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Editor’s note: Fred Korematsu died last week at age 86, after fighting — and eventually winning — a decades-long legal battle over the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his conviction for defying the internment order. In 1983, a team of volunteer lawyers won a coram nobis petition that reversed the conviction. Below, some members of the team remember their once-in-a-lifetime client. * * * When we first began meeting with Fred and Kathryn Korematsu, they were concerned about all the attention and publicity his case would generate, so I promised we would protect them from the press. We recognized the enormous educational significance of his case but we sincerely wanted to honor their request for privacy. At least until the first reporter asked for an interview. We told them it was just a local paper with a small circulation and a sympathetic reporter. Fred did the interview. Then other local papers asked for interviews. We told Fred they would be short and the articles would be quite sympathetic. He did the interviews. Then The New York Times called. Again, he met with the reporter. Then “60 Minutes” contacted us. By then, Kathryn and Fred were getting a little suspicious about this “protection” we had offered and, when they learned there were about 15 more interview requests pending, I did what the best criminals do not do when cornered: I confessed that I had lied. They laughed because by then, Fred understood this monumental and unique role history had thrust on him, and despite his reticence, his health, the loss of time from work and the loss of privacy, he knew he had to speak out against his own injustice and the injustices suffered by the Japanese-American community. And he continued to speak out for 20 more years, not just about the Japanese-American incarceration but against racial profiling and attacks on civil rights. Ironically, this quiet, humble, once private man became a powerful public spokesman for us all. — Dale Minami * * * Fred’s case was remarkable in many ways. Constitutional law scholars have described the 1944 Supreme Court precedent as “a civil liberties disaster.” Its reopening in 1983 was based upon the accidental discovery of secret wartime intelligence reports admitting that Japanese-Americans had committed no wrong, upon letters between government lawyers cautioning that failure to disclose these authoritative reports to the court “might approximate the suppression of evidence” and upon Justice Department memoranda characterizing the army’s claims that Japanese-Americans were spying as “intentional falsehoods.” For the Japanese-American attorneys on the legal team, this was no ordinary case. It was our own parents and grandparents who had been locked up with Fred and almost 120,000 other Americans, merely for looking like the enemy. So long as this blot on the historical record remained, could we ever take our rightful place as Americans? We were on a mission to vindicate our own families, and Fred’s case came to symbolize the trials that they never had. Fred effusively thanked us for our pro bono work, but the truth of the matter was that we would have paid to be a part of this legal team. We had the time of our lives. During the litigation, Justice Department lawyers offered a pardon to Fred if he would agree to drop his lawsuit. In rejecting the offer, Kathryn Korematsu, his wife of 58 years, said, “Fred was not interested in a pardon from the government; instead, he always felt that it was the government who should seek a pardon from him and from Japanese-Americans for the wrong that was committed.” She may not have realized it at the time, but Kathryn had articulated the sentiments that Americans of Japanese ancestry had kept inside for more than 40 years. — Don Tamaki * * * Fred was recovering from surgery the day the legal team announced the filing of the coram nobis suit. He seemed frail and his voice was soft — a marked contrast to the fiery Min Yasui and the professorial Gordon Hirabayashi, his fellow petitioners. Yet he spoke with quiet conviction of the wrong that had been done more than 40 years before, and of his determination to fight for justice for all Japanese-Americans. He appeared so ordinary, but his strength of character was extraordinary. He was a modest man who never sought the spotlight, and that is why it was gratifying to see him receive the recognition and honor he so richly deserved. It transformed his life. That shy, retiring guy became a public speaker, a world traveler, a civil rights icon, a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. He even became a party animal, attending numerous fundraisers and community events in support of civil rights causes. His family was transformed by the coram nobis case, too — their dedication to civil rights grew to match his, and they will ensure that his message will live on. I am honored to have known Fred Korematsu. — Leigh-Ann Miyasato * * * Fred loved Hawaii. And Hawaii loved Fred back, with aloha. Leigh-Ann Miyasato and I were the legal team’s two members from Hawaii. Fred would call us his “Hawaii people.” It was indeed the people of Hawaii that touched Fred — the warmth and welcoming extended to him and Kathryn on their many visits, the enthusiastic and awed students, the many diverse Asian faces. And in his special, humble, strong, quiet, forthright way, remarkably, he kindled in the hearts of people here the feeling that “Fred is us, he fought for all of us.” During his visits, he always spoke at the law school where I teach. Just a year ago, the law students organized a commemoration for the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink, also an exemplary justice advocate, and invited Fred. When Fred rose to speak, the overflowing room of former internees, students, teachers and dignitaries quieted. In that voice of his, he started, “I love coming to Hawaii to be with you � ” And when he finished with “ and so we can never let this kind of injustice happen to anyone, ever again,” the eyes teared and the spirits soared. Hawaii’s people returned Fred’s love, with aloha. — Eric Yamamoto * * * I was two years out of law school when Dale Minami came into my office and said that we might have the opportunity to reopen the Korematsu case. The night we first met Fred and his wife, Kathryn, they welcomed us into their home, perhaps a bit skeptical about our youth, but they welcomed us warmly. He was, as always, soft-spoken and gracious. The chance to work on his case was tremendous, but the ability to get to know him and to see what impact he had on the people who met him was even greater. As we worked together on his case, we came to know the quiet strength, the big smile, and the generosity, warmth and humor of the man behind the case. I remember most the time he spent with law students — Asian-American law students, in particular — many who were inspired to go to law school because of his case. I will miss him; he was a good, kind and brave man. He has left a tremendous mark that will not soon be forgotten. — Lorraine Bannai * * * My memory of Fred is not as an important historic figure, nor as a legal symbol. What I will always remember was that he cared about his coram nobis legal team members as people. I once talked to him about how privileged I felt being a part of this effort and what a great opportunity it was. He acknowledged my feelings, but then pointedly asked, “But how do your parents feel?” Because he knew that my parents had been interned during the war, he knew that my work on his case meant more to them than it would to me. — Dennis Hayashi * * * Fred Korematsu was gracious, thoughtful, generous and tenacious. He had the most beautiful smile. You could see it begin as a small, wry smile that blossomed into a wide grin that celebrated and embraced the pure joy of the moment. His love for his family — his wife, Kathryn, and his children, Karen and Ken — and their dedication to him, was a wellspring of strength and inspiration that he shared freely with the legal team. I remember Fred’s day in court as a blur of emotions and snapshot images. U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel had indicated the petition would be granted, but she had given permission for Fred to make a statement. When Fred stood to address the court, he spoke with an eloquence that reflected the clarity, directness and heartfelt dedication to the principles of justice that had shaped his life and actions. The joyous release of emotion in the courtroom after Judge Patel gave her ruling swept all of us up in its current. I remember seeing the judge pause and smile at the scene before leaving the courtroom, and people pressing to reach Fred to thank and congratulate him. He was smiling, of course, and people were crying, laughing, pressing to shake his hand and kiss his cheek. But through all those people, I remember seeing Fred, sharing that extraordinary event with modesty and grace. It was a day on which he completed a journey that had spanned 40 years. But far from being an ending, it marked a new beginning from which Fred continued as an eloquent and inspiring advocate for civil rights issues for the next two decades.

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