Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Fred Korematsu - Kathryn Korematsu Interview
Narrators: Fred Korematsu, Kathryn Korematsu
Interviewers: Lorraine Bannai (primary); Tetsuden Kashima (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 14, 1996
Densho ID: denshovh-kfred_g-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

LB: The first thing I'd like you to talk about is your family background. What do you know about your family's background in Japan, where they came from and where they immigrated to?

FK: Well, all I know is my father came from a family of farmers, they were farmers, I think, in agricultural. Now, I don't know what they grew or what kind of farming they did, but that's about all I know.

LB: Where were they from?

FK: Fukuoka. Fukuoka in Japan, that's all I know.

LB: Do you know anything about your mother's side of the family?

FK: No, I don't.

LB: And did they immigrate to San Leandro?

FK: Well, it was east Oakland, yeah, close to the San Leandro border. And that's where my dad started the nursery, flower business there, and that's where I was born.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

LB: How did you reach your decision to violate the internment order?

FK: Well, I actually didn't make a decision; it was more or less forced on me by me being arrested and so forth. I felt that, that, you know, that, "Hey, this is wrong," and that I was an American, and they were doing this to me. And I went along with the rest until, if there was any possibilities of... if there were an opportunity for me. I knew I was going to go to court. I didn't know how I was gonna attack it, because I didn't have any of these legal experience behind me. But I was, I was determined that my rights were violated, and making me an "enemy alien" was wrong. And so, back of my mind, I didn't have -- at that time -- I didn't have any of my friends or my relatives or my family alongside of me to make this decision. So therefore it was quite difficult for me at that time. So it was a slow decision until I met Mr. Besig, and that changed everything.

LB: After the military orders were posted requiring the family to report for the assembly center...

FK: Yes.

LB: ...did you actually decide at some point that you weren't going to go?

FK: Yes.

LB: How did you reach that decision?

FK: Because, mainly because I had a Caucasian girlfriend, and we were going steady for almost three years. And I assumed that she wouldn't be able, they wouldn't accept her in relocation center with the other Asians and myself. Therefore, I decided maybe the best thing to do is to try to leave the state, get into Nevada if possible before the evacuation occurs. So that was my intent, and it never happened.

LB: Did you discuss your decision to stay and violate the orders with anybody?

FK: No, I didn't. No, I didn't discuss it at that time, that I was gonna do that.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

LB: When you decided to violate the orders, did you think that you'd be arrested?

FK: I assumed that, that worst was gonna come before me, and I knew I wouldn't be a free man. They're not gonna let me have that, make it that easy for me, because, you know, I was even classified as an "enemy alien" by the draft card. And so I knew that as soon as they realized that I'm there, free, that they were gonna catch me.

LB: Were you afraid of being arrested?

FK: No, I wasn't, because I didn't feel that I was, I did anything wrong. And if anybody did wrong, it was the law. Because I figured it was unconstitutional what they were doing.

LB: When the military and the government issued the orders saying that Japanese Americans had to leave the West Coast, what did you think the government was going to do with the Japanese Americans?

FK: Well, it was already in the papers what they were gonna do; put them in relocation and then to concentration camp. So it was in the papers that they were even lobbying in Washington to have this happen, to gather all the Japanese and to put 'em in relocation centers.

LB: What did your family say to you during the period of time that they were preparing to leave and you were deciding not to go?

FK: Well, they were so busy at that time because of the chaos of Pearl Harbor happening. They knew that they, that worst gonna come to them, and they realized all that work they did, all those years, all that hard work, was just about to disappear. And they didn't know what was gonna happen in the future. So my mother was always in tears all the time, what was gonna happen, and that was it. Just worried about, "What are we gonna do?"

LB: So you really didn't have a chance to talk to them?

FK: No, I was just the third son, you know, and just in the way to them. And if any consulting they wanted, they talked to my two older brothers. So that was it.

LB: Did you tell them that you weren't going to go?

FK: I told them that I... I didn't say that I wasn't gonna go. I told them that I am going to leave, I may be in Nevada.

LB: After your family left and your friends and everyone were in camp, and you were working in Oakland, did you ever have any regrets about refusing to go?

FK: No. I, I felt funny knowing that my parents and my friends were interned, and as prisoners of war, that's what they were, prisoner of war. And here I am, you know, going to work. I saw in the paper that they're, they're supposed to be all interned, all "Japs" were interned. There wasn't any in, in the streets anymore. And I didn't feel guilty, I just said, "Well, I'm just gonna go to work and think about my work and how I'm living day to day until something does happen."

LB: How did you feel when you were arrested? What were your thoughts, what went through your mind when the police or military police picked you up?

FK: Well, it's a funny thing. I was... well, in the papers they said that a spy was caught in San Leandro, and they never had a spy caught in San Leandro before, so they didn't know how to treat me. And I didn't feel like I was a criminal, and I didn't, I didn't feel that I did anything wrong. I may have disobeyed a military order, but I'm not, I'm not in the military. That's the kind of feeling it was. And so I had to go along with the authorities of being put in jail because, I mean, I couldn't do anything about it. They apologized, too, for what they're doing. So that's how it was.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

LB: I've heard you talk about how you met Ernest Besig, how he came to meet you in July. When he first approached you, did you have any reservations about fighting your case or about whether Mr. Besig would be able to help you?

