Portrait of Fred Korematsu is seen during its presentation to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
This Thursday, Jan. 30 marks Illinois’ first celebration of “Fred Korematsu Day,” making Illinois the fourth state to honor the Japanese-American, civil rights activist.
Fred Korematsu was born in Oakland, Calif. but his U.S. citizenship didn’t keep him from being arrested for refusing to be relocated to an internment camp in 1942. He challenged his arrest in court and two years later the case made its way to the Supreme Court. Korematsu challenged the constitutionality of Executive Order 9066, the decree that forced the relocation of people of Japanese descent to internment camps. The court ruled in favor of the government and against Korematsu in what is now widely considered one of their worst verdicts. The majority of justices claimed the detentions were not based on racial discrimination but rather on suspicions that Japanese-Americans were acting as spies.
After World War II, Korematsu was released. But the conviction remained on his record for 40 years until it was finally overturned in 1983.
Karen Korematsu, Fred’s daughter, is now the executive director of the Korematsu Institute. She hopes that other states will follow Illinois’ initiative — and that one day, America will have a federally-recognized Fred Korematsu day.
Theresa Mah, who works for Illinois’ governor, Pat Quinn, as director of Asian-American outreach, supports Karen’s goal. She came up with the idea of recognizing Fred Korematsu Day in her state.
“I hope that more states follow in our footsteps and proclaim the holiday as well,” she says.
Mah believes it is important that people know Korematsu’s story in order to dispel notions that Asian-Americans never fought for their civil rights.