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Fred Korematsu

AKA Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu

Born: 30-Jan-1919
Birthplace: Oakland, CA
Died: 30-Mar-2005
Location of death: Larkspur, CA
Cause of death: Respiratory failure
Remains: Buried, Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, CA

Gender: Male
Religion: Presbyterian [1]
Race or Ethnicity: Asian
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Activist

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Opposed internment camps

After the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Fred Korematsu tried to enlist with the US Navy, US Coast Guard, and US National Guard, but was refused due to his Japanese ancestry. On 19 February 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized American military leaders to designate vast regions of the US as areas "from which any or all persons may be excluded." A "civilian exclusion order" was soon applied to Americans of Japanese ancestry, and led to the forced relocation of some 120,000 Japanese-Americans in the western United States. Korematsu, a shipyard welder with no criminal record, was ordered to report to a relocation center. He defied the order and continued living his day-to-day life, sometimes answering inquiries by giving a false name and claiming to be of mixed Spanish and Hawaiian ancestry, and even paying a plastic surgeon $100 for slight facial reconstruction, hoping to conceal the "Asian" look of his eyes and nose.

On 30 May 1942, Korematsu was arrested on a street corner in San Leandro, California, while waiting to meet his girlfriend for a date. The headline in a local newspaper read: "Jap spy arrested in San Leandro." On 8 September 1942, he was convicted of violating wartime military orders, a crime commonly called disloyalty. He was sent with his family to the American internment camp at Topaz, Utah, but with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Korematsu challenged his internment before the US Supreme Court. In a 1944 ruling, the Supreme Court found that Korematsu's relocation and incarceration was necessitated by national security, and was not caused by racism. In a 6-3 majority opinion, Justice Hugo Black wrote: "Compulsory exclusion of large groups of citizens from their homes, except under circumstances of direst emergency and peril, is inconsistent with our basic governmental institutions. But when, under conditions of modern warfare, our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger."

After the war, Japanese-Americans were released from the internment camps, and Korematsu married, raised a family, and had a career as an industrial draftsman, but the conviction always rankled him and he remained active with the ACLU. In the early 1980s, Peter Irons, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, discovered that several US government agencies, including the FBI, the FCC, and the Office of Naval Intelligence, had issued reports finding that Japanese-Americans posed no danger to national security or to the war effort. These reports, all published prior to Korematsu's conviction, had been effectively suppressed not mentioned or alluded to in the courtroom, and at least one report had been intentionally destroyed, presumably to prevent its introduction as evidence. On 19 January 1983, Korematsu filed a coram nobis complaint on grounds of government misconduct, and on 10 November 1983 the US District Court for the Northern District of California overturned his disloyalty conviction, citing it as "a complete miscarriage of justice" though the Supreme Court's ruling, that in wartime, Americans may be banished on the basis of ethnicity, remains legally unchallenged. Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1998. A life-long Presbyterian, he filed amicus curiae briefs in 2003 and 2004 challenging the federal government's incarceration of some people of Middle-Eastern descent in the aftermath of 9/11.


[1] First Presbyterian Church in Oakland, CA.

Wife: Kathryn Pearson Korematsu (m. 12-Oct-1946, one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Karen Korematsu-Haigh (b. 1950)
Son: Ken Korematsu (b. 1954)

    High School: Castlemont High School, Oakland, CA

    American Civil Liberties Union
    Boy Scouts of America San Francisco Bay Council
    The Constitution Project
    Lions Club San Leandro, CA
    Assisted by the ACLU
    Presidential Medal of Freedom 1998
    Japanese Ancestry


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