Fred Korematsu Day • A young California welder resisted orders that sent 120,000 Japanese- Americans into internment camps in the 1940s.
Fred Korematsu, a native of Oakland, Calif., made history at age 23 when he defied authorities who forced Japanese-Americans into internment camps during World War II. His case ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court while he was interned with his family at Topaz, the camp in west central Utah. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will issue a proclamation on Friday designating Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day. Photo courtesy of Karen Korematsu and the Korematsu Institute
Fred Korematsu lived under a cloud of suspicion as an internee at the Topaz internment camp in central Utah and when he left the camp to work in Salt Lake City during World War II.
But on Friday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert will proclaim Jan. 30 as Fred Korematsu Day, honoring the man whose U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the internment of Japanese -Americans still stands as an example of racial injustice.
Korematsu would have been 94 on Jan. 30; he died eight years ago this spring.
The Salt Lake County Council on Tuesday passed a resolution supporting Herbert’s proclamation. Jani Iwamoto, who stepped down from the County Council earlier this month, advocated for both.
“He was an ordinary person who did something extraordinary,” Iwamoto told the council Tuesday. “Heroes like this are not necessarily big sports heroes or politicians. They’re ordinary individuals.”
Korematsu’s case had a lasting impact on basic rights, said Iwamoto, who knew Korematsu as a humble man who decades earlier resisted military orders that sent 120,000 Japanese-Americans living along the West Coast into internment camps.
“Fred just knew [internment] was wrong instinctively,” said Iwamoto, who first met Korematsu when she was a California law student who witnessed a 1980s effort to overturn his conviction. “He just wanted to live his life and be an American citizen.”
Korematsu was arrested for resisting the military order in spring 1942. A welder born in Oakland, he was just 23 when he was convicted and sent to the Tanforan assembly center in California and then on to Topaz in the desert northwest of Delta.
His reception in the camp was chilly, according to family members and friends who discussed it with him, said Ling Woo Liu, director of the Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education in California.
“It was a community totally under siege,” and it could be that people were wary of associating with him. “Everyone coped with the trauma very differently,” Liu said.
In any case, Korematsu had been confident he would prevail in court, and felt as if he had failed to vindicate his people, she said.
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