Today Google’s US homepage is celebrating Fred Toyosaburo Korematsu, civil rights activist and survivor of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. January 30th, 2017 would have been his 98th birthday and is officially recognized as Fred Korematsu Day in California, Hawaii, Virginia and Florida.
A son of Japanese immigrant parents, Korematsu was born and raised in Oakland, California. After the U.S. entered WWII, he tried to enlist in the U.S. National Guard and Coast Guard, but was turned away due to his ethnicity.
He was 23 years old and working as a foreman in his hometown when Executive Order 9066 was signed in 1942 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The order sent more than 115,000 people of Japanese descent living in the United States to incarceration.
Rather than voluntarily relocate to an internment camp, Korematsu went into hiding. He was arrested in 1942 and despite the help of organizations like ACLU, his conviction was upheld in the landmark Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. United States. Consequently, he and his family were sent to the the Central Utah War Relocation Center at Topaz, Utah until the end of WWII in 1945.
It wasn’t until 1976 that President Gerald Ford formally ended Executive Order 9066 and apologized for the internment, stating "We now know what we should have known then — not only was that evacuation wrong but Japanese-Americans were and are loyal Americans.”
Fred Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in 1983 after evidence came to light that disputed the necessity of the internment. Five years later President Ronald Reagan signed the The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 citing "racial prejudice, wartime hysteria and a lack of political leadership" as the central motivation for Japanese internment.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s most distinguished civilian award.
Fred Korematsu can be remembered fighting for civil rights and against prejudice throughout his life, famously saying:
"If you have the feeling that something is wrong, don't be afraid to speak up."
The doodle by artist Sophie Diao–herself a child of Asian immigrants–features a patriotic portrait of Korematsu wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom, a scene of the internment camps to his back, surrounded by cherry blossoms, flowers that have come to be symbols of peace and friendship between the US and Japan.