Fred Korematsu resisted orders to be interned during
World War II and was arrested in San Leandro.
San Leandro’s ubiquitous weekly newspaper, the San Leandro Times, published a letter to editor this week that calls Civil Rights icon Fred Korematsu a criminal for resisting internment during World War II. In addition, the author says, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was justified.
“I wasn’t alive in WWII, but I do not remember him as a civil rights pioneer but as a criminal,” wrote San Leandro resident Cynthia Melendy. “American citizen or not, the relocation was a prudent action. It is a myth that it was wrong to send Japanese to internment camps. What about sacrificing to support your country?”
Despite the writer’s sentiment, Korematsu is lauded as a local hero not just in San Leandro, but nationwide. In light of current fears held many Americans that potential attacks on civil liberties and animosity toward immigrant populations under President Trump will occur, Korematsu’s historical refusal to cooperate with internment orders in 1942 is likely to further raise his profile among activists.
The San Leandro Times, whether to be salacious
or merely to fill column space, has allowed
similarly vile letters to be published since 2010.
In 2010, San Leandro named the new eighth grade campus at San Leandro High School after Korematsu as have many other schools. Korematsu was born in Oakland and attended Castlemont High School. Later, Korematsu worked in a nursery in San Leandro and upon orders in May 1942 to report to assembly centers, he went into hiding, underwent surgery on his eyelids in attempt to look Caucasian, and was ultimately arrested on the corner of East 14th Street and Joaquin Avenue in San Leandro.
President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. The state designated Jan. 30 as the “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution.” Korematsu passed away in 2005.
In the past, blatantly racist letters have been published by the San Leandro Times on numerous occasions. In 2010, San Leandro Times editors printed a letter that asserted, “As far as I’m concerned, all the illegals of all kinds should be rounded up and escorted out of the country…We’ve been taken advantage of by ignoring our laws and will pay dearly for it. It is not fair for California and its citizens to ignore this anymore.”
Two years later, the San Leandro Times printed a letter that opposed legalizing gay marriage, but labeled the LGBT community’s efforts in derogatory terms. “The working class will always reject the degenerations of nature that threaten humanity,” the San Leandro resident wrote.
In less controversial tones, the paper has proven adept at highlighting opinions well outside the norm of typical San Leandrans. When a few residents wrote cranky letters to the editor complaining about the supposed impropriety of the 55-foot-tall nude sculpture of a woman to be placed near the San Leandro BART station, it was picked up by several news outlets, including some worldwide. No such uproar existed in the city.