Korematsu Center launch inspires work toward equality

Seattle University School of Law formally launched The Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality with an inspiring program that included a moving tribute to the man for whom the center is named.

The April 18 program, "Looking Back, Reaching Forward," demonstrated the important work the center will do to combat discrimination through education, advocacy and research.

"This new center allows our talented faculty to build on the law school's strengths in the areas of race and the law to advance our mission for a more just and humane world," Dean Kellye Testy said.

The Center is named for Fred Korematsu, who defied an order that required all persons of Japanese ancestry to report for detention. He was jailed and then sent for internment. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed his conviction. Forty years later, the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California vacated that conviction on proof that the government had suppressed, altered and destroyed material evidence that contradicted the government's claim of military necessity.

Korematsu, who died in 2005, went on to champion the cause of civil liberties, seeking redress for Japanese Americans who were wrongfully interned and traveling the country speaking about his case and other violations of civil rights, especially after 9/11.

"It's so inspiring for the center to be named for my father," said his daughter, Karen Korematsu. "Education was very important to my father. The issues they're going to study, the education and the advocacy are all very important to my father and to my family."

Korematsu, and her mother, Kathryn, attended the opening and presented two photographs: one of Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom he received from President Clinton and another of Korematsu with Rosa Parks. The family also loaned the law school some of Korematsu's personal belongings for an exhibit at the Law Library.

The center is directed by Professor Robert Chang, a noted scholar in the area of race and the law. Professor Lori Bannai, who was a member of the legal team that worked to reverse Korematsu's wartime conviction and is writing a biography of Korematsu, is associate director. The center will build on the law school's strong faculty in the area of law and equality, including Professors Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, leading authorities in critical race theory, and Professor Margaret Chon, co-author of "Race, Rights and Reparation: Law and the Japanese American Internment, who gave the keynote address at the launch.

Its research unit will focus on understanding the relationship between law and categories of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, disability and religion, especially with regard to their intersections. It will bring together scholars from various disciplines and will support interdisciplinary scholarship.

The advocacy unit will apply this understanding to combat discrimination through targeted advocacy efforts. The education unit will create a focus area in Law and Equality for J.D. students and will help train the next generation of scholar/teacher/activists through post-graduate teaching and advocacy fellowships.

Chang noted that the discussions from the day provided great perspective as the center moves forward.

"By having conversations like this, we really learn what is possible," Chang said. "We are starting something really special."

View a photo gallery from the day or read more about the Korematsu Center.

Looking down to Court Level