Honoring Fred Korematsu

He stood firm against the indefinite detention of Japanese-Americans

Monday, Jan. 30, was Fred Korematsu Day in California. I suspect not many people celebrated it, though I hope it got some play in school classrooms. These days, with the president having signed an order allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens, it’s important to remember who Fred Korematsu was and what he accomplished.

Korematsu was the most famous resister against the government’s forced internment of Japanese citizens during World War II, hiding out from the authorities and even having plastic surgery done on his eyelids to disguise himself as a non-Asian. When caught, he became the central figure in the American Civil Liberties Union’s legal challenge, Korematsu v. United States, to the mass internment.

The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which deemed the government’s exclusion order constitutional by a 6-3 vote. Years later it came out that the solicitor general, Charles Fahy, had suppressed evidence by keeping from the court a report from the Office of Naval Intelligence indicating that “there was no evidence Japanese Americans were disloyal, were acting as spies or were signaling enemy submarines.” In 1983, a federal judge overturned Korematsu’s conviction for evading internment, and in 1998 President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.

Shortly before his death in 2005, at the age of 86, Korematsu said, “I’ll never forget my government treating me like this. And I really hope that this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, if they look like the enemy of our country,” Wikipedia reports.

In his Korematsu Day proclamation, Gov. Jerry Brown said, “Fred Korematsu was, in the best sense of both words, an ordinary hero. A native Californian, born and raised in Oakland and a welder by trade, he simply refused to accept his government’s order to relocate under the brutal and misguided policy of Japanese-American internment during World War II.

“Korematsu’s staunch determination to be treated like the loyal American citizen he was came to define his life story, in both his decades-long legal battle against internment and his later recognition as a leader in the cause of civil rights. On this 93rd anniversary of his birth, we remember him as one who resisted injustice during a dark chapter in our nation’s history, and later worked tirelessly to prevent its repetition.”

A Chico icon passes on: Jacki Headley died Saturday, Jan. 28, at the age of 60, after battling brain cancer. She was in many ways the quintessential modern Chico business woman, creative, adventurous and utterly loyal to this community. She started Woof & Poof, a manufacturer of sewn gift products sold around the world, in 1975, and the local-centric retail outlet Made in Chico in 1982.

I first met Jacki in 1980, when she was a leader in the effort to preserve the historic Nottleman Building from demolition to make way for a bank’s drive-up window. It’s fitting that Made in Chico is now located in that building.

Our condolences go out to her husband of 33 years, Graham Hutton, and sons Christopher and Oliver Hutton.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.