Facts About Fred Korematsu, American Activist

Fred Korematsu fought against internment camps for Japanese-Americans, such as this one.
Fred Korematsu fought against internment camps for Japanese-Americans, such as this one.

Born Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu, Fred Korematsu was a civil rights activist from the United States. He was born on January 30, 1919 and passed away on March 30, 2005. He was buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California. His main concern was the rights and freedom of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The need for the defense of Japanese American rights became apparent shortly after the Imperial Japanese Navy began attacking Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved of Executive Order 9066, which stated that all people of Japanese lineage living on the West or the Pacific Coast were to be placed in internment camps.

The internment order, which was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States during the case labeled Korematsu v. the United States, was what forced Korematsu to become a fugitive activist. In 2018, that ruling was officially overruled after new evidence, which had been withheld during the initial case, emerged. In honor of his exploits and hard work, the state of California became the first state to approve the "Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution." Here are some facts about Fred Korematsu. 

He Was Opossed to the Internment of Japanese Americans

Korematsu’s main reason for becoming an activist was that he was in opposition to the order that allowed the internment of Japanese Americans. Korematsu was against the idea that innocent people could be taken from their homes and placed in internment camps. He questioned the legality of the order in the Supreme Court but he lost, which further placed him on the activist path.

There are Streets and Schools Around the Country Named For Him

In honor of his work as a human rights activist, a number of streets and schools have been named after Korematsu. An example of such a school is the Fred T. Korematsu Elementary School in Davis, California. Another school is the Fred T. Korematsu Campus (formerly the San Leandro High School) in San Leandro. The Fred T. Korematsu Discovery Academy, which was formerly called The Discovery Academy elementary school, in Oakland, California is another school that was also renamed. The Portola Middle School in El Cerrito, California also changed its name to The Fred T Korematsu Middle School. An example of a renamed street is the Korematsu Court in San Jose, California.

He Was Discriminated Against Throughout His Entire Life

Korematsu faced a number of discriminations largely due to his Japanese lineage. During World War II, after he was again denied entry to the military due to ulcers, he decided to train as a welder and started working at a shipyard. However, he was kicked out after a while due to his Japanese heritage. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, he kept on losing all his jobs.

He Was Arrested For Refusing Internment

Korematsu was arrested when he went into hiding after learning that Japanese people were to be interned. General DeWitt issued the order for the internment on May 3, 1942. Eventually, he was arrested on May 30, 1942, in San Leandro. After being detained in San Francisco, he had his first hearing on June 12, 1942. His appeals over the years bore no fruit.

He Spoke Out After September 11th

After the gruesome outcome of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Korematsu had a few words for the US government. While being sympathetic, he advised the government to avoid making the same discrimination that happened to people of Japanese lineage. In fact, he filed documents warning the Supreme Court after a protracted detainment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

He Was Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him the highest honor a civilian can get in the US, that is, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the same year, during the Cherry Blossom Festival annual parade in San Francisco, Fred was the Grand Marshal. By getting the medal, he became part of a family including people like Walt Disney and Warren Buffett.

He Fought Against Inequal Wages

After his arrest and subsequent release, Fred did odd poorly paying jobs. For example, he worked as a tank repairer in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, after three months, he realized he was getting only half of what white workers were getting. In an attempt to rectify this, he complained to his boss who quieted him by threatening to call the police.

He Was Born in Oakland, California

Fred Korematsu was born on January 30, 1919, in Oakland, California to his Japanese parents Kotsui Aoki and Kakusaburo Korematsu. His parents had migrated to American in 1905 and had a family of four sons. During his stay in Oakland, Korematsu attended the Castlemont High School where he was active in sports like tennis and swimming. Fred attempted to join the army while still in high school but he was discriminated because of his race. In fact, the recruiting officer told him that he was not allowed to accept him since he was of Japanese descent.

It was the First Day Commemorating an Asian American

By establishing the "Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution," the state of California and Korematsu made history. Fred Korematsu became the first Asian American to be remembered as such in the US. In order to perpetuate the impressive work he started, his daughter and the Asian Law Caucus established the Korematsu Institute in 2009.

A Day Was Named in His Honor In 2011

In honor of his impressive work, the governor of the state of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, signed a bill into law that set a day for remembering Korematsu. The bill was signed on September 23, 2010, and recognizes the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, which is to be marked on January 30 of each year. The very first celebration of the day was held on January 30, 2011. In 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia also passed a bill that also set January 30 as a day to remember Korematsu. In Virginia, the first celebrations were held in 2016. New York also passed a similar resolution on December 19, 2017. Aside from these states, other states that have also marked the day since 2010 include the states of Hawaii, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Utah, Michigan, Illinois, and Georgia.


More in Society