9] and claimed to be of Spanish and Hawaiian heritage.[10]

Former horse stalls converted for temporary occupation by Japanese American internees at Tanforan Assembly Center, San Bruno, California, 1942.

When on May 3, 1942, General DeWitt ordered Japanese Americans to report on May 9 to Assembly Centers as a prelude to being removed to the camps,[11] Korematsu refused and went into hiding in the Oakland area. He was arrested on a street corner in San Leandro on May 30, 1942, after being recognized as a "Jap". He was held at a jail in San Francisco.[12] Shortly after Korematsu's arrest, Ernest Besig, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union in northern California, asked him whether he would be willing to use his case to test the legality of the Japanese American internment. Korematsu agreed, and was assigned civil rights attorney Wayne M. Collins.[13] The American Civil Liberties Union in fact argued for Ernest Besig not to fight Korematsu’s case, since many high-ranking members of the ACLU were close to Franklin Roosevelt, and the ACLU didn’t want to be perceived badly in time of war. Besig decided to take Korematsu's case in spite of this.[14] Korematsu felt that "people should have a fair trial and a chance to defend their loyalty at court in a democratic way, because in this situation, people were placed in imprisonment without any fair trial."[15] On June 12, 1942, Korematsu had his trial date and was given $5,000 bail ($72413.44 today). After Fred's arraignment June 18, 1942, Besig posted bail and he and Fred tried to leave. When met by Military Police, Besig told Fred to go with them. The Military Police took Fred to the Presidio.[16] Korematsu was tried and convicted in federal court on September 8, 1942, for a violation of Public Law No. 503, which criminalized the violations of military orders issued under the authority of Executive Order 9066, and was placed on five years' probation. He was taken from the courtroom and returned to the Tanforan Assembly Center, and thereafter he and his family were placed in the Central Utah War Relocation Center situated at Topaz, Utah. As an unskilled laborer, he was eligible to receive only $12 per month ($173.79 today) for working eight hours per day at the camp. He was placed in a horse stall with one light bulb, and he later remarked that "jail was better than this."[17]

While hailed by some, others criticized Korematsu's actions. Many Japanese residents living on the West Coast cooperated with the government internment order, hoping to prove their loyalty as Americans, including members of the Japanese American Citizens League. Korematsu was thus disdained for his opposition to a government order and was seen as a threat in the eyes of the Japanese citizens and Japanese Americans. When Korematsu’s family was moved to the internment camp in Topaz, Utah, he would later describe feeling isolated because people recognized him and felt that if they talked to him, they would also be seen as troublemakers.[18]

Korematsu then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. They granted review on March 27, 1943, but upheld the original verdict on January 7, 1944. He appealed again and brought his case to the United States Supreme Court, which granted review on March 27, 1944. On December 18, 1944, in a 6-3 decision, authored by Justice Black, the Court held that compulsory exclusion, though constitutionally suspect, is justified during circumstances of "emergency and peril". (See Korematsu v. United States for more information.)

However, the Court also decided Ex parte Endo in December 1944, granting Mitsuye Endo her liberty from the camps because the Department of Justice and War Relocation Authority conceded that Endo was a "loyal and law-abiding citizen" and that no authority existed for detaining loyal citizens longer than necessary to separate the loyal from the disloyal. Endo's case did not address the question of whether the initial removal itself was constitutional, as did Korematsu's case.[19]

Later life and compensation[edit]

After release from camp, Korematsu had to move east, as the law would not allow a move back westward. He moved to Salt Lake City, Utah,[20] where he continued to fight racism. He still knew there were inequalities amongst the Japanese, as he experienced these inequalities in his everyday life. He found work repairing water tanks in Salt Lake City, but after three months on the job, he discovered he was being paid half of what his white coworkers were being paid. He told his boss that this was unfair and asked to be paid the same amount, but his boss only threatened to call the police and try to get Korematsu arrested for being Japanese, so he left his job.[21] After this incident, Korematsu lost hope, remaining quiet for over thirty years. His own daughter did not find out about what her father did until she was in high school.[22] Peter Irons said that Korematsu "felt responsible for the internment in a sort of backhanded way, because his case had been lost in the Supreme Court."[23] He moved to Detroit, Michigan, where his younger brother lived, and here he worked as a draftsman until 1949. Fred married the former Kathryn Pearson in Detroit on October 12, 1946. They returned to Oakland to visit his family in 1949 because his mother was ill. They did not intend to stay, but decided to stay after Kathryn became pregnant with their first child, Karen.[24] His daughter was born in 1950, and a son in 1954.[25]