FK: Well, when he approached me and wanted to help me, and that he was an attorney, I said, "My goodness, you're the man because you're the only one that can..." if I, if I needed help, he was the only one that can help. There wasn't anyone else. No one in the Japanese group could help me, JACL couldn't help me. He was the only one that can help me. And he wasn't gonna leave me alone; he was gonna help me one way or another. [Laughs]

LB: Can you tell me about the kinds of things that you and Mr. Besig talked about while your case was going on? What kinds of things did he ask you, or what did he, what did you show him?

FK: Well, he said that there would be all kind of obstacles occur, and not to be afraid of them. And, "Whatever threats that you get," he says, "we'll fight it together, all the way." So, I mean, you get that kind of answer and he knows the laws as anybody else. And if he can say that to me, I know I was safe, so I went with him.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

LB: Can you tell me about your feelings when you heard about the Supreme Court decision? How did you hear about the Supreme Court decision and how did you, what were you thinking?

FK: That was the first Supreme Court decision? I... see, I didn't associate too much with other Niseis, and they didn't with me, either. So only my brother was the one that was close to me at that time. And when the Supreme Court case, when I found out was through Mr. Besig, that he wrote to me, 'cause he, he keeps on writing to me all along and continue from the Appeals Court and so forth, what was going on. So when he told me that it was gonna be in the Supreme Court the next week, and he told me that, to cross my fingers hoping that something good would come out of it. And I was hoping that it would. And I waited until I finally got the letter from them later, and it came quite later than when he usually mailed it to me. I guess he was sort of upset, too. And I was upset when I got it. And I could understand that, you know, I didn't know that, that they alter the reports from the West Coast, from the Military Intelligence, and the FBI and the Navy and so forth, and altered their reports, that no spying or any sabotage was going on on the West Coast. So they alter that and made it in reverse, so that's the reason why I lost, but I didn't know that. So that was back in my mind all that time.

LB: After you found out about the Supreme Court decision, how did you feel about the justice system? How did you feel about the American legal system?

FK: Well, I didn't think very much of it, of them, because here it was constitutional law, and they just ignored it, somehow, and I couldn't understand it, and it bothered me. But life has to go on, and until someone can turn it around for me, I'm gonna be there. So that's what happened; I just, I just kept busy, I got married, I got, I worked and raised a family, and did everything an American should do. Belonged to a church and I got involved in Boy Scout activities and Kathryn got involved in Girl Scout activities with my daughter. And school and so forth, and I joined the Lions Club to be in a service club to get involved and get acquainted with all these businessmen to, to be like an American. Until something good happened, I was waiting until Peter Irons' call.

LB: After the Supreme Court decision, for forty years, you didn't say much about your case. You didn't talk about it to scholars or professors or students. How come you didn't talk about it for those forty years?

FK: Because I have once in a while talked about it, and I got negative answers. You know, they don't wanna hear about it. This happened a long time ago, they don't want to hear about it. And otherwise, they were -- and meantime, they were too busy making a living of their own, Niseis. And so I just, you know, I just waited until something do happen, some opportunity would happen, then it would turn me around, and it finally did come in '81.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

LB: Can you tell me about your feelings on the day that, that Judge Marilyn Hall Patel issued her decision in the coram nobis case?

FK: Well, at first, Dale, Don and the rest of 'em, Peter, they didn't say that, "We're gonna win it." They didn't say, "We're gonna win it," or tell me, "Don't worry, we're gonna win." They didn't say anything about that, like that. They were concentrating on what... you know, the attorney, district attorney, Mr. Stone, was gonna do or what they were gonna say and things like that. And they, they were... they were concentrating on if there was any kind of suspicious movement there that may cause us to have problems in winning the case. And we were worried, you know, until the time that Marilyn Hall Patel announced what, you know, what happened, and then also that she vindicated my case. But until that last bit, until she said that, nobody knew what was gonna happen, and they didn't say anything like, you know, "We're gonna win," because, well, I guess they feared the worst. It could have possibly gone the other way. So until she announced it, we just didn't know. Did you? [Laughs]

LB: How did you feel after she announced her opinion?

FK: Well, everybody was jumping up and down, you know, and crying, and I, I didn't hear it. And I just thought, "That must mean that we won." So, and then I talked to Dale, "Yeah." [Laughs] So Dale says, "Yeah." [Laughs] And Peter said that we did win it.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

LB: I want to go back to when you and Kathryn met, you and your wife met. Did you tell Kathryn about your case? You met after the war and married after the war, right?

FK: Right.

LB: Did you tell her about your case, and what did you tell her?

FK: I don't know. I think one time I didn't have anything to talk about, and I sort of casually said that, you know, that my case has gone, have gone, been involved in the, in the evacuation. And she said, "Yes, I knew about it," so she knew about it.

LB: Really?

FK: Yeah.

LB: Were you afraid to tell her about it?

FK: No, it just didn't dawn on me. I... I figured it was more my business than hers for the time being, at that time. And it's something that I had to bring up, so that's the reason why I was hesitant for quite a while.

