PASADENA (CNS) – The man who was imprisoned in 1942, and then lost an appeal before the Supreme Court over the wartime incarceration of United States citizens, was remembered in Pasadena.
Tens of thousands of innocent people were jailed and sent to inland camps, as the White House feared Japanese American citizens would aid and abet a Japanese invasion in the terror following the sneak attack by Japan on Hawaii.
Fred Korematsu defied the order, was sent to prison, and then spent his life fighting the wrong. The “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution” was to be held all morning at Pasadena High School to discuss that.
It was to feature Pasadena-area people telling their history of World War II, before their first-hand accounts are lost to time.
The day is observed on Jan. 30, the anniversary of Korematsu’s birth in 1919 in Oakland. It is the first day in U.S. history named after an Asian American.
In 1942, Korematsu defied President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order authorizing the U.S. military to forcibly remove more than 120,000 people of Japanese descent from their homes and incarcerate them in camps throughout the country.
Korematsu was arrested and convicted of violating the federal order. He lost an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1944 the concentration camps were justified due to military necessity.
In 1983, legal historian Peter Irons and 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, leading a federal court to overturn Korematsu’s conviction in 1983.
“After my father’s conviction was overturned in 1983, his mission was education,” said Karen Korematsu, a co-founder of the San Francisco-based Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education.
Fred Korematsu went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, not only seeking redress for Japanese Americans who were wrongfully incarcerated, but also traveling throughout the nation to advocate for the civil rights of other victims, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Fred Korematsu received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Bill Clinton in 1998. He died in 2005 at the age of 86.
The commemoration was to include:
— The showing of the eight-minute documentary film “Six Weddings & A Dress,” tells the story of a wedding dress worn by six women at the Manzanar War Relocation Center.
— Kellye Nakahara Wallett, a Pasadena artist who portrayed Nurse Kellye in the 1972-83 CBS comedy “M.A.S.H.” sharing the story of her grandfather Buntaro Nakahara, a fisherman arrested when the U.S. government believed he was providing fuel to Japanese submarines. He was sent to the Santa Fe Interment Camp in New Mexico where he died.
— Altadena resident Ellen Snortland recalling the experience of finding a photo album in her rental home that belonged to a Japanese American family that included photos from a relocation camp and how the advice columnist Abigail Van Buren was instrumental in Snortland’s search for the family.
— Pasadena resident Wendy Fujihara Anderson telling the story of her parents Tadashi and Harumi Fujihara, who were both incarcerated at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, but did not know each other until after World War II ended.
— Pasadena resident Soji Kashiwagi presenting the story of his father Hiroshi Kashiwagi, who was incarcerated at the the Tule Lake Segregation Center, after answering no to two questions on a loyalty questionnaire.
— Pasadena resident Patricia Kinaga recounting the story of her father Thomas Kinaga, who was interned at the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming where he volunteered to serve in the 442nd Infantry Regiment.
Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution was established under a bill by then-Assemblymen Warren Furutani, D-Harbor Gateway, and Marty Block, D-San Diego, and signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Sept. 23, 2010.
In his proclamation declaring Friday as Fred Korematsu Day, Gov. Jerry Brown wrote, “Korematsu’s staunch determination to be treated like the loyal American citizen he was came to define his life story, in both his decades-long legal battle against internment and his later recognition as a leader in the cause of civil rights.
“On this 96th anniversary of his birth, we remember him as one who resisted injustice during a dark chapter in our nation’s history and later worked tirelessly to prevent its repetition.”