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter appointed a special commission to investigate the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The commission concluded that the decisions to remove those of Japanese ancestry to prison camps occurred because of "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership". In 1988, Congress apologized and granted personal compensation of $20,000 to each surviving prisoner.

In the early 1980s, while researching a book on internment cases, lawyer and University of California, San Diego professor Peter Irons came across evidence that Charles Fahy, the Solicitor General of the United States who argued Korematsu v. United States before the Supreme Court, had deliberately suppressed reports from the FBI and military intelligence which concluded that Japanese-American citizens posed no security risk. These documents revealed that the military had lied to the Supreme Court, and that government lawyers had willingly made false arguments. Irons concluded that the Supreme Court’s decision was invalid since it was based on unsubstantiated facts, distortions, and misrepresentations. Along with a team of lawyers headed by Dale Minami, Irons petitioned for writs of error coram nobis with the federal courts, seeking to overturn Korematsu's conviction.

On November 10, 1983, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of U.S. District Court in San Francisco formally vacated the conviction. Korematsu stood in front of US District Judge Marilyn Patel and said, "I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed, or color."[26] He also said, "If anyone should do any pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to the Japanese-American people."[27] Peter Irons described Korematsu’s ending statement during the case as the most powerful statement he’d ever heard from anyone. He related the statement as being as empowering as Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.[28] Judge Patel’s ruling cleared Korematsu’s name, but was incapable of overturning the Supreme Court’s decision.

President Bill Clinton awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, to Korematsu in 1998, saying, "In the long history of our country's constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls. Plessy, Brown, Parks ... to that distinguished list, today we add the name of Fred Korematsu." That year Korematsu served as the Grand Marshal of San Francisco's annual Cherry Blossom Festival parade.[29]

A member and Elder of First Presbyterian Church of Oakland, Korematsu was twice President of San Leandro Lions Club, and for 15 years a volunteer with Boy Scouts of America, San Francisco Bay Council.[30]

Korematsu spoke out after September 11, 2001, on how the United States government should not let the same thing happen to people of Middle-Eastern descent as what happened to Japanese Americans. When prisoners were detained at Guantanamo Bay for too long a period, in Korematsu’s opinion, he filed two amicus curiae briefs with the Supreme Court and warned them not to repeat the mistakes of the Japanese internment.[31]

He wrote his first amicus brief in October 2003 for two cases appealed before the Supreme Court of the United States, Shafiq Rasul v. George W. Bush and Khaled A.F. Al Odah v. United States of America. Attorneys Arturo J. Gonzalez and Sylvia M. Sokol of Morrison & Foerster LLP and Jon B. Streeter and Eumi K. Lee of Keker & Van Nest LLP worked on the amicus curiae brief. In the brief, Korematsu warned the Supreme Court that the restriction of civil liberties can never be justified, and had never been justified in the history of the United States. Furthermore, Korematsu provided examples of specific cases in American history in which the government exceeded constitutional authority, such as the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the Japanese Internment of World War II. Korematsu thus reacted critically to the administration of President George W. Bush who imprisoned detainees in Guantanamo Bay by restricting their civil liberties albeit in a time of, according to the respondent, "military necessity".

