Maui News

US Sen. Hirono Reintroduces Legislation To Award Fred Korematsu Congressional Gold Medal

February 3, 2021, 12:50 PM HST
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Fred Korematsu. Photo by Lia Chang/Fred T. Korematsu Institute

US Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) and Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) introduced bicameral legislation to award Fred Korematsu the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his legacy of fighting against the illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and for being a staunch defender of civil rights. 

“Fred Korematsu spent his life fighting for justice and equality,” Sen. Hirono said. “But Fred’s legacy goes beyond the internment, serving as an important reminder that we must be vigilant in protecting the constitutional and civil rights of all people.

“As minority communities in this country face a surge of inequality and discrimination unleashed by former President Trump and his divisive administration, Fred’s message that we all have a responsibility to stand up for what’s right still rings true. Awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, Congress’ highest civilian honor, to Fred Korematsu is a fitting tribute to his contributions to our nation.”

Rep. Mark Takano said: “Fred Korematsu was a fierce advocate for justice, a civil rights icon and a defender of the rights of all people. In the face of injustice and while human rights atrocities were being carried out by our very own government, he stood up for the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II.

“During that time and all these years later, he was and will always be an inspiration to every person fighting to make America a more inclusive, just and equal place under the law.”

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In 1942, at age 23, Fred Korematsu was arrested and convicted for refusing to enter the internment camps for Japanese Americans. After his arrest, he appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction based on military necessity.

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After 40 years, on Nov. 10, 1983, Korematsu’s criminal conviction was vacated in a federal court in San Francisco. Korematsu remained a civil rights advocate throughout his life and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Bill Clinton in 1998. He passed away on March 30, 2005 at the age of 86.

Dr. Karen Korematsu, founder and executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute and daughter of Fred Korematsu, said: “My father crisscrossed this country teaching about the inhumanity and violation of due process of law that he and all Japanese Americans endured during WWII. His work was to ensure the lessons of history would not to be experienced by another marginalized group and encouraged all, ‘Don’t be Afraid to Speak Up’.”

Korematsu said the bill is a reminder that Americans must Stop Repeating History and like her father, continue to champion Civil Liberties and the Constitution by remembering his message, “Stand Up for What is Right.”

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Sen. Hirono and Rep. Takano first introduced legislation to award Fred Korematsu the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019

Sen. Hirono also led the effort to recognize January 30 as “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution” for his opposition to the illegal incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and work to advance civil rights.

In 2017, Senators Hirono and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced the Korematsu-Takai Civil Liberties Protection Act of 2019 to ensure that no individual is imprisoned or detained based upon a protected characteristic such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. The Senators originally introduced this legislation in 2017.

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