Google’s Doodle on Monday celebrated the birthday of Fred Korematsu, a civil rights leader remembered for defying an American president’s executive order, one that targeted specific ethnic populations under the guise of protecting national security. Korematsu, who opposed the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, died in 2005. Monday, he would have been 98.
After Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942, more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent—most of them Japanese American—were relocated to internment camps throughout the United States. Korematsu, the son of Japanese immigrants, was arrested and convicted for resisting incarceration. With the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, he appealed to the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States, but he lost.
In 1976, Gerald Ford formally apologized for and terminated the order that forced tens of thousands of Japanese Americans from their homes. He proclaimed:
I call upon the American people to affirm with me this American Promise—that we have learned from the tragedy of that long-ago experience forever to treasure liberty and justice for each individual American, and resolve that this kind of action shall never again be repeated.
Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in 1983, and in 1998, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom.
On Friday, Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending the admission of refugees and preventing citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. Trump surrogates have used the internment of Japanese Americans as a possible legal precedent for Trump’s proposal for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the country.
In response, Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke out against the ban and ordered more than 100 employees affected by it to return to the United States. The company has set up a $4 million crisis campaign. Its Monday Doodle may have been timed to coincide with Korematsu’s birthday, but the decision to honor him specifically, at a time like this, is fundamentally political.
Google’s Doodle shows Korematsu wearing his Medal of Freedom, the barracks of an internment camp behind him, while surrounded by a border of cherry blossoms, symbolizing peace and friendship. Google also shared a quote by Korematsu:
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