Google Doodle Honors Fred Korematsu, Activist Who Fought U.S. Internment of Japanese Americans

Civil rights activist Fred Korematsu, an Oakland native who fought the government's internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, was honored by Google Doodle on Monday on what would have been his 98th birthday.

Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the infamous Executive Order 9066, which forced about 115,000 American citizens of Japanese descent to live in designated military zones. The internment is now seen as an ugly moment in American history, in which fear outweighed tolerance.

Korematsu, the son of Japanese immigrants, refused to go into the government's internment camps and was arrested and convicted of breaking military law. With the help of the ACLU, Korematsu appealed in the landmark Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. United States, but in 1944 the court ruled against him. He and his family were then sent to the Central Utah War Relocation Center until the end of the war in 1945.

Korematsu's conviction was overturned in 1983 when evidence came to light that showed the FBI knew there was no serious evidence that America's Japanese population was helping the enemy. TIME wrote:
The Supreme Court precedent would still stand, but the judge who cleared Korematsu's conviction declared in her ruling that, in the words of the report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation, "Korematsu lies overruled in the court of history."
Korematsu remained an activist throughout his life, becoming a member of the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations, where he lobbied for a bill that would grant an official apology from the government and compensation of $20,000 for the Japanese Americans who were held in internment camps. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the reparations legislation and redress into law.President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. The medal is seen in the Google Doodle drawn by Sophie Diao, who is also a child of Asian immigrants. Korematsu's birthday, Jan. 30, is now officially recognized as Fred Korematsu Day in Hawaii, Virginia, California and Florida.

We could do a daily feature on the creative doodles Google posts, but today's is especially poignant given the political climate.

It features a cartoon image of Fred Korematsu, an activist who fought against the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. It would have been his 98th birthday today.

When President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942 in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Korematsu, the son of Japanese immigrants, refused to go.

He did not want to be separated from his Italian-American girlfriend. He was arrested later that year and was sent to the Tanforan internment facility, a former racetrack south of San Francisco, California.

A month later, in June 1941, Korematsu, with the help of the ACLU, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for violating his constitutional rights. The court ruled against him, and he was sentenced to five months probation. Korematsu appealed his case all the way up to the Supreme Court, which also ruled against him in 1944.

Thirty-nine years later, with the help of a law professor and a team of mostly Asian-American lawyers, a federal judge reversed the decision. In 1998, President Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He died in March 2005.

Google Doodle honors Fred Korematsu, who fought president’s executive order on Japanese internment

“If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up.” — Fred Korematsu

TODAY, as Google honors civil rights leader Fred Korematsu through its home-page Doodle, some of the most memorable words about the man and his actions — he once defied a president’s executive order that was rooted in ethnic prejudice — can be found on the White House’s own website:

“Today, we remember the dangers of casting stereotypes on entire communities, and we recommit to our country’s ideals of protecting civil rights and promoting an environment where people can strive to achieve the American dream based on the content of one’s character, not the color of one’s skin.”

So wrote Akil Vohra in 2011, as senior adviser at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, about the man famous for the 1944 Supreme Court case Korematsu v. United States, in which he fought against Japanese internment during World War II. Those words (now in the archives of the pages from then-President Barack Obama’s tenure) were published in 2011 just after Jan. 30, which was proclaimed Fred T. Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution to celebrate “the legacy of a courageous man who has left a message not just for one community, but for the entire country.”

He was, in other words, a human rights champion who fought against demeaning and demonizing people by race and nationality.

Korematsu, who died in 2005 in Marin County, would have turned 98 today. And seven years before his passing, when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Bill Clinton said that Korematsu’s name stood along those of such brave and justice-seeking “ordinary citizens” as Homer Plessy, Oliver Brown and Rosa Parks.

Korematsu’s courage during World War II centered on taking a stand against the government’s internment of many of its own citizens in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, approved the incarceration of about 120,000 people — most of Japanese descent, and two-thirds of them U.S. citizens — who were taken from their homes. Korematsu — a 23-year-old foreman in his native Oakland who was denied Coast Guard enlistment because of his ethnicity — refused to go, went into hiding and was eventually arrested. He lost his landmark case before the Supreme Court and was sent to a Utah relocation center.

Four decades later, his conviction was finally overturned.

In 2010, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — long before replacing President Trump as “Celebrity Apprentice” host — signed the Fred Korematsu Day bill, creating the first day in American history to be named for an Asian American.

Several months later, said:

“In June 1983, the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians concluded that the decision to remove those people of Japanese ancestry to U.S. prison camps occurred because of ‘race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.’ ”

At every level of American life, we forever relearn these hard lessons.

Today’s Google Doodle — of Korematsu wearing his Medal of Freedom and surrounded by symbolic cherry blossoms — is by Sophie Diao, the daughter of Asian immigrants.

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