LB: Was it hard for you to tell people about your case?

FK: About my case? At that... the time that, on the first time that I lost in the Supreme Court, it was hard to talk about it. And the people that knew me, that I was involved in it, mostly Niseis, they turned their back on me. So no use talking to them about it, you know. They didn't want to talk about it and they didn't want anything to do with me, so that's the way it was. And so I left it that way.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

LB: You have two children who are adults now. Did you tell them about your case?

FK: No. [Laughs] I was gonna, in the back of my mind, that I was gonna do that. And you know, when they're growing up, when they're teenagers, and Karen was involved in Girl Scouts, involved in being a cheerleader at the high school, and they come in and go out right away, they come in and change clothes and off they go and so forth. And then on top of that, I was working on two jobs, so the majority of the time... because I bought a house that I shouldn't have, I shouldn't have bought, because it was too, it was over my head, but I did get it. And in order to maintain it, I had to have two jobs. So I was busy myself. So before you know it, the time just flew, and until I, actually, I started to reopen my case again, and that's when everything got out in the open.

LB: How did your children find out about your case?

FK: Well, I think Kathryn can tell you better than that, than me, because I wasn't there at the time that Karen, my daughter, found out. And she went right to Kathryn and told her about it, that she heard about it in school. And one of the girls, the Japanese girl there, used my case on a... I don't know if it was a, what kind of report was that? I don't know if it was American history or what it was, reported that, and she made that as a report, Korematsu vs. United States, and that perked up my daughter's ears. [Laughs] So she came home and talked to Kathryn about it, so that's how... because she, my daughter, took the time to find out. Otherwise, she hasn't got the time for anything else, she had some of personal things to do, and we haven't got, I mean, we can't even catch up to 'em, catch up to her.

LB: How did Ken find out?

FK: Find out through my daughter and the rest of 'em together.

LB: Did you sit, ever sit down with Ken and Karen and talk to them about your case?

FK: No, they, they got it from Kathryn, they talked to Kathryn. Kathryn probably told them.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

LB: Since the, since your Supreme Court decision, how does it feel to be associated with one of the most significant cases ever decided in this country, and how does it feel to be such a public figure right now?

FK: Well, I don't feel anything special. I feel that a wrong has righted, and that I'm involved. To have this, you know, not happen again, for educational purposes, I just continue on. And if I can make an appearance in class in so forth, and let the students know what happened, so this won't ever happen to them or others, it's worthwhile doing. So that's what I've been... did I answer that question right?

LB: How does it feel to have every lawyer in the country be able to recognize your name?

FK: Well, that's just like something come, some folks that has a certain name and has just come out. I don't have anything special feeling for it. I didn't make any money off of it. [Laughs] But no, I mean, it's good that it helped the constitutional law, that the government cannot violate the law and, to have this happen. And it should never happen again. So that's good that it's in the law books, and that every attorney should know about it. So that this won't ever happen again to any, any other minority.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TK: Let me just go back to the initial Supreme Court case. Lawyers know who argued the case for you. Could you tell a little bit about that period -- 'cause you were in camp -- who argued the case, what you think about how the case was handled, even though you were in Topaz during that.

FK: Well, I think the case was handled very well. I think Mr. Besig and Wayne Collins did a very good job. I don't think there was any attorney that could do better than they, they did on the civil rights case. And so I give them credit.

TK: Could you describe your relationship with Mr. Besig and Mr. Collins?

FK: Well, I was not too close to Wayne Collins, more or less more with Mr. Ernest Besig. He was the one that came to me, and felt he was the one that was responsible for me being in court about the, about my case, and he really took care of me. And kept close in touch with me, if anything, whatever happened in court, in various courts, he let me know. He sent me all kinds of, of whatever happened in court, all the information about, regarding to court actions and so forth. And besides the letters and so forth that he sent me, so he was the one that really did a good job.

TK: Were there other attorneys involved along with Mr. Besig and Mr. Collins in preparing for the first Supreme Court case, or are there court cases that you'd like to mention?

FK: No, I can't.

TK: Do you know how they prepared for the Supreme Court case, how they gathered materials to present to the Supreme Court on your behalf?

FK: No, on things like the details, they, they never let me know on that, yeah. Because I'm not a lawyer, so therefore, they did not do that, because it would just take, you know, their time and so forth, and so I wouldn't get what they were saying.

TK: We know how Mr. Besig came to you, how did you meet Mr. Collins?

FK: He brought Mr. Collins to me at one of the meetings that we had at Tanforan at the guest time, we'd all go up on the, certain part of the grandstand where guests who were, could be there for visiting. And so every week Mr. Besig would come and see me, and he brought Mr. Collins with him.

TK: The first time you saw Mr. Collins, what was your reaction? We know what happened, about your reaction with Mr. Besig, how would you, what was your reaction about Mr. Collins?

FK: Well, he was a very intelligent man, and he was the kind of person that if he took a job, that he was gonna go through with it. That's the way I saw him. And then he did that, so he wasn't the type that just, you know, take one job and take another, and if he didn't like it, then drop it. He went right through with, with Mr. Besig, both of 'em. Besig picked a good man.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TK: This is my final question. If you had, if you were asked to give a message to the third or fourth generation of Japanese Americans, or just Americans in general, based upon your experiences, what kind of message might you like to give?

