Today Google’s U.S. homepage is celebrating Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu, civil rights activist and survivor of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Jan. 30, 2017 would have been his 98th birthday and is officially recognized as Fred Korematsu Day in California, Hawaii, Virginia and Florida.
A son of Japanese immigrant parents, Korematsu was born and raised in Oakland, California. After the U.S. entered World War II, he tried to enlist in the U.S. National Guard and Coast Guard, but was turned away due to his ethnicity.
He was 23 years old and working as a foreman in his hometown when Executive Order 9066 was signed in 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The order sent more than 115,000 people of Japanese descent living in the United States to incarceration.
Rather than voluntarily relocate to an internment camp, Korematsu went into hiding. He was arrested in 1942 and despite the help of organizations like ACLU, his conviction was upheld in the landmark Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. United States. Consequently, he and his family were sent to the Central Utah War Relocation Center at Topaz, Utah until the end of World War II in 1945.
It wasn’t until 1976 that President Gerald Ford formally ended Executive Order 9066 and apologized for the internment, stating, “We now know what we should have known then — not only was that evacuation wrong but Japanese Americans were and are loyal Americans.”
Fred Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in 1983 after evidence came to light that disputed the necessity of the internment. Five years later President Ronald Reagan signed the The Civil Liberties Act of 1988, citing “racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a lack of political leadership” as the central motivation for Japanese internment.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s most distinguished civilian award.
Fred Korematsu can be remembered fighting for civil rights and against prejudice throughout his life, famously saying:
“If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up.”
The doodle by artist Sophie Diao – herself a child of Asian immigrants – features a patriotic portrait of Korematsu wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom, a scene of the internment camps to his back, surrounded by cherry blossoms, flowers that have come to be symbols of peace and friendship between the U.S. and Japan.
18 Million Rising, a nonprofit founded to promote Asian American/Pacific Islander civic engagement, influence, and movement by leveraging the power of technology and social media, sent more than 4,000 letters asking Google to honor Korematsu.
“This effort started in 2014 with a brainstorm I had with 18 Million Rising when I chaired the Korematsu Institute advisory committee,” said Keith Kamisugi of the Oakland-based Equal Justice Society. “… Every year since then, 18MR gathered petitions for this. Glad to finally see this happen!”