Lawmakers seek to honor human rights activist Fred Korematsu ⋆

Nearly 20 years after his death, Michigan lawmakers are poised to formally recognize the life of Fred Korematsu, who defied the U.S. government’s policy of Japanese American internment during World War II. 

The Michigan Senate on March 9 unanimously passed SB 18, sponsored by state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit). The measure seeks to designate each Jan. 30 as “Fred Korematsu Day” in Michigan. A companion measure, sponsored by state Rep. Sharon MacDonell (D-Troy), is HB 4018 and is being considered by the lower chamber.  

Sen. Stephanie Chang, Oct. 31, 2019 | C.J. Moore

“Mr. Korematsu had strong ties to Michigan and his growing legacy continues to inspire people of all backgrounds,” Chang wrote to her constituency earlier this month about Korematsu, who was born in Oakland, Calif., in 1919 to Japanese immigrants.  

After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941, an internment order was initiated by Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The following year, Korematsu, a U.S. citizen who was 23 at the time, refused to go to a federal government internment camp designed for Japanese Americans. 

He was arrested and convicted of defying the government’s order. Korematsu became plaintiff in the case Korematsu v. United States, a 1944 landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court ruling upheld the exclusion of Japanese Americans during World War II. Justice Frank Murphy, a former Detroit mayor, Michigan governor and U.S. attorney general, voted in the minority. He wrote at the time that the decision “falls into the ugly abyss of racism.”  

During World War II, the federal government relocated and incarcerated more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent in dozens of sites. Korematsu was released from a Utah detention camp in 1945 and later moved to Detroit after World War II, where his younger brother lived. 

On Nov. 10, 1983, his conviction was overturned in a federal court in San Francisco — the site where he was convicted more than 40 years before. 

Korematsu spoke to 400 students, faculty and former internees at the University of Michigan Law School on Feb. 9, 1989.

“America finally came through for me, but I don’t want this to happen again,” Korematsu said at the time. 

All Americans should know that this happened and ensure it never happens again.

– Rep. Sharon MacDonell (D-Troy)

MacDonell said she didn’t remember learning about the history of Japanese-American internments until college and she hopes her legislation will honor those who were imprisoned.   

“Having Fred Korematsu Day in Michigan is important to me not only to honor Korematsu himself, but also in honor of the 110,000 Japanese-Americans unjustly incarcerated during World War II,” said MacDonell. “I fear that far too few Americans know about this dark history, which means they don’t know something like this not only could happen but that it already has.” 

The lawmaker said her parents-in-law, Jim and Tomoye “Toby” Kubota, were both incarcerated in the camps as children and “my father-in-law spent much of the rest of his life teaching people about it and making sure his grandchildren knew the truth. 

“All Americans should know that this happened and ensure it never happens again,” MacDonell added.

President Bill Clinton presented to Fred Korematsu the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. Korematsu died in 2005.

Earlier this year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed Jan. 30, 2023, Fred Korematsu Day in Michigan.

authored by Ken Coleman
First published at

Comments are closed.