Bill calls for Congressional Gold Medal for activist Fred Korematsu

Image: Photo of Fred Korematsu
A photograph of Fred Korematsu was presented to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington on Feb. 2, 2012.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Traci G. Lee

On what would have been Fred Korematsu's 100th birthday, a new bill was introduced Wednesday that seeks to posthumously award him the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his fight against the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The bipartisan bill, announced Wednesday, was introduced by five members of Congress, including Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.

"As a son of Japanese-Americans who lived through Japanese internment during World War II, I find Mr. Korematsu’s legacy to be a guiding light for the work that I do in Congress," Takano said. "His life’s work placed civil rights at the forefront, and it has been one of the cornerstones in the movement to build an America where everyone can be treated equally under the law."

In 1942, the Oakland-born Korematsu, then 23, resisted voluntary relocation to a Japanese-American incarceration camp. He was arrested and charged with violating a government order the following year. He appealed his case to the Supreme Court in 1944 and lost in a 6-3 decision that upheld the executive order to place Japanese-Americans in camps during the war.

President Clinton presents Fred Korematsu with a Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony at the White House.Dennis Cook / AP file

Korematsu's conviction was eventually overturned in 1983, and he remained an activist until his death in 2005 at the age of 86. His daughter, Karen Korematsu, continues to serve as executive director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute, which is dedicated to teaching the public about the prejudices that led to the incarceration camps.

Fred Korematsu was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. His lawyers, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui, also received medals posthumously in 2012 and 2015, respectively.

Follow NBC Asian America on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.CORRECTION (Feb. 15, 2019, 1:07 pm ET): A previous version of this article misstated the year Fred Korematsu resisted voluntary relocation to a Japanese-American incarceration camp. It was 1942, not 1941.