FK: Well, the message is that we need more people in public office, in Congress, and in the Senate in Washington. And because I realized that when the redress bill went into Congress, and if it wasn't for Congressman Norm Mineta and Congressman Bob Matsui and the two senators, Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, I don't think, I think... I'm afraid that it wouldn't have passed, if they didn't push the bill. And you know, on television, they showed what was going on regarding to the redress. And here Norm Mineta, Congressman Norm Mineta, got up in front of the whole Congress and told 'em about what happened in camp and so forth, when he was a boy. And boy, that takes a lot of guts to do things, something like that in front of Congress. And he showed how important he was, that really, you know, I can feel for him. And he was a good congressman. And not only that, Dan Inouye, he was up there. And we wondered about the $20,000 that we wanted to get, and how we were gonna get it. It was rumored that we weren't gonna get it. And we all met with him, Dan Inouye, in his office, and he says, "The way to go in getting the $20,000 is through an entitlement, and that's the way we should go." And that's the way we went, and we got it. The money was there for us because of entitlement, and if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have had that. So things like that -- it's important that we have people like that, and we still need more, because they're not going to be here for many years, and we need more. Because even judges and so forth, lot of times you have difficult times with judges. They have their own ideas, too, and maybe sometimes it's against the Constitution. They may ignore it, so we gotta be aware of that, too, to get good judges up there. We need more Japanese, or more Asian judges.

So I say, one thing is, education is very important, and to, not to fool around and really study and get up and get a good position to help out. And that's the way... everybody's trying to do it now, and I think that's the way to go.

TK: Thank you.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

Matt Emery: After your family got out of camp, where did you guys go? You were in Topaz, right? Where did the family go after that? Did the family stay together, did your brother move away?

FK: No, we went back to California. My parents did and my brothers did because we had, we had a, we have a nursery. We have a nursery there, and even though they did not maintain it and everything was in shambles, but we had a place. Otherwise we wouldn't have it. And the bank held it for us, so we started all over from the foundations, built up the house and, greenhouses and all, all the pipes and things in the nursery was corroded, and we had to fix that, and the boilerhouse had to be restored again, to be operational and things like that. But the bank was willing to loan us the money, and so we went right back to work, and we finally got that. So we were one of, one of the lucky ones. Now, there were other Japanese families that leased land for growing strawberries, acres and acres of strawberries. 'Cause they used, because after they were interned, there wasn't any strawberry in California because all the strawberries were grown by Japanese. And, but see, it didn't take buildings and so forth to grow strawberries, they grew it right outside, and they just had a small house and so forth to live in, which wasn't very much of a house. So the owner, see, that was leased. All the lands were leased, so when a owner got it back, they just plowed everything up and did his own, gave it to some farmers or started building homes on top, and so they lost their land completely. And they're the ones that had to find other kinds of work, or go into farming further away from the city, or wherever land they can get. But quite a few went into other fields like gardening and nursery business like bedding plants and so forth. And lot of 'em did well in making bedding plants, so that's what happened.


TK: The question is, when you were arrested and the newspaper called you a spy, do you remember what went through your mind at that time?

FK: Well, I thought it was a big joke because I didn't do anything wrong. And here I've been here all my life, and they know, they know that I've lived here all my life. They knew it because even before Pearl Harbor, they told my friends that was in, that was in military uniform to lay off of me, and they knew that we went to school together. Being arrested was... I just didn't feel that I did anything wrong.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TK: This is an interview of Kathryn Korematsu, on May 14, 1996, and we're in Seattle, Washington. Ms. Korematsu, could you talk about your life, where you were born, and what kind of family did you have? How many siblings, what your parents were like, where you were born? That whole area.

KK: Well, I was born in Greenville, South Carolina, which is in, what they called the Piedmont section of the south, very near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a city, and industrial city, mostly cotton mills surrounding it. And I grew up in the Greenville... well, I was, lived in Greenville -- my father was originally from North Carolina, my mother was a South Carolinian, and she was from a large family. She was the third of the, of nine children.

I actually started school in the first grade, we did not have kindergarten in South Carolina at that time, and I started school at the same school my mother had gone to, and I always thought that was sort of special. We moved to North Carolina when I was, I think, in the second, yeah, second grade, lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, and then subsequently, in the small community outside of Charlotte. And I lived there until I was in the eighth grade. And then we spent one year on the North Carolina coast in a small community, fishing community, and then we went back to South Carolina and I graduated from high school there. I had a sister who was, I was eight years older than she, and she died when she was five. Then later, a brother was born when I was a junior in high school, and he's an architect now and lives in New York City.

My parents, my father was a mechanic and managed to work during the Depression, and so the Depression didn't hit us as it did a lot of families, but I know that my mother helped lots of people. She had a very soft heart, and she helped a lot of people.

TK: What was your father's name and your mother's maiden name, and then your brothers' and sisters' names?

KK: My brother is David, my sister is Virginia, the one who died, that was a big blow to our family.

TK: And your mother and father's names?

KK: My mother was Annie Bell, and my father's name was Fritz.

TK: Did you enjoy your life when you were younger? Was it a happy life?

