Fred T. Korematsu Day
of Civil Liberties and the Constitution
California’s Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution is the first day in U.S. history named after an Asian American. It is celebrated every January 30th on Mr. Korematsu’s birthday. The Fred Korematsu Day bill, AB 1775, was signed into law by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on September 23, 2010. Fred Korematsu Day is a day of special significance, when schools across the state are encouraged to remember the life of Fred Korematsu and recognize the importance of preserving civil liberties.
The Fred T. Korematsu Story
Fred T. Korematsu was a national civil rights hero. In 1942, at the age of 23, he refused to go to the government’s incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity.
In 1981, legal historian Prof. Peter Irons, together with researcher Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, discovered key documents that government intelligence agencies had hidden from the Supreme Court in 1944. The documents consistently showed that Japanese Americans had committed no acts of treason to justify mass incarceration. With this new evidence, a team of mostly Japanese American attorneys re-opened Korematsu’s 40 year-old case on the basis of government misconduct. On November 10, 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco. It was a pivotal moment in civil rights history.
Korematsu remained an activist throughout his life. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton. In 2010, the state of California passed the Fred Korematsu Day bill, making January 30 the first day in the U.S. named after an Asian American. Korematsu’s growing legacy continues to inspire activists of all backgrounds and demonstrates the importance of speaking up to fight injustice.
This teaching guide is a publication of:The Fred T. Korematsu Institute
for Civil Rights and Education
at the Asian Law Caucus
55 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94111