KOREMATSU, OBAMA, NIEMI LEAD NOMINATIONS; A MEMBER OF COLBERT NATION IS HEARDSan 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.
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