Program Recalls Courage of Fred Korematsu and his Fight for Justice

Program Recalls Courage of Fred Korematsu and his Fight for Justice

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Fred Korematsu made history by challenging the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Honolulu high school students experienced that history firsthand during a courtroom reenactment of Korematsu’s fight for racial justice that included the attorneys who represented him.

The event, hosted by Hawaii’s U.S. District Court, was part of a two-day program celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

  • U.S. District Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi stands alongside Fred Korematsu’s daughter and three of his attorneys during a special program at the federal courthouse in Honolulu. Volunteers for the program are also pictured.
  • Karen Korematsu, executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, speaks as a panelist during a special program at a federal courthouse.
  • Dale Minami, wearing a blue shirt, speaks during a panel discussion at the Honolulu federal courthouse.
  • An audience watches a reenactment of Korematsu v. U.S. at the Honolulu federal courthouse.
  • Eric Yamamoto, wearing a blue and white floral shirt and floral lei, discusses the importance of having a federal court vacate Korematsu’s conviction, some 40 years later.

“The reenactment of Korematsu v. U.S. and the legal proceedings that vacated his conviction 40 years later brought to light the history of Asian Pacific Americans who changed the world,” said Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi, of the District of Hawaii, who led the event at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Honolulu. “The students learned firsthand about the impact federal courts have on the course of history and on their daily lives.”

In Korematsu v. U.S., Korematsu challenged his arrest when he tried to evade being relocated with more than 125,000 other Japanese Americans, under an order signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He lost his case in 1944, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of excluding Japanese Americans from West Coast states. Some 40 years later, Dale Minami led a team of lawyers who were successful in having a federal court vacate Korematsu’s conviction and dismiss the underlying indictment.

“It was the case of a lifetime for someone like me to vindicate our families and community who were incarcerated in camps without due process or evidence that they presented a danger to America’s security,” said Minami. “It was an opportunity to correct the false narrative of our history, address the horrible precedents of the original cases, and lift the wrongful convictions of the courageous people who stood up against the racist military orders that led to the incarceration of more than 125,000 Japanese Americans.”

More than 80 students from three high schools witnessed local attorneys, a federal judge, and a law professor reenact Korematsu’s journey through the courts, then asked questions of panelists who included his daughter Karen Korematsu, executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, and three of her father’s attorneys, Dale Minami, Leigh-Ann Miyasato, and Eric Yamamoto.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” Kobayashi said. “By connecting young people with individuals who have stood up against injustice through the federal court system, we hope to inform and inspire the next generation to be active participants in our democracy and in the courts.”

The program also was presented separately to more than 90 members of the state court system, including Hawaii Supreme Court justices, intermediate appellate court judges, and trial court judges, law clerks, and attorneys who practice in state courts. Law professors and law students also were in the audience.

The reenactment is one of a series developed by Second Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Denny Chin, attorney volunteer Kathy Hirata Chin, and the Asian American Bar Association of New York. The scripts allow audiences to experience history through performances based on court transcripts and other primary sources that are part of the nation’s legal history. 

“All of us have seen countless courtroom dramas depicted in film and television, but sitting in the physical space of the federal courtroom and listening to judges, attorneys, and family members re-enact and discuss a case as important to the legal history of the United States as Korematsu v. U.S. was a powerful reminder that the issues contested in the case remain relevant today, and a reminder that our work to protect those at risk of marginalization cannot flag or falter,” said Josh Hernandez Morse, who heads one of the participating schools. 

The two-day “Fred Korematsu and His Fight for Justice” program was co-sponsored by the Hawaii chapters of the Federal Bar Association and the National Asian and Pacific American Bar Association.

Learn more about the life and legal struggle of Fred Korematsu and view other heritage month resources.

Related Topics: Public Education

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