Tak and Carol Furumoto in front of Fort Lee, NJ, Municipal Building. Photo: Nick Hayashi.
Takeshi Tak & Carolyn Furumoto
While California was the first in 2010 to proclaim January 30th, the birthday of Japanese American civil rights activist Fred Korematsu, as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, an increasing number of states have passed similar resolutions to remember the American who was turned away from military service because of his Japanese ancestry, and who later refused to follow mandate of Executive Order 9066 to move to an incarceration camp because he believed his civil rights were being violated. In 2016, my wife, Carolyn, and I got involved with the New York City Council’s resolution to pass the Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. The Council requested testimonials from survivors of internment camps. As a survivor of the Tule Lake Segregation Camp, I was asked to testify by Mr. George Hirose, President of NY JACL. With my wife on the Chamber floor, I testified before the City Council proudly wearing my Vietnam fatigues. My testimony, along with other former internees, was the first push to pass Fred Korematsu Day in New York City. Although it took two years to finally pass the resolution, the first Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution was celebrated on January 30, 2017 in front of New York City’s City Hall. Carolyn and I attended holding our homemade signs, “Stand up for what is right”—Fred Korematsu” and, “Camp Survivor & Vietnam Vet.”
Happily, in our hometown of Fort Lee, New Jersey, it only took several days to pass the Fred Korematsu Day resolution. The Fort Lee mayor and six council members read our collective testimonials and swiftly passed the resolution on January 16, 2020. We celebrated the passage on January 30, 2020 at the Borough Hall Courtroom. Why did it only take several days to pass the resolution in Fort Lee? In part, because of our strong relationship in the Fort Lee, New Jersey community.
We have been residents of New Jersey for close to fifty years and have strong ties to the area. I arrived in Fort Lee in May of 1971, several months after coming back from Vietnam and was suffering from PSTD. I was able to find work at Mikasa Chinaware in Secaucus, NJ. A short time later, I was terminated by Mikasa because of my PTSD. With Carolyn’s help and support, I worked through my issues and we opened a real estate business in June of 1974. Our timing couldn’t have been better as many Japanese nationals were establishing businesses in New Jersey and commuting to New York City. Our real estate business blossomed and we were embraced by the people in Fort Lee for bringing in prosperous Japanese nationals to the area. Carolyn and I received “Man and Woman” of the Year by the Fort Lee Chamber of Commerce in April, 2000 and the key to the Borough of Fort Lee in February of 2015 for our service to the Community. Due to the pandemic, this year's celebration of Fred Korematsu Day was marked with the release of a YouTube video on January 30, 2021,
The importance of speaking up for the protection of civil liberties and fighting injustice remains as important as ever. The New Jersey legislature is close to passing a statewide Fred Korematsu Day. State Senator Lagana, sponