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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Civil Rights Leader Tops List of Ninth Grade Campus Nominees

KOREMATSU, OBAMA, NIEMI LEAD NOMINATIONS; A MEMBER OF COLBERT NATION IS HEARD
San Leandro progressives yearning to erase the abuses of the Bush administration are looking towards little-known civil rights leader Fred Korematsu for a bit of redemption.

Korematsu overwhelmingly led all nominations to name the yet-t0-be completed ninth grade campus adjacent to San Leandro High School. President Barack Obama and fallen San Leandro Police Officer Dan Niemi trailed by a large margin. The San Leandro School Board will narrow the field of 24 suggestions Dec. 15.

Progressives led by mayor candidate Stephen Cassidy have backed the naming of the ninth grade campus after Korematsu as a deserving historical figure with ties to the city and for his personal struggle with internment during World War II. Supporters believe Korematsu's story still reverberates in post-9/11 America where the treatment of people of Middle Eastern descent in some ways mirrors the wartime experience of many Japanese-Americans nearly 70 years ago. "It will show that we admire the determination Korematsu in standing up for his rights and that of all Americans to not be deprived of their liberty simply because of their race, ethnicity or national origin," Cassidy wrote in his nomination letter. (Watch video here)

Korematsu was born in Oakland, but worked at his family-run nursery in San Leandro where his eventually arrest would mark the beginning of his life's work. In many ways, he was an accidental hero who unsuccessfully sued the federal government in 1942 over his internment after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Legal scholars have called the Supreme Court's decision one of the worst in American history. By 1983, along with two other former internees, Korematsu appealed his still-standing criminal offense from 1942 and won, leading the way for an official apology for the wartime civil rights abuses of Japanese-American from the United States government. Coincidentally, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Dennis Hayashi served as co-counsel on the landmark ruling. He is also the husband of Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi.

Korematsu, who died in 2005, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 from President Bill Clinton. "In the long history of our country's constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls—Plessy, Brown, Parks. To that distinguished list today we add the name of Fred Korematsu," said Clinton.

Politicians including Al Gore, State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, and recently deceased former San Leandro Mayor Jack Maltester also received nominations. Author Maya Angelou and Cesar Chavez were noted along with television personality Stephen Colbert.

In the past year, Colbert's enthusiastic supporters attempted to have a NASA space module named after the host. The agency later backed down and named a treadmill after him, instead. Ben & Jerry's recently named an ice cream after him, a Michigan junior hockey club tabbed their mascot Steagle the Colbeagle Eagle and math nerds named the final numbers of a particularly elusive problem after him.
-STEVEN TAVARES
JOIN THE REVOLUTION! www.eastbaycitizen.com

2 comments :

Thank you for covering this story and including the link to the very informative YouTube video.

I have one technical correction - Korematsu did not sue the federal government in 1942. He was convicted of a crime and then filed an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the conviction. Korematsu then filed a petition seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted review and upheld the conviction.

While Korematsu lost, the U.S. Supreme Court announced a significant new legal standard for review of government statutes and decisions that made distinctions among Americans based on race or ethnicity:

"It should be noted, to begin with, that all legal restrictions which curtail the civil rights of a single racial group are immediately suspect. That is not to say that all such restrictions are unconstitutional. It is to say that courts must subject them to the most rigid scrutiny."

This standard known as "strict scrutiny" was used by the U.S. Supreme Court twenty years later in one landmark civil rights case after another striking down statutes that discriminated against persons based on race. The courage of a young man arrested in San Leandro in 1942 who fought his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, yet lost, ultimately led to a new understanding and expansion of the civil rights of all Americans.

So, they want to name a 9th-grade campus for a convict ...as opposed to a real hero such as Officer Niemi. It amazes me how pathetic this country has become.

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