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Oakland-born activist honored

January 30 was the second annual celebration of Fred Korematsu Day, the first day in the United States named after an Asian American.

Fred Korematsu was born and raised in Oakland. In 1942, Korematsu refused to go to the Japanese internment camps and challenged their legality. He was 23. Korematsu appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court and lost. In 1983, though, a team of mostly Japanese-American attorneys reopened Korematsu’s 40-year-old case and Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in federal court. It was a pivotal moment in civil rights history.

Korematsu remained an activist throughout his life. In 1998, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Korematsu died March 30, 2005, at the age of 86. Hundreds of people packed his memorial service at First Presbyterian Church of Oakland to pay their respects.

In 2010, California passed AB 1775, the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution bill, which encourages schools across the state to teach students about Fred Korematsu’s story and its relevance in today’s post-9/11 environment.

The Oakland Museum of California hosted a Fred Korematsu Day program this year. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Korematsu’s daughter Karen Korematsu spoke. Students from Korematsu Discovery Academy in Oakland performed, as well as vocalist Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto and koto player Brian Mitsuhiro Wong. The film Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story was screened.