Similarly, in his second amicus brief, written April 2004 with the Bar Association of San Francisco, the Asian Law Caucus, the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, and the Japanese American Citizens League, Korematsu responded to Donald Rumsfeld v. Jose Padilla. The following attorneys worked on the amicus brief: Geoffrey R. Stone, Dale Minami of Minami, Lew, and Tamaki LLP, Eric K. Yamamoto, Stephen J. Schulhofer of the Brennan Center for Justice, and Evan R. Chesler of Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP. The Amici Curiae’s statement of interest emphasized the similarity of the unlawful detainment of Fred Korematsu during World War II and that of Jose Padilla following the events of 9/11, and warned the American government of repeating their mistakes of the past. He believed that "full vindication for the Japanese-Americans will arrive only when we learn that, even in times of crisis, we must guard against prejudice and keep uppermost our commitment to law and justice."[32]

Fred Korematsu's grave at the Mountain View Cemetery (Oakland, California); an enlarged replica of the Presidential Medal of Freedom is displayed on his tombstone.

From 2001 until his death, Korematsu served on the Constitution Project's bipartisan Liberty and Security Committee.[33]] Discussing racial profiling in 2004, he warned, "No one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. If that principle was not learned from the internment of Japanese Americans, then these are very dangerous times for our democracy."

Fred Korematsu died of respiratory failure at his daughter's home in Marin County, California, on March 30, 2005. One of the last things Korematsu said was, "I'll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, if they look like the enemy of our country".[28] He also urged others to "protest, but not with violence, and don’t be afraid to speak up. One person can make a difference, even if it takes forty years."[34] Korematsu was buried at the Mountain View Cemetery.

On May 24, 2011, U.S. Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal delivered the keynote speech at the Department of Justice's Great Hall marking Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Developing comments he had posted officially on May 20,[35] Katyal issued the Justice Department's first public confession of its 1942 ethics lapse. He cited the Korematsu case and the similar precedent of Gordon Hirabayashi as blots on the reputation of the Office of the Solicitor General, which aspires to deserve "special credence" when pleading cases before the Supreme Court, and thus "an important reminder" of the need for absolute candor in arguing the United States government's position on every case.[36]


