California Marks the First Fred Korematsu Day

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He had just changed his name and undergone plastic surgery to alter his eyes. All he wanted was to be left alone.

On May 30, 1942, Fred Korematsu was waiting for his girlfriend on a street corner in San Leandro, Calif., a small city near San Francisco. That day was just like any other day, except that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor six months earlier, and anti-Japanese sentiment had reached a frenzy in the U.S. Korematsu, an American-born citizen of Japanese descent, was living in hiding. On Feb. 19, President Franklin Roosevelt had issued Executive Order 9066, mandating the mass roundup and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Korematsu's family had already abandoned their home and flower-nursery business in order to report to the camps. Fred, a 23-year-old shipyard welder, chose to remain behind and take his chances.

But instead of his girlfriend, police officers showed up. By that time, it was illegal for Japanese Americans on the West Coast to be freely walking down the street. A local newspaper headline read "Jap spy arrested in San Leandro." Within three months, Korematsu was convicted in a federal court of violating military orders, placed on probation and sent to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, Calif., one of several horse-racing tracks that had been hastily converted to house thousands of Japanese Americans while 10 more permanent camps were under construction. Soon, the family was sent to an incarceration camp in the middle of a Utah desert....

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