Fred T. Korematsu honored as Asian American Civil Rights pioneer

January 29, 2021

Contact: Vicki Levengood 517-775-0558 or Beata Kica 517-614-9773

The Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission (MAPAAC) and Michigan Civil Right Commission (MCRC) join Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in recognizing Fred T. Korematsu for his contributions to civil rights and his dedication to justice and equality by proclaiming January 30, 2021 as Fred Korematsu Day.

On January 30, 1919, Fred Korematsu was born in Oakland, California, to Japanese immigrants. In 1942, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States Army issued a curfew order against Americans of Japanese descent on the West Coast, who were considered to pose a threat to national security. At the young age of 23, Korematsu refused to abide by the government’s order. He was convicted of violating the order but appealed his case, taking it to the Supreme Court. On December 18, 1944, in Korematsu v. United States the Supreme Court affirmed Korematsu’s conviction and ruled that the exclusion and detention of Japanese Americans was constitutionally protected under the war powers of Congress and the President of the United States.

Nearly 40 years after the landmark Korematsu decision, Professor Peter Irons and Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga discovered secret documents that revealed that the government had hidden facts from the Supreme Court. The documents discovered indicated that the ordering of the internment of Japanese Americans in the name of national security was based on a lie. This new development allowed Fred Korematsu to appeal his case in 1983 – a case which he won.

Fred Korematsu’s tireless efforts were significant in the struggle for civil rights for all people, earning him a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1998.

“We are honored to recognize Fred T. Korematsu for his courage and achievements as a role model for Asians Pacific Americans’ civil rights,” MAPAAC Chair Ayesha Ghazi Edwin said. “He stood up and spoke out against discrimination and promoted racial equality. His legacy serves as an example for all Americans.”

“Fred Korematsu’s life, from the moment he refused to go to an incarceration camp to the day he received the nation’s highest civilian honor, is a lesson in commitment, resolve and dedication to what is right,” said Stacie Clayton, Chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. “He never wavered in his pursuit of justice even as decades passed, courts ruled against him and memories faded. The lesson of Fred Korematsu’s life is this: standing up for justice and equity may not lead to immediate change, but your actions will inspire others and build momentum to overcome obstacles that once seemed unscalable. Fred Korematsu stands today as a true hero of the civil rights movement.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has designated January 30, 2021 as “Fred Korematsu Day” in his honor. It is also known as the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, celebrated annually on his birthday. Hawaii, Virginia and Florida have also established a day of recognition in honor of Fred Korematsu’s fight for justice and the importance of upholding our civil liberties and the Constitution.

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution to safeguard constitutional and legal guarantees against discrimination. The Commission is charged with investigating alleged discrimination against any person because of religion, race, color or national origin, genetic information, sex, age, marital status, height, weight, arrest record, and physical and mental disability. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights serves as the operational arm of the Commission. Learn more about MCRC at www.michigan.gov/MDCR.

MAPAAC works to advance the full and equal participation of Asian Pacific Americans in the building of a greater Michigan. Learn more about MAPAAC at www.michigan.gov/MAPAAC