KK: Yes, I think so. I loved going to school, and I always cried if I was sick and had to stay home, 'cause I, it wasn't that -- I know our children, when they were growing up, if they had to stay home from school, they missed the kids. I missed the learning, so I would cry, "I'm missing this, I'm missing that," 'cause I loved school. I had good teachers, I had teachers that were interested in me, and I really enjoyed school a lot, and that, of course, was my big life, that and church. And I was a Girl Scout for a while as a young girl. My mother was a large family, aunts and uncles, and there was a lot of visiting back and forth. My mother was a good cook and a good seamstress, so she made my clothes. And I would say I had a good childhood, considering what some other children had, especially during the Depression years.

I graduated from high school in 1938 and went, then went to Winthrop College, which is in Rock Hill, South Carolina. It's actually, the title was Winthrop College, the South Carolina College for Women. I understand now they take men, but at that time... it started out as a teacher's school, a normal school, and became more than that. And I majored in biology and chemistry. And from there I went to Detroit, Michigan, to get a master's degree in medical technology at Wayne University.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TK: And something happened in Detroit.

KK: Yes, well, I was there for, from 1942, when I graduated from college, that fall I went up to Detroit. And I was there, and I only met Fred in 1945. But about 1943, probably, I met some Japanese American girls who had come to the church that I was attending, they had been invited by our minister. I became very close friends with one of the girls, and actually, when we got married, she was my, my attendant. Through her, I met a lot of other Japanese Americans, boys and girls, some had come to go to college at Wayne University, some had come for jobs. There was an International House connected with the university, and there was where I met a lot of the Japanese -- I used to go with her to these programs that they had, and then we, sometimes we went bowling with some of the groups, and I just, she was, she was a good friend of mine. I had other friends in Detroit, but she was, became a real good friend. And through her, through having met this fellow named Mits Takayama, he was originally from California, we're just good friends, you know. And he had told us that... well, I had met Fred's brother before I met him.

TK: Which brother was this?

KK: There's a youngest brother named Joe, and I said to him -- oh, this friend of mine was named Elma, and I think she took the Pacific Citizen. She wasn't a member, but I think she took the paper. 'Cause that was the only news that was available about the Japanese community and what happening. It was then being, I think, written, published in Denver. And so we knew about the Korematsu case. So when I met Fred's brother, I had met enough Japanese Americans that I knew that some names were very common, like Jones, it'd be the equivalent of Jones and Smith in the, the American community. And I said to his brother, "Oh, Korematsu, that must be a rather common name." [Laughs] He said, "No, I don't think so." But he didn't, he didn't tip his hand, but he was Fred's brother. He probably thought I didn't know who Fred was. But that's, see, I knew I knew the name, it was familiar, and I didn't associate it with Fred and the case at the time, but I knew it was a familiar-sounding name, and I knew about "matsus" and "motos" and stuff like that. And so I know Mits was rooming, he was rooming with Mits Takayama at the YMCA, Fred's brother. And I know that he told me that... Fred had come to visit his brother on his way to New York. He had a friend there he was going to visit, and I think he actually thought he might stay in New York. And I remember Mits telling us that Fred had come in, and I guess he had slept in the bed with Fred's brother. [Laughs] And he said, "You know, I wanted to tell Joe something before I went to work, and I couldn't tell them apart." Now, I don't think they look that much alike, but he seemed to think they did. And, 'cause Joe has more of a round face like the mother, and Fred is high cheek bones and the thinner face like his father.

But anyway, eventually -- that was in April of 1945 -- Mits called me one Sunday afternoon. He went to a different church. And I think that was something we had in common, you know, we were both Christians. And he said, "How would you like to go for a ride?" And I said, "Okay," he said, "Do you think Elma would like to go?" And so I said, "Well, I'll call up and find out." So she said yes, and he called back and said, "Shall we pick you up?" So they picked me up at my apartment building, and then we picked up Elma. And gas was so rationed then, you know, you couldn't go anywhere much. But Fred, of course, one of the first things he did after he got a job was buy a car. And in Detroit it wasn't a bad idea if you worked in certain sections, because although they had public transportation, it might take you a long time to get from one place, one part of the city to the other. So he, we did go for a ride, we went to this place called Bell Isle, which is on... I lived on the west side of town, and this was on the east side. And we sort of walked around and talked. I think in the beginning, I was in the -- I somehow got in the back seat with Mits, and Fred and Elma were in front. Then whenever we were going back, I was sitting in front with Fred, and Elma was back with Mits. Well, we dropped her off first, and then they took me to my apartment. It was still light, you know. And Fred walked me to my door of the apartment building, and he asked me for a date. He said how about the following Friday night. He was going to go hear Tommy Dorsey, see, there was a big band, that was the big band era. And unfortunately, I had already made plans, and I said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I can't go." And he said, well, he didn't take no -- "How about the following week?" And I didn't have anything, so I said, "Oh, all right."

Well, we dated a few times, and mostly going to dance, to the dance bands. There was a place called Eastwood Gardens, and all the dance bands were there, and there were service, servicemen and their dates, some teenagers, that were older teenagers. And Fred and I went, and nobody looked twice at us. It was an outdoor place, large dance area and tables around where you could... there were no, there was just soft drinks that they sold. So then we just started, you know, one thing led to another, we just started going together.

