Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Fred Korematsu Becomes First Asian American in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery Civil Rights Exhibition

On February 2, civil rights icon Fred T. Korematsu will become the first Asian American featured in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery permanent exhibition, “The Struggle for Justice.” Two 1940s-era original photographs of Korematsu will be presented on February 2 at 9:30 a.m. at the Portrait Gallery, Eighth and G Streets, NW in Washington, D.C.,in a private event featuring speakers including the Honorable Norman Y. Mineta. The photographs will be available for public view when the museum opens at 11:30 a.m.

Justice in Action honoree Fred Korematsu at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund Lunar New Year benefit  at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers in New York, on February 22, 2002. Photo by Lia Chang

Justice in Action honoree Fred Korematsu at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund Lunar New Year benefit at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers in New York, on February 22, 2002. Photo by Lia Chang

The event takes place just three days after the second annual Fred Korematsu Day, an official day of special significance passed in the state of California in 2010. Celebrated every January 30, on Korematsu’s birthday, Fred Korematsu Day is the first day in U.S. history named after an Asian American.

The National Portrait Gallery’s “The Struggle for Justice” exhibition opened in 2010 and features many images of individuals who have worked on behalf of civil rights, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Eunice Kennedy Shriver and César Chávez. The museum, which drew in one million visitors last year, is the first museum not specifically focused on the Japanese American experience to include Mr. Korematsu’s story. To date, the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, CA, the Manzanar Interpretive Center in Independence, CA, and the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center in Powell, WY all feature Mr. Korematsu in their exhibits.

Kathryn and Fred Korematsu sit in a bench dedicated to JFK Jr. in a courtyard adjacent to the NYU Law School Auditorium in April, 2000.  Photo by Lia Chang

Kathryn and Fred Korematsu sit in a bench dedicated to JFK Jr. in a courtyard adjacent to the NYU Law School Auditorium in April, 2000. Photo by Lia Chang

“The Struggle for Justice” is a growing exhibition that will continue to evolve,” said Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery. “I am proud to include Fred Korematsu in this exhibition and to continue to tell his story alongside those who have worked on behalf of those who are striving for equality and inclusion.”

In 1942, Korematsu was a 23-year-old welder in Oakland, California who defied military orders to incarcerate 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans. After he was arrested and convicted of defying the order, he appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 1944 upheld his conviction on the grounds that the internment was justified due to military necessity. That decision has been widely condemned as one of the darkest chapters in American legal history.

After four decades of living with a disloyalty conviction on his record, Korematsu and a team of pro-bono attorneys re-opened his case, arguing that WWII government lawyers had hidden key documents contradicting their claim of military necessity from the Supreme Court. In 1983, a federal court in San Francisco overturned Korematsu’s conviction. Korematsu went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, not only seeking redress for Japanese Americans who were wrongfully incarcerated, but also traveling the country to advocate for the civil rights of other victims of repressive government action. After 9/11, he co-authored friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Muslim Americans being held without trial in U.S. military prisons. He passed away in 2005 at the age of 86.

Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery
Eighth and G Streets, NW
Washington, D.C.

Other Fred Korematsu Day events:
There are 16 Fred Korematsu Day public events taking place this year in California, Washington, DC and Hawaii. For more information, visit:
http://korematsuinstitute.org/fredkorematsuday/fred-korematsu-day-events/

The Korematsu Institute ships free teaching kits to classrooms around the country. The Institute can put reporters in touch with teachers in various cities who are planning to teach the Korematsu story to their students on January 30 or the surrounding days.

# # #

The Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education (www.korematsuinstitute.org), a program of the Asian Law Caucus, is dedicated to advancing pan-ethnic civil rights and human rights through education.

Other Articles by Lia Chang:
Reverend Jesse Jackson & Beau Sia slated for 1st Annual Fred Korematsu Day Celebration at UC Berkeley
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger Signs Fred Korematsu Day Bill, Bill Establishes January 30 as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution
Making the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution Bill a Reality
Fred Korematsu, American Hero and Civil Rights Activist Dies at 86
Multimedia: AALDEF Celebrates 35 Years of Protecting and Promoting the Civil Rights of Asian Americans
AALDEF Honors Dale Minami, Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl Wudunn and Sandra Leung with 2009 Justice in Action Awards
Remembering Civil Rights Leader Gordon Hirabayashi,1918- 2012
Photos & Video: Celebrate Chinese New Year with David Henry Hwang’s Chinglish through January 29, 2012
DTC’s Production Photos of Giant featuring Aaron Lazar, Kate Baldwin,P.J. Griffith, Dee Hoty, Raul Aranas & Katie Thompson
Photos: Maya Lin, BD Wong, David Henry Hwang, Yeohlee, Oscar L. Tang and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg at MOCA Legacy Awards Gala
Portraits of New York Chinatown After 9/11 Featured in “Post 9/11”: Commemorative Display at Library of Congress Asian Reading Room, 8/30-9/15
Coming to America through The Angel Island Immigration Station
OCA Awards Gala Photos: David Henry Hwang, Tamlyn Tomita, BD Wong, Dr. Bobby Fong & Tammy Duckworth
Celebrating my mom – AN ACTIVE VISION: BEVERLY UMEHARA…LABOR ACTIVIST…1945-1999
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2011 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com.

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