April 1, 2005

San Leandro Rights Pioneer Korematsu Dies

San Leandro civil rights pioneer Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu died on Wednesday, March 30, 2005, at his daughter’s home in Larkspur, California at the age of 86. Korematsu became a symbol of opposition when he refused to report for internment and remained at his San Leandro home.

On May 30, 1942, Fred Korematsu was arrested in San Leandro for refusing to report to a Japanese internment camp. A newspaper headline wrongly declared “Jap Spy Arrested in San Leandro.” He was later convicted of violating the presidential internment order. Along with other U.S. citizens of Japanese descent, he was taken to Tanforan race track in San Bruno, California, (now a shopping mall) before he was transferred to the Topaz “concentration camp.”

Korematsu challenged his internment with help from the ACLU. In 1944, in what is considered one of worst Supreme Court decisions of the century, his internment and that of all people of Japanese descent, was affirmed.

Korematsu kept fighting, and in 1983, his conviction was vacated by federal judge Marilyn Patel. In her decision, Patel wrote, “"Korematsu stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting constitutional guarantees.” Patel’s decision paved the way for the historic apology from the U.S. government in 1988 and the paltry compensation of $20,000 to those internees who had managed to survive.


Korematsu with fellow Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Rosa Parks in 1998.

President Clinton awarded Mr. Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1998. He has also been honored by the San Leandro City Council, the Oakland school district, and received an honorary law degree from California State University, Hayward (now CSU-East Bay). In 2001, he was featured in the PBS series P.O.V. Emmy-award winning documentary “Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story.”

Korematsu returned to live in San Leandro after his internment and continued to be active in civil rights, including opposition to parts of the USA PATRIOT act that he believed violated Arab-Americans’ rights.

He is survived by his wife Kathryn and children Karen and Ken.

Posted by Mike Katz-Lacabe at April 1, 2005 8:30 AM | TrackBack
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