  • Fred T. Korematsu Elementary School at Mace Ranch in Davis, California is named for Korematsu.[37]
  • The freshman campus of San Leandro High School is named Fred T. Korematsu Campus in respect to Korematsu.[38]
  • The Discovery Academy elementary school in Oakland, California, was renamed Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy.[39]
  • Portola Middle School was renamed The Fred T Korematsu Middle School in El Cerrito, California, at the new campus location formerly Castro Elementary School site
  • In 1988, a street in San Jose, California was renamed Korematsu Court.[40]
  • There is a Korematsu bronze relief in front of the San Jose Federal Building.
  • Awards in his name include the American Muslim Voices Korematsu Civil Rights Award.[41]
  • On September 23, 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California signed into law a bill that designates January 30 of each year as the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, a first for an Asian American in the US.[2] It was observed for the first time on January 30, 2011. The main celebration of the California state was held at the Wheeler Auditorium on the UC Berkeley campus, sponsored by the Korematsu Institute, a non-profit program co-founded by Korematsu's daughter, Karen Korematsu, and the Asian Law Caucus, a San Francisco-based civil rights organization. The event included presentations by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and a screening of the Emmy Award-winning film "Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story."[1][2][42]
  • In 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia established January 30 as "Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution" beginning in 2016. [43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "California Marks the First Fred Korematsu Day". TIME. Jan 29, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "Fred Korematsu Day a first for an Asian American". San Francisco Chronicle. January 29, 2011. 
  3. ^ U.S. Census, January 1, 1920, State of California, County of Alameda, enumeration district 145, p. 12-A, lines 29–33.
  4. ^ Chin, Steven A. When Justice Failed: The Fred Korematsu Story. Ed. Alex Haley. Raintree, 1992, p. 20.
  5. ^ a b Chin, Steven A. When Justice Failed: The Fred Korematsu Story. Ed. Alex Haley. Raintree, 1992, p. 10.
  6. ^ Military Area No. 1 was defined as the entire California, Washington and Oregon coasts, as well as the Southern sections of California and Arizona along the border of Mexico. "Evacuation To Be Carried Out Gradually", The San Francisco News, March 3, 1942.
  7. ^ Public Proclamation No. 4 (7 F.R. 2601).
  8. ^ Korematsu v. U.S., 1944 WL 42849, Appellate Brief, p. 4.
  9. ^ "3 Japanese Defy Curbs", The New York Times, June 13, 1942, p. 8.
  10. ^ Annie Nakao, Overturning a wartime act decades later", San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 2004, p. D3.
  11. ^ Civilian Exclusion Order No. 34.
  12. ^ David Margolick, "Legal Legend Urges Victims To Speak Out", The New York Times, November 24, 1984, p. 25.
  13. ^ Niiya, Brian (1993). Japanese American history: an A-to-Z reference from 1868 to the present. Verlag für die Deutsche Wirtschaft AG. p. 210. ISBN 0-8160-2680-7 
  14. ^ Daniels, Roger. Prisoners Without Trial : Japanese Americans in World War II. New York: Hill & Wang, 2004, p. 65
  15. ^ Chin, Steven A. When Justice Failed: The Fred Korematsu Story. Ed. Alex Haley. Raintree, 1992, p. 67-68.
  16. ^ Fournier, Eric Paul (Director). (2000). Of Civil Wrongs & Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story. [DVD].
  17. ^ Chin, Steven A. When Justice Failed: The Fred Korematsu Story. Ed. Alex Haley. Raintree, 1992, p. 70.
  18. ^ Chin, Steven A. When Justice Failed: The Fred Korematsu Story. Ed. Alex Haley. Raintree, 1992, p. 38.
  19. ^ The U.S. Supreme Court limited its decision to the validity of the exclusion orders, adding, "The provisions of other orders requiring persons of Japanese ancestry to report to assembly centers and providing for the detention of such persons in assembly and relocation centers were separate, and their validity is not in issue in this proceeding."
  20. ^ Annie Nakao, "Fred Korematsu — he defied wartime order to internment camp", San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 2005, p. B7.
  21. ^ Chin, Steven A. When Justice Failed: The Fred Korematsu Story. Ed. Alex Haley. Raintree, 1992, p. 80.
  22. ^ ""Looking Back at Japanese Internment Camps"". NPR. December 5, 2007. 
  23. ^ Bai, Matt (December 25, 2005). "He Said No to Internment". The New York Times Magazine. p. 38. 
  24. ^ Lorraine Bannai interview of Kathryn Korematsu, May 2008.
  25. ^ California Birth Index, 1905-1995. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.
  26. ^ Chin, Steven A. When Justice Failed : The Fred Korematsu Story. Ed. Alex Haley. Austin:Raintree, 1992, p. 95
  27. ^ "Bad landmark; righting a racial wrong". Time. November 21, 1983. 
  28. ^ a b "Peter Irons Interview II". October 27, 2000. Retrieved 2015-12-27. 
  29. ^ Parks, Judi. "Cherry Blossom Festival marks 31st year in S.F". Asian Week. 
  30. ^ "KOREMATSU, Fred Toyosaburo" (obituary), San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2005, p. Z99.
  31. ^ Garrow, David J. (September 23, 2001). "Aftermath: The Rule of Fear; Another Lesson From World War II Internments". The New York Times. 
  32. ^ "Racism in the US: lessons to learn from Japanese internment". 1983-11-03. Retrieved 2015-12-27. 
  33. ^ "The Liberty and Security Committee". The Constitution Project. 
  34. ^ "Content". Retrieved 2015-12-27. 
  35. ^ from "The Justice Blog" on the U.S. Department of Justice website (retrieved May 24, 2011) "Confession of Error: The Solicitor General’s Mistakes During the Japanese-American Internment Cases"
  36. ^ Savage, David G. (May 24, 2011). "U.S. official cites misconduct in Japanese American internment cases". The Los Angeles Times 
  37. ^ "Fred T. Korematsu Elementary School at Mace Ranch". Los Angeles Times. 
  38. ^ Korematsu Campus
  39. ^ Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy
  40. ^ "LegisWeb™ - 2009-10 Session - Assembly Bill 1775". Retrieved 2015-12-27. 
  41. ^ "AMV Awards". Retrieved 2015-12-27. 
  42. ^ La Ganga, Maria L. (31 January 2011). "A civil rights hero gets his day". Los Angeles Times. 
  43. ^ "The Commonwealth of Virginia Establishes January 30 as 'Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution'", Alexandria News, February 25, 2015

Further reading[edit]