What’s the story behind Fred Korematsu?

This story was originally published in the February 2, 2018 edition of The Slant. Want Asian American news, media and culture in your inbox every Friday? Subscribe here.

Tuesday, January 30th, was the birthday of Fred Korematsu—the Japanese American civil rights leader who refused to be interned during World War II. He was the one that fought relentlessly against racism for Japanese Americans, right? Right.

And for many, that’s where their knowledge about Fred Korematsu stops.

It gets more interesting… and current.

When he chose to defy the internment order, Korematsu changed his name to Clyde Sarah and had plastic eye surgery to look less Japanese. But he was still caught and imprisoned. Then the ACLU got involved and helped him challenge the constitutionality of Japanese internment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

They argued that the incarceration wasn’t racist, but the Army claimed that Japanese Americans signaled enemy ships from ashore and were predisposed to disloyalty. The case was ruled against him 6 -3.

But the tables turned

Lawyers dug into the case further and found suppressed reports of the FBI and FCC denying that Japanese Americans had committed any wrongdoing. In 1983, the U.S. District Court finally overturned Korematsu’s case, but he continued to fight for an official apology and reparations from the government.

So we’re honoring his legacy today, when his work feels more relevant than ever. As we stare down Muslim bans and further attacks on immigration, Korematsu reminds us to continue to seek justice for those where being an American citizen was never enough.

Natalie Bui, editor

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