Then I went up to Michigan State, took a job up there as an assistant in research, and Fred would come up on the weekends. And then finally we decided we'd get married, so I got a job in Detroit at another hospital. And we were married in Detroit, and Mits was the best man, and Elma was my attendant.

TK: What was Elma's last name?

KK: Amamoto at the time.

TK: Did she marry later?

KK: Yes.

TK: It wasn't to Mits?

KK: No. No, Mits married a Caucasian girl, her name is Phyllis, and they now live in another part of Michigan, near Grand Travis Bay.

TK: What was it about Fred that set him apart from other people, so that you...

KK: Well, I had dated some other fellows in Detroit, some engineers... but he had a certain maturity about him, and he, I don't know, he was easygoing, he liked to, he liked to enjoy himself. It seemed like the other fellows I dated were... I don't know, they thought so much about themselves. And I didn't think they were, even though they were older, they didn't have the maturity. I know that one of the, some of the other friends that I had, Caucasian friends, I remember one in particular saying she had a boyfriend, and I said, "Oh, do you think you'll marry him?" And she said, "I don't think so, he's not, he's too, he has too many immature ways." [Laughs] So we were looking for maturity. It goes a long way.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TK: When did Fred first tell you, or did he tell you, he was involved with the Supreme Court cases?

KK: Well, see, we had talked to Mits when we knew that Fred had come to visit his brother. We said, "Is that Fred Korematsu of the case?" And he said, "Yes, it is." So I knew about the case, and we really didn't discuss that very much. I knew he had lost, and I really don't have a lot of memories of, of talking about it. I knew he always said he didn't ever want to live in California again, but his, he hadn't seen his parents in seven years, and he knew his mother was not in the best of health. So we gave up our very good jobs because the weather there was just... neither of us had been brought up in that climate, and it was not easy to take. And our children are very glad that we did go to California. [Laughs] 'Cause they said, "We don't, we're glad we weren't born in Michigan." [Laughs] But the case... no, we did, I'm sure we talked about it, and I knew that he wanted in some way to reopen it, but we knew even then attorneys were not cheap. People, high-paying jobs were, didn't pay anything like the low-paying jobs do now. People make thousands of dollars now, if you made a few, if you made a few thousand dollars a year back then, that was good money.

The time we started talking about things was... I'm not sure what year it was. I'm guessing it's about 1978. Clifford Uyeda called Fred. He was president of the JACL at the time, and they were gonna have some sort of, I think it must have been their convention in Salt Lake City, and he said Gordon and Min were going to be there and he would like to invite Fred, and Fred refused to go. He was interested not in... well, this was just kind of -- I don't know, he didn't, we weren't sure of what was gonna happen, and he just didn't want to become involved. And so I said to Fred -- we didn't know about the Hokubei Mainichi, and we knew about the Nichi Bei Times published in San Francisco. I think we had seen that at the nursery, but I'd only seen the Japanese section. [Interruption] And so we never took that because we couldn't, neither of us could read Japanese. So I thought, well, I said to Fred, "I'm going to start taking the Pacific Citizen and see if I can, you know, let's find out what's going on. I think he mentioned redress, and Fred knew he didn't want to get involved in that, because he was, wanted to do something about his case. And so we started taking the Pacific Citizen, and that's... one reason Fred never went to the commission hearings is because we got the idea through the Japanese, through the paper, that the JACL was in charge of all of that. And I know that the night before, Wayne Collins, Jr. was going to talk, he called Fred and asked him if he had anything to say, and Fred said, "No." I don't, I suppose he was going to tell about his father's experiences with -- 'cause he did, Wayne Collins, I learned later, did so much for the Japanese community, the renunciants, I think to a certain extent Peruvians, I'm not sure. And that would have been... and he did it all through the ACLU, which he was not an ACLU attorney, they couldn't even afford a full-time attorney, but he, I think he was paid through the ACLU, as best as they could pay him.

TK: Can I take you back to Detroit again, that early years of your married life before you had children, what would you do every day?

KK: Well, I worked, Fred worked.

TK: How did you, how did you enjoy yourself during that time, before you had children?

KK: Well, we were, Fred became a member of my church, he had been brought up a Christian, and we had church activities, we had friends that we did things with. We took trips, we took vacations, and we just kept busy, that's all. And we hadn't, we knew we wanted children, but we had just only apartments. We hadn't tried to buy a house, because we really didn't think we'd settle there. We kept talking about the weather, and how it affected us. We were there three years, and then we left.

TK: And came to California.

KK: And went to California and stayed at the nursery for quite a few months. That was a very good move, because two years later, Fred's mother died, and I think...

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TK: When did you start having children?

KK: About a year after we arrived in California.

TK: So Karen was there, probably?

KK: Born in 1950. In the fall of '50 we had arrived in October of '50, of 1949, and she was born in September of 1950.

TK: When was it that Karen -- and your other son, is it Ken?

KK: Ken.

TK: When did they first hear about the Korematsu case?

