BERKELEY -- Fred Korematsu on Sunday made history a second time, becoming the first Asian-American to have a day named after him by a U.S. state.
The inaugural Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution drew enough people to pack Wheeler Hall on the UC Berkeley campus in honor of the man's fight against the World War II forced internment of Japanese-Americans.
The internment came on the heels of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and affected more than 100,000 residents, the bulk of whom were U.S. citizens. Thousands lost their homes and other property -- in many cases permanently. Korematsu, an Oakland native, refused, and he was arrested and convicted of defying the presidential order.
He took his case to the Supreme Court, but lost. It wasn't until 1983 that a renewed legal struggle got his conviction overturned and garnered an official apology from the federal government.
He died in 2005, but a foundation in his name continues to spread the word, offering free educational materials to teachers and uniting civil rights activists and scholars.
At the ceremonies Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson compared Korematsu's long struggle with those of civil rights heroes Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela, saying he should be spoken of with the same reverence and inspiration.
"He should be an ever-present figure," Jackson said. "His struggle is as real today as it was 40 years ago."
"We're all aware of the African-American
Andre Alexander, a ninth-grader at the Fred T. Korematsu campus of San Leandro High School, called his school's namesake "a very influential leader who taught us that when you feel it isn't right, to fight for your beliefs and to stand up for yourself and people who are also facing discrimination."
Alexander quoted Korematsu, saying, "I really hope this will never happen to anybody else because of the way they look, even if they look like the enemy of our country."
In a video, Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said the struggle is especially meaningful today with Muslims and Middle-Easterners facing discrimination, fear and hatred in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The day continued a big month for Asian-Americans -- mayors Edwin Lee and Jean Quan, of San Francisco and Oakland, are the first Chinese-Americans in their jobs, and both attended the ceremony. Quan said she knew Korematsu: "He was a quiet, unassuming, hardworking guy. He never gave a speech longer than two minutes."
Korematsu's daughter, Karen, opened the ceremony in front of a sold-out crowd by calling out to her father, "Happy birthday, daddy! We're all here to honor you." He would have been 92 on Sunday, she said.
"Even when the internment was over and he was free, he knew he had to keep fighting," she said.
"If Japan did something crazy and it happened again, he couldn't protect his children. It was a very unsettling question to carry around: Could this happen again?"
However, she said, she didn't know anything about it -- she hadn't even discussed the internment with her family -- until her junior year in high school, when a classmate gave a book report on the subject and mentioned the Supreme Court case with her father's name in it.
"All of a sudden there were 35 pairs of eyeballs turning to me in class," Korematsu said. "I had no idea."
That quietness, that locking away of the past, is common among those who were interned, so public awareness is also a part of the campaign to honor her father's legacy, Karen Korematsu said.
She now heads the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, raising funds to send free educational tools to California teachers to help raise awareness. Information is online at KorematsuInstitute.org.
"He used to go around to schools and always got a great reaction from students," Korematsu said. "He gave life to history."