Korematsu Campus opens in San Leandro


GRAND OPENING — Newly elected ninth grade officers accept on behalf of the student body a framed photograph of Fred T. Korematsu presented by his daughter Karen while Associate Principal Mike Hassett looks on. photo courtesy of WLC Architects, Inc.

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — The San Leandro community gathered to celebrate the dedication of the new San Leandro High School Fred T. Korematsu (ninth grade) Campus on Sept. 29. More than 250 guests attended, including the current Board of Education and former Board members, elected officials, civic leaders, students and families, district staff, neighbors and the Korematsu family.

The program included brief remarks from Board President Mike Katz-Lacabe; Board Facilities and Technology Committee Chair Pauline Cutter; Yes on Measure B Co-Chairs Deborah Cox (who is also chair of the Citizens’ Oversight Committee) and Leroy Smith; state Sen. Ellen Corbett and Assemblymember Mary Hayashi, who each presented the campus with a proclamation; Alameda County Board Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker; Judge Dennis Hayashi, who was part of Korematsu’s legal team; SLHS Principal Linda Granger and Superintendent ––

The special guest speaker was Karen Korematsu, daughter of the civil rights icon for whom the campus was named, who provided the audience with personal stories of her father.

“My father was a structural engineer,” said Karen Korematsu, “and he would have been so impressed by the angles and curves of this building. He would have loved this!”

On behalf of the Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, she presented to student leadership, the Superintendent and Associate Principal Mike Hassett a framed and inscribed photographic portrait of her father wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In December of 2009, the SLUSD Board of Education voted to name the campus after Korematsu. Several in the community suggested naming the campus after the humble civil rights leader, noting his “deep commitment to social justice” and “his dedication to the San Leandro community,” including his 30-year service through the San Leandro Lions Club.

Korematsu was 22 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the military to require all persons of Japanese descent to be forcibly removed from the West Coast. Korematsu refused, and was later arrested in San Leandro, where his family owned a nursery. He was convicted of violating the wartime order and sent to the Topaz (Central Utah) concentration camp.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Korematsu filed a lawsuit arguing that his constitutional rights had been violated, but the court ruled against him. He appealed his conviction all the way to the Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction in 1944.

It took 40 years for Korematsu to clear his name. In 1998, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by then-President Bill Clinton. Korematsu continued to speak out against injustice until his death in 2005. In 2004, he filed an amicus curiae brief in the case of Rumsfield v. Padilla, which stated, “by allowing the Executive Branch to decide unilaterally who to detain, and for how long, our country will repeat the same mistakes of the past.”

“I am so inspired by the powerful and heartfelt messages conveyed by the family of Fred T. Korematsu at the dedication ceremony,” said Superintendent Cathey. “In our district and in our city we now have a beautiful, permanent place of learning named after a humble civil rights hero. This campus will serve as a constant reminder of what we must do as educators in the service of all of our students.”

She added that like the family and friends of Korematsu who worked tirelessly over the decades to clear his name, San Leandro teachers and staff, and community must never give up in righting wrongs and standing up for what is just, “…so that his legacy will live on through each of us and be embodied in the day-to-day actions of each of our students.”

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