During the height of Pearl Harbor hysteria, Fred Korematsu was arrested on the corner of East 14th Street and Joaquin Avenue for being of Japanese descent. Sixty-seven years later and less than a mile away, the San Leandro School Board unanimously voted to name the ninth grade campus after the civil rights leader.
Korematsu, who died in 2005, may not be the most recognizable in a short list of notable American civil rights heroes, but his contributions to rectifying one of the United States government’s darkest moments is widely respected among activists and legal scholars
“I hope my father’s story will be an inspiration to high school kids,” Karen Korematsu said of her father, “because they need positive role models.”
Through three rounds of balloting, Korematsu received votes from every school trustee. Slain San Leandro Policeman Dan Niemi and the generic word “freshman” were also finalists.
“This is an example of how we want to model our students after,” said School Board President Mike Katz. “Because of his willingness to break the law, millions were able to regain their civil rights.”
Former board trustee and mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy said none of the city’s schools are named for San Leandrans or minorities. “This is an opportunity to offer a civics lesson,” said Cassidy, who was one of a small group who revved the campaign to use the soon-to-be-completed high school campus to honor Korematsu.
Korematsu’s friend from his time as president of the San Leandro Lions Club recalls an unassuming, gentle man who enjoyed his pipe. When asked what Korematsu would make of the school district’s honor bestowed upon him, Ray Kaden said, “He would pull twice from his pipe and say ‘good.'”
“You wouldn’t know he did what he did,” said Kaden. “You had to pull information out of him. He never boasted about it.”
One overlooked aspect of the internment experience was a lack of opposition from Japanese-Americans who viewed capitulation as a way of proving their loyalty to the U.S. Kaden remembers a Japanese-American Lions Club member who still harbored animosity towards Korematsu’s for his actions.
Korematsu’s long fight for justice began after President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered over 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Korematsu resisted and became a fugitive, attempting to alter his features to look Caucasian and changed his name to elude authorities. On May 30, 1942, he was arrested in San Leandro. His case was subsequently used to test the government’s authority to detain Japanese-Americans. He was later convicted of disobeying the executive order which was upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeals and famously at the U.S. Supreme Court. Legal experts call the decision one of the worst in American legal history.
In 1983, a team of lawyers, including Alameda County Superior Court Judge Dennis Hayashi, successfully argued for the reversal of Korematsu’s 1943 conviction. The decision later led to an apology from the U.S. government and reparations. With his legacy already secure, Korematsu stood defiant before the government once more and said, ““If anyone should do any pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to the Japanese-American people.”
The Citizen FILE on FRED KOREMATSU…
>>>Civil Rights Leader Tops List of Ninth Grade Campus Nominees, Dec. 1, 2009.
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