San Leandro School to Be Named for Civil Rights Icon Fred Korematsu


LANDMARK CASE — The San Leandro school board voted Dec. 15 to name its new freshman campus after Fred Korematsu. photo courtesy of the Korematsu family

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — San Leandro High School’s new freshman campus will be named after the late Fred T. Korematsu — who challenged orders to go to a World War II American concentration camp — following a unanimous vote by the school board.

“I hope my father’s story will be an inspiration to high school kids because they need positive role models,” Karen Korematsu-Haigh said, following the vote by the San Leandro school board on Dec. 15.

“In view of the many years that my father lived, worked and dedicated to community service in San Leandro, this is a very significant honor,” Korematsu-Haigh added, via e-mail.

The official name of the ninth-grade campus, which opens in the fall of 2010, will be San Leandro High School, Fred Korematsu Campus. About 700 to 800 students will attend the school, which will be located at 13900 E. 14th St., in an effort to ease overcrowding.

Korematsu, who died in 2005, was active in the community. He was a member of the San Leandro Lions Club, and ran a small drafting business in the city. Korematsu also spoke to students at various schools, including San Leandro High School.

Stephen Cassidy, a former school board member who spearheaded a campaign via e-mail and Facebook to name the campus for Korematsu, said he hopes students will become more educated about their civil rights. “The goal is to inspire the students of today and tomorrow to know and cherish their civil rights, to fight when they’re challenged. We want students to be engaged and active participants in their community,” Cassidy said.

Mike Katz-Lacabe, president of the school board, said via e-mail, “It is a fitting tribute to name this new campus after a man who stood for what was right, despite the laws in place at the time, despite the wrath of society at large … and despite objections from his own community.”

Donald K. Tamaki, a member of the pro bono legal team that reopened Korematsu’s case, and overturned his conviction for refusing to be incarcerated during World War II, agreed that the naming of the campus for Korematsu is a tribute to his legacy.

“I’m delighted that they’re honoring this great American, that people will always know who Fred is and that his story will be told again,” Tamaki said. “He was a person who showed the courage of his convictions and waited for 40 years to be vindicated. This is a great American story.”

All the trustees voted for Korematsu in each of three rounds of voting. Slain San Leandro police officer Dan Niemi and the generic “freshman campus” were finalists.

The board, which sought input for the name in October and closed nominations in November, received 73 submissions. Fred Korematsu topped the list by a landslide with 32 submissions, while President Barack Obama received four submissions.

Other names submitted for the campus included Stephen Colbert, Cesar Chavez, Maya Angelou and Bill Lockyer.

Katz-Lacabe said that a variety of factors were used in evaluating the names that were submitted. “I cannot speak for other members of the board, but the factors I considered were the contribution the individual made to society and the local connection. Most of our campuses are named after people who have no connection to San Leandro,” he said.

The guidelines for submission stated that the names had to be individuals, living or deceased, who have made outstanding contributions to the community, county, state, country or world.

Korematsu gained prominence after he filed a lawsuit against the federal government over the mass incarceration of persons of Japanese descent during World War II, charging that his constitutional rights had been violated. He was arrested in San Leandro in 1942, and convicted of disobeying an executive order. The Supreme Court ruled against him in 1944. Forty years later, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned.

In 1998, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Bill Clinton. Korematsu died in 20005.

Cassidy said, “Fred created a civil rights revolution. He created more tolerance and respect.”

Katz-Lacabe added, “I think it is a sign of how much San Leandro has changed that we now honor a man who was unable to rent an apartment or buy a house so many years ago because of his race. We cannot change the past, but Fred Korematsu encouraged us to learn from it, do as he did and stand up for what is right.”

There is also an elementary school in Davis, Calif. named after the civil rights icon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *