If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up. — Fred Korematsu
You may not have heard about a man named Fred Korematsu. Because my mother and her family were Japanese American internees during World War II, I’d read a bit about his history. But the more I learn about him, the more fascinated I am by his courage and persistence.
Mr. Korematsu was one of only a handful of Japanese Americans to stand up against the government by defying President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which forced 120,000 people of Japanese descent from their homes and into internment camps.
I only learned today after reading this biography, that Mr. Korematsu went so far as to have his eyes altered by a plastic surgeon, change his name to Clyde Sarah, and claim to be of Spanish and Hawaiian descent, to keep from going to internment.
But in May, 1942, he was arrested in California. In September, 1942, he was convicted of violating military orders issued under Executive Order 9066 and was sent to Tanforan Assembly Center (a former horse racetrack) and later to Topaz–the same internment camp where my mother and her family were sent.
Mr. Korematsu later appealed, but in 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, 6 to 3.
In 1983, a federal court in San Francisco overturned Mr. Korematsu’s conviction, however to-date, the Supreme Court ruling still stands.
According to the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, at the federal court hearing, Mr. Korematsu stated:
“According to the Supreme Court decision regarding my case, being an American citizen was not enough. They say you have to look like one, otherwise they say you can’t tell a difference between a loyal and a disloyal American. I thought that this decision was wrong and I still feel that way. As long as my record stands in federal court, any American citizen can be held in prison or concentration camps without a trial or a hearing. That is if they look like the enemy of our country. Therefore, I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed or color.”
How would history be different if more people had the courage to speak up?