KK: Well, Karen, there was a girl in her class, Maya Okada, who Karen had gone to school with from first grade, and this was high school, and she was a junior, I believe, in high school. This was a social studies class. And she had, Maya had given a book report on a little book called Concentration Camps, USA, written by a Caucasian. It was very small, very small paperback book, and in it, it had Fred's name, but not very much about him, it was just about the, mentioned the case, I think. And she mentioned Fred Korematsu, and I think Karen was shocked, probably. I don't even, I need to ask Maya if she really knew that was Karen's dad, 'cause she could have thought that was another Korematsu. And Karen came home and said, told me about this book report, and they mentioned Fred Korematsu. And I said, "Well, that's your dad," and she says, "What's this all about?" And I told her as best I could, and I said, "When your dad comes home, you can, you can talk to him." And now, our son says he doesn't remember learning about it at the time. He was four years younger, and so he was still in junior high. And he said that he learned about it in school. I don't remember that in particular, but that's what he says he remembers.

And so we weren't any different than a lot of Japanese American families where both the mother and the father were Japanese American, because they didn't talk about it, either. People ask me, "Why didn't they talk about it?" Well, after knowing a lot of Nisei and Issei, although I couldn't communicate with them, not only I thought, I think that they were frightened about the whole matter, in the beginning, at least, I think they were hurt. I don't see them as being bitter. I know that people have told me that this person's bitter and that person's bitter, and Fred's asked that question. And bitter, to me, means people who are just angry, angry, angry, and I don't see them that way. Fred has never been that angry, you know, the angry young man or anything. It's a matter of being, not understanding why, and that was Fred. He didn't understand why he lost, because he says in spite of the girlfriend and all that, he, he learned about the Constitution in school, and he thought he was equal, and he thought it was unconstitutional, and Mr. Besig thought it was unconstitutional. And so I don't know if the Nisei thought in those terms, but they knew, I'm sure they knew that something was wrong, that it shouldn't happen. And I think that they were just mystified and really hurt. And I think the Issei were frightened out of their skins, really. And the Nisei had to, had to be protective of their parents. Fred having three other brothers, was freer than a lot of the Nisei. And a lot of them wish now that they had, they could have refused. But who would have helped them? Fred was just fortunate.

We asked Mr. Besig... we went to see him before Fred accepted this Earl Warren's Civil Liberties Award from the ACLU, and we asked him. There again, he, Fred said, "What shall I say to them about you?" And he said, "You can tell them I thought it was unconstitutional then, and I still think it's unconstitutional." Mr. Besig read, said he read about Fred in the newspaper, that's how he knew about it.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TK: During that time, until the 1980s, did the Korematsu case play any significant role in your family, married life?

KK: No, not really. Fred's family never talked about it. There's a lot of shame, I guess, the Japanese, if you don't, if you don't do what your parents want you to do, you're kind of a shameful person. And I think that the family felt shame. [Interruption] And, no, it's just, and as I said, Fred and I began to talk about, he kept saying, "Oh, I wish I could reopen my case." And you know, our, we'd always come to the same conclusion, that it cost money, and who would do that, and how would you do that? And he, people, there were students mostly that would call, and he would talk to them on the phone. Always one question was, "Could it happen again?" Fred's answer was always, "Yes, it could." He did go to this off-campus class at Berkeley one time, and that was the only time he ever talked about, or spoke to a group, until after the coram nobis case was in the works.

TK: When was that class?

KK: It was probably... our daughter was in, I think she might have been, it was probably about 1969, '70, probably about 1970.

TK: Do you remember the instructor, 'cause that was probably --

KK: Well, he wasn't instructor. It was not a bona fide class. These students, these Asian American students wanted this class, it had to be off campus, and Paul Takagi was a professor at Cal, and I guess probably one of the few Japanese American professors there at the time. And so they asked him to sort of be their advisor, and he's the one that called us. And Fred wasn't too keen about doing it, but I thought, these are college students, and this is a group. There was also Gordon's brother, who was then a professor at San Francisco State, and another fellow that Fred had known, nurseryman, Ken Fuji, that Fred had known all his life, I guess. And so the three of them were on the program, and our daughter went with us, and she was very intrigued, you know, to hear. And I was so proud of Fred, you know. What he told the students was what he's saying now: "You've got to get involved. You've got to get out there and get into office, political office, make yourselves visible, get into jobs where people, you know, you can affect, influence people."

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TK: Did you have a reaction when Peter Irons called Fred?

KK: He sent a letter, and he said he was writing a book. This is a two-page letter. And he said he was writing a book. Fred says, uh-oh, you know, "Here's somebody else just wants my story." But on the second page, he said that he had found some information that might be able, that might make it possible to reopen the case, and he would like to talk with Fred. That's what got Fred's attention, not the fact that he was writing the book. And so then he called Fred -- we were listed in the phone book then. [Laughs] That's how people called us from time to time. He made the appointment to come on a certain time, and I was going to be there, but I, our daughter had been out of town, she's an interior designer and she'd been out of town on a job and I was picking her up in her car from the San Francisco airport. On the way, the car quit on me, so I had to call Fred, come back, he had to come get me and we left the car there, and I took him back home to meet with Peter. And I went to the airport, picked up our daughter, and when we got back to the house, the interview was finished and Peter was leaving. So we didn't get to really only say hello then. But he came back later. I believe the second time he came, he had Dale with him, Dale Minami, who became the lead counsel in the coram nobis case. And there was more talk, and eventually, you know, one thing led to -- I mean, then later on, I think the next time he came, it was Dale and Don with him, and then eventually a group of attorneys came over one evening. And they treated us just like clients, they asked us our opinions all along the way, if there was a decision to make, they let us make it. As far as, you know, as far as it was our involvement to do so. And they're a great bunch of people.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TK: Do you remember how you felt the day Judge Patel gave her decision?

