In 1942, Fred Korematsu said "no," and took a stand against the federal government.
Korematsu is one of four men who defied the government executive order 9066, which established concentration camps in the U.S. where Japanese-Americans were forcibly moved to from their homes to be incarcerated during World War II. Korematsu's case challenging the mass incarceration was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 1944. The highest court in the land upheld his conviction for not reporting for his incarceration in a 6-3 ruling. However, Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson disagreed strongly with the court, and although in the minority at the time, his dissenting opinion continues to be read today in law schools as a major definition of the rights of the individual versus the power of the government.
On Thursday, Korematsu's daughter, Karen, was interviewed by Greg Peterson, Robert H. Jackson Center co-founder, at the Jackson Center about her father. Korematsu said she learned about her father's civil rights case for the first time in high school when she was a junior. She said it wasn't something he talked much about. However, she said when he did speak about his stand against the government, he would sum it up in straightforward terms.
From left, Greg Peterson, Robert H. Jackson Center co-founder, interviews Karen Korematsu, daughter of Fred Korematsu, about her father who refused the government order to be incarcerated in Japanese-American concentration camps.
P-J photo by Dennis Phillips
"He did what he thought was right, and the government was wrong. It was that simple to him," she said.
Korematsu said her father was not the angry type and was not bitter about his conviction for not reporting to the concentration camps.
"He had a sense of right and wrong," she said.
In 1983, the federal case against Korematsu was reopened. During the case, it was discovered the Justice Department lied, altered evidence and withheld evidence, which lead to the case being reopened. On Nov. 10, 1983, federal court overturned the case. During the court case, Korematsu was asked if he would take a pardon. He said "no" because being pardon means you were guilty.
"My father should have been able to pardon the government," Korematsu said.
Korematsu said when the original decision was overturned, her father was stunned.
"It was the day in court Japanese-Americans never got. There was no due process," she said about the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in 1942.
The Supreme Court's ruling still has not been changed.
In 2009, Korematsu was the co-founder of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education. The institute, which advances pan-ethnic civil and human rights through education, develops and distributes free curriculum about Fred Korematsu's story, the Japanese-American incarceration, and current civil rights issues, to classrooms around the United States. As such, Korematsu presented lesson plans and other classroom materials during a Jackson Center-sponsored Western New York Teacher Conference held earlier in the day.