From right: Karen Korematsu, daughter of Fred Korematsu and founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute; Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii; and Don Tamaki of Minami Tamaki LLP, a member of Fred Korematsu’s legal team in the 1980s.
WASHINGTON – On what would have been his 100th birthday, Jan. 30, Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) introduced bicameral legislation to award Fred Korematsu the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his fight against the illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and his work to advance civil rights.
“Fred Korematsu stood up for the rights of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II, and continued his fight for decades to expand civil rights and overturn his own false criminal conviction,” Hirono said. “Awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian honor, to Fred Korematsu is a fitting tribute to his lifelong pursuit of justice and equality.”
“The placement of Japanese Americans in internment camps during WWII is a reprehensible part of our nation’s history, and the bravery demonstrated by Fred Korematsu in the defense of freedom is something that all Americans should aspire to,” Murkowski said. “In remembrance of Korematsu’s unwavering commitment to justice, equality, and the promotion of civil liberties, I am proud to co-sponsor legislation that will posthumously award him with the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the two highest civilian awards in the United States. Korematsu’s legacy is an inspiration for all who believe our nation is stronger because of our diversity.”
“Every American should know Fred Korematsu’s story, and Congress should honor his bravery and sacrifice by posthumously awarding him a Congressional Gold Medal,” Coons said. “Fred Korematsu courageously challenged discrimination and fought to defend the rights of all Japanese Americans as United States citizens when the federal government deprived him of his liberty. Korematsu’s fight for justice should remind all of us that we are most secure as a nation when we uphold our values, and defenders of those values will ultimately prevail.”
“Japanese internment is a stain on our nation’s history, and the **Korematsu v. United States** decision was a setback for racial equality and a rejection of our constitutional values,” said Gardner. “Fred Korematsu fought against this discrimination despite the consequences and his legacy of courage serves as an example for all Americans. I’m proud to join in introducing legislation to posthumously award Korematsu the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian award. His fight to promote equal protection under the law for every American underscores fundamental values of our nation: freedom, equality, security, and justice.”
Fred T. Korematsu. Hand-colored gelatin silver print, c. 1940. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Fred T. Korematsu Family.
“Nearly 75 years after the Supreme Court delivered a devastating blow to the civil liberties of Japanese Americans in the landmark **Korematsu v. United States** decision, we are witnessing and experiencing the progress we have made as a country. Progress that was made possible due to the tireless advocacy of civil rights icons like Fred Korematsu,” said Takano. “Mr. Korematsu was an outspoken activist, a fighter for justice, and a hero to many – including myself. As a son of Japanese Americans who lived through Japanese internment during World War II, I find Mr. Korematsu’s legacy to be a guiding light for the work that I do in Congress. His life’s work placed civil rights at the forefront and it has been one of the cornerstones in the movement to build an America where everyone can be treated equally under the law. That is why I am honored to introduce legislation, along with Sen. Hirono, that would posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to Fred Korematsu to honor his life-long fight in defense of the rights of all people.”
“My father, Fred T. Korematsu, was born in Oakland, Calif. 100 years ago today,” said Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute in San Francisco. “A civil rights pioneer, he dedicated his life to ‘stand up for what is right,’ and he worked to ensure what happened to him and other Japanese Americans will never happen again to any other minority group. I thank Sens. Hirono, Murkowski, Coons, and Gardner, and Congressman Takano for their introduction of the Fred Korematsu Congressional Gold Medal Act. Through this bill, it is a reminder that we must stop repeating history and, like my father, continue to champion civil liberties and the Constitution for all.”
“NAPABA is proud to honor the legacy of Fred Korematsu on his 100th birthday and encourages Congress to recognize him with a Congressional Gold Medal,” National Asian Pacific American Bar Association President Daniel Sakaguchi said. “This bill is a reminder of his important place in history and that we continue to learn from his legacy, a commitment to civil rights and justice for all. We thank Sen. Mazie Hirono, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Chris Coons, Sen. Cory Gardner, and Rep. Mark Takano for leading this bipartisan effort.”
In 1942, at the age of 23, Fred Korematsu was arrested for refusing to enter the incarceration camps for Japanese Americans. After his arrest, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld Executive Order 9066 based on military necessity.
After 40 years, on Nov. 10, 1983, Korematsu’s criminal conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco. Korematsu remained a civil rights advocate throughout his life and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton in 1998. He passed away on March 30, 2005 at the age of 86.