KK: Well, you know, I was in the courtroom, and I was sitting back. I wasn't with the legal team, of course. And I sat there and I was impressed with her. And she was giving Victor Stone a bad time. [Laughs] And, you know, 'cause he was trying to get another delay, and I think, there'd been a lot of delays already and she had decided that there would be no more. And I was so excited that I had to, I had verify -- Lori came over to me -- and I had to verify with Lori, I said, "Did we win?" [Laughs] You know, because I wanted to be sure I had heard correctly. But it was, it was a great day, and I saw people crying. Our son was there, Fred's brother had come, he left immediately 'cause he had to go somewhere else and our son had to go to work. He had just taken off from work to be there. Our daughter happened to be in Japan on a trip that had already been planned before she knew the date of the hearing. And she wanted to know if she should stay for the hearing, I said no, this is, the trip was sort of like a once in a lifetime type of trip. And so she wasn't there, but she was overjoyed that her father was, had won.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TK: Between the time Peter Irons came to the door and Judge Patel gave her decision, there must have been many momentous and surprising or interesting events. Do you remember any that are...

KK: Well, yes. Fred had told the attorneys that he didn't want to speak, 'cause that wasn't his, that wasn't something he did easily, although I know that time he went to Berkeley, I was just very proud of him. But we did go out helping to fundraise for the expenses. The attorneys' services were all pro bono, including Peter Irons and all the legal team, and anybody else who worked on the case in other areas, it was all pro bono. But there were expenses, and so they went out fundraising and Fred said, when we found out about it, I think, talking to Dale about it. Well, he had brought us back a plaque from one of them, down in southern California and Fred says, "I think we ought to be helping them." So I mentioned this to Dale and he said, "Oh, you think Fred would go?" and I said, "Yeah." So we, I remember a trip down to southern California, first speaking at the UCLA law school. It was a tremendous group of students, large group. And then we were at the, my friend Elma eventually returned to the West Coast, married, and she and her husband picked us up at the airport, took us to the law school, and then stayed with us. Somebody had been, some student had been assigned to us to show us around the campus. We went, we ate at the cafeteria, spent some time on the campus, then later that evening went to Gardena. And I think Lori was there, Dale...

TK: Was it Lori Bannai?

KK: Bannai. Dale Minami, Peter Irons, and I'm not sure if Dennis Hayashi was there or not. And this, I think it was primarily a JACL group because my friend Elma had been part of the planning. That's why she and her husband picked us up. We stayed at their house that night, and then the next day she took us to the Getty Museum, we'd never been there, and then put us on a plane for home. But that, that was a special evening, and I think that might have been our first fundraiser. Trying to think of others that kind of escape me right now. There were local ones, of course.

TK: Anything funny going on during this time period? Any incidents that made you laugh during the time that Peter Irons came and the coram nobis decision was made? Anything that was unusual, ironic or funny?

KK: Well, I know it was a lot of fun to get together with Peter and Dale and Don and those kids. They were kids to us. Peter was not that old at the time. We went to Stanford law school one time, a large group of the attorneys were there. And then afterwards, one of the Japanese American fellows, I think there again the JACL had, might have, group might have been involved as well as Stanford law school. And they took us out to a Japanese restaurant, and I remember Peter liking Japanese beer. [Laughs] But it was always lots of fun to go with them, they were, had, people with good senses of humor, and Fred and I just felt very privileged to be with them.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TK: How has life been since 1984 to the present for you?

KK: Well, yes, it's been, It's been a lot different. We've been invited to many law schools, some of the Ivy League ones, and Midwest, and of course, we've gone to all the local schools, Cal many, many times, Cal Berkeley many, many times. San Francisco State, Stanford many times. And it's always interesting, especially when we can meet the students. We like that, and I remember last fall, we went to Western Massachusetts to Amherst and Smith colleges on the same trip and met a number of Japanese, Asian American students, but some of 'em are Japanese Americans. And I remember telling someone when we got back how we have such hope for the future because of these students.

TK: If you're talking to your great-grandchildren, or great-great-grandchildren...

KK: That will never happen. [Laughs]

TK: Well, but you have a lot of, as we know today, all the students who went to law school, when they consider what you two have done, what Fred has done is fantastic. What kind of message would you like to give to them?

KK: Well, I would like to tell them to, you know... get an education primarily. Learn as much as you can about the, your past, the past history of Japanese Americans in the United States, especially the internment. [Pauses] To always guard, be on guard, to protect their rights, to stand up for their rights. [Becomes emotional] Sorry. That one person can make a difference, even if it takes forty years.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1996 Densho. All Rights Reserved.