Advance Notice: Briefs

Whitmer signs ‘Fred Korematsu Day’ legislation 

By: - May 19, 2023 11:27 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed Senate Bill 18, which designates Jan. 30 of each year as “Fred Korematsu Day.” 

“The state of Michigan … recognizes the historic contributions to civil liberties made by Fred Korematsu, a courageous activist and advocate who stood up against racism and oppression,” Whitmer said.

Fred T. Korematsu | Fred T. Korematsu Institute photo

Fred Korematsu was born in 1919 to Japanese immigrant parents in Oakland, California. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, President Franklin Roosevelt in 1942 issued an executive order authorizing the U.S. Secretary of War and military commanders to require all Americans of Japanese ancestry be placed in internment camps. 

Korematsu was arrested at age 23 for defying the government’s order and appealed his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In the landmark decision Korematsu v. United States, the court ruled against him. Korematsu was released from a Utah detention camp in 1945; he later moved to Detroit, where his younger brother lived. He remained a civil rights activist all his life and died in 2005.

Korematsu’s conviction was vacated on Nov. 10, 1983, but the Korematsu decision was not overturned until 2018. Fred Korematsu Day has also been recognized in the states of Hawaii, Utah, Georgia, Virginia, and California. 

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), who sponsored Senate Bill 18, thanked Whitmer for signing the legislation.

“This is a terrific way to celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month — by formally recognizing how important it is that we learn about Japanese American incarceration camps and acknowledging the important contributions of Fred Korematsu to our history,” Chang said. “Korematsu was a civil liberties icon whose courage and conviction will serve as a model for generations to come.”

A companion measure to the Michigan Senate legislation, House Bill 4018,  honors the human rights activist and is sponsored by state Rep. Sharon MacDonell (D-Troy). Earlier this year, Whitmer proclaimed Jan. 30, 2023, Fred Korematsu Day in Michigan.

During World War II, the federal government relocated and incarcerated about 120,000 Japanese Americans. The government made no charges against them, nor could they appeal their incarceration. Many of the individuals incarcerated lost their homes and property. 

Despite their incarceration, Americans of Japanese descent were encouraged to serve in the U.S. armed forces; some were drafted. More than 30,000 Japanese Americans served in segregated units during World War II.


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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.