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[RIP] Fred Korematsu, at center of landmark internment case, dies

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  • eugenia_beh
    Posted on Wed, Mar. 30, 2005 Fred Korematsu, at center of landmark internment case, dies By Jessie Mangaliman and L.A. Chung Mercury News Fred Korematsu, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2005
      Posted on Wed, Mar. 30, 2005
      Fred Korematsu, at center of landmark internment case, dies

      By Jessie Mangaliman and L.A. Chung

      Mercury News

      Fred Korematsu, the unassuming Oakland draftsman who unsuccessfully
      challenged the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II --
      but was vindicated 40 years later -- died Wednesday of respiratory
      failure at the Marin County home of his daughter.

      Korematsu was 86.

      To many Japanese-Americans and other civil libertarians, Korematsu
      was a civil rights icon who risked not only the legal wrath of his
      own government, but the scorn of his own people when in 1944 he
      challenged the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans.

      Korematsu's stirring legal saga was the subject of an Emmy-winning
      PBS documentary in 2002: He was one of four sons of Japanese
      immigrants who owned a flower nursery. When ordered to prepare to go
      to detention camp, Korematsu refused because he believed that
      Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt, violated his
      constitutional rights.

      Korematsu went into hiding briefly, his facial features altered by
      plastic surgery. He was arrested in San Leandro.

      In May 1942, he was convicted in federal court of violating the
      presidential order. He appealed.

      In the now infamous 1944 case, Korematsu vs. United States, cited in
      every constitutional law textbook, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that
      the mass detention of Japanese-Americans was justified by national
      security concerns.

      It was a deep disappointment to young Korematsu, who was in his 20s
      at the time. But unexpectedly in 1982, three young Japanese-American
      lawyers in San Francisco approached the feisty Korematsu and
      convinced him to take his case back to court. -- Karen Kai, Don
      Tamaki and Dale Minami were energized by their own parents and
      grandparents who had been interned.

      The following year, Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of U.S. District Court
      in San Francisco, overturned Korematsu's conviction, citing
      government misconduct through suppression, alteration and burning of
      evidence, race discrimination, lack of military necessity, and
      manifest injustice. ``We were not only trying to reverse a very bad
      legal precedent,'' recalled Don Tamaki, ``but we were also trying to
      vindicate our our families.''

      To Tamaki, ``the case represented the trials that Japanese Americans
      never had.''

      ``Fred was a giant in our community and a man who fought not only for
      the civil rights for Japanese-Americans but for all Americans,''
      Minami said. ``He took an unpopular stand at a time when the country
      was in crisis. And he withstood criticism and ostracism 40 years

      Said Kai, ``There was truly an understanding that this case was a
      historic one,'' she said. ``It had tremendous meaning on a personal
      level, but also in a much larger sense in terms of constitutional law
      and civil rights.''

      Korematsu's case paved the way for the landmark 1988 Civil Liberties
      Act, when the U.S. government acknowledged that the detention of
      Japanese-Americans was wrong, and apologized.

      In 1998, President Clinton awarded Korematsu with the Presidential
      Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civil honor.

      Korematsu loomed large in the collective memory of young Japanese-
      Americans like Chris Hirano, director of community and corporate
      development for the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of
      Northern California.

      ``He's been incredibly inspiring for someone like me,'' said Hirano.
      ``He epitomized courage in the face of adversity.''

      Hirano said he's spent some time with the unassuming Korematsu.
      ``What I learned from him is a lesson in simple philosophy of doing
      what's right,'' Hirano said, ``and in in doing that, he changed the

      Contact Jessie Mangaliman at jmangaliman@m... or (408) 920-

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