Have you seen today’s Google Doodle? Today’s doodle shows a picture of an elderly bespectacled man named Fred Korematsu, and it will doubtless leave many scratching their heads. Who was Korematsu, and what did he do to deserve recognition by Google in one of their famous doodles? Fred Korematsu was a Japanese-American man who was born in 1919 and died in 2005. Korematsu was born in Oakland, California, and his parents had moved to the U.S. from Japan in 1905. Today would have been his 98th birthday.
Fred Korematsu was a lifelong civil rights activist who came to prominence for protesting against the U.S. government’s decision to place Japanese-American citizens into internment camps after the Japanese entered World War II by bombing the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor.
As reported by the Sacramento Bee, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order to imprison over 115,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent for the duration of the war. Korematsu refused to surrender himself voluntarily and went into hiding. Korematsu had attempted to enlist in the U.S. National Guard and Coast Guard but was refused enlistment because of his Japanese ancestry.
Korematsu was 22-years-old when he went into hiding but was arrested in 1942. Mr. Korematsu was convicted and imprisoned for “evading internment,” and he began a lengthy legal battle. Korematsu believed that President Roosevelt’s executive order was unconstitutional, and he took his legal battle against the government all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled against Korematsu, and he and his family spent three years in a Utah internment camp.
Korematsu’s experiences led to him becoming a leading civil rights campaigner, but his conviction for evading internment was not overturned until 1983. Oddly, Roosevelt’s executive order was not formally ended until 1976. President Gerald Ford apologized to Japanese-Americans for the internment, saying that “we now know what we should have known then — not only was that evacuation wrong but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans.”
When President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, he too apologized for the internment of Japanese-Americans and said that “wartime hysteria” had been to blame for the government of the day making ill-judged decisions. Time Magazine reports that Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1998.
By highlighting Fred Korematsu’s battle with bad presidential executive orders, they are highlighting the fact that Donald Trump is not the first U.S. president to sign and executive order targeting a specific racial or ethnic group.
Donald Trump’s “Muslim Ban” Draws Worldwide Condemnation on Fred Korematsu Day
It is unlikely that anyone has missed the furor that President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries has caused. Trump’s order has led to protests at airports and has drawn condemnation from world leaders. Over the weekend, Google raised concerns about the effect that President Trump’s order would have on the company and its workers.
Today, the Independent reports that Google has set up a $4 million fund to help “fight Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.” In a statement to USA Today, Google joined a host of other technology firms in condemning President Trump’s actions.
“We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the U.S., we’ll continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere.”
Doubtless, Fred Korematsu would have been leading the protests against President Trump’s executive order. Korematsu even predicted that we could see the return of the internment of U.S. citizens. Shortly before his death in 2005, Korematsu forecast that the horrors of 9/11 and the “War on Terror” could lead to similar treatment of American Muslims.
“Fears and prejudices directed against minority communities are too easy to evoke and exaggerate, often to serve the political agendas of those who promote those fears. I know what it is like to be at the other end of such scapegoating and how difficult it is to clear one’s name after unjustified suspicions are endorsed as fact by the government.
“If someone is a spy or terrorist they should be prosecuted for their actions. But no one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. If that principle was not learned from the internment of Japanese Americans, then these are very dangerous times for our democracy.”
On Fred Korematsu Day, and in the wake of President Trump’s executive order, many will wonder of we have yet to learn the lessons of the past.
[Featured Image by Dennis Cook/AP Images]