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5 things you need to know about California civil rights leader Fred Korematsu

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By state law Thursday is Fred Korematsu Day, approved by policymakers for people to take a moment and remember the struggles of a California Civil Rights leader.

The Korematsu Institute lists some of the in-state and nationwide events commemorating Korematsu’s civil rights struggle, including a screening in Rosemead, CA of a documentary about his life.

Here are five things you should know about him:

  1. Fred Korematsu was a U.S. citizen, born in Oakland, California in 1919 to Japanese immigrant parents.
  2. He was 23 years old in 1942 when he refused to obey the presidential order imprisoning people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.
  3. Korematsu went about his life in San Leandro, California; had minor plastic surgery to look less Japanese.
  4. He was convicted of defying the presidential order - and that decision was upheld on a 6-3 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1944.
  5. Five decades later, in 1998, Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Supreme Court decision affirming his and other Japanese American imprisonment wasn’t unanimous; one of the justices wrote in a dissenting opinion that Japanese American internment “falls into the ugly abyss of racism.”

Decades after he left internment and resumed his life, Korematsu's conviction was overturned in San Francisco federal court after he and lawyer Peter Irons discovered documents that showed the U.S. knew that Japanese Americans didn't present a wartime threat.

The U.S. Supreme Court has not overturned its Korematsu ruling despite wide view that it is one of the high court’s most shameful decisions.

California’s Department of Education recommends, but doesn’t require, schools to teach about California’s civil rights hero. The suggestion is that schools teach kids about preserving civil liberties in times of real or perceived crisis.

The Korematsu Korematsu Institute in San Francisco offers lesson plans for teachers.

Korematsu died in 2005.


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