Governor Pat Quinn has issued a proclamation declaring January 30 as “Fred Korematsu Day” across the state of Illinois. Illinois joins three other states, California, Hawaii and Utah, in celebrating and commemorating the life of Fred Korematsu, a hero for civil rights and liberties during the time of World War II.
The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor ignited widespread fear amongst the American people of future attacks by Japan or other Axis powers. This fear reared its ugly head in the issuance of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942. This order created 10 internment camps, labeled “relocation centers,” in California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas. More than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were ordered to relocate to these camps where they faced overcrowded, abysmal living conditions. Fred Korematsu saw the injustice in this act and refused to comply with the Order. He took great measures to do so, creating an alias and undergoing plastic surgery. In 1942, he was discovered and arrested for evading the order. Despite this, Korematsu continued to fight against the discriminatory law by turning to the courts. Korematsu challenged the Order’s constitutionality and the case against the US government went all the way to the Supreme Court. However, in a 6-3 decision, the Court upheld the Order under the justification of “national security.” It was not until 1983 that Korematsu’s conviction was overturned. Korematsu displayed great courage by refusing to relinquish his protected rights and standing up to the government’s injustice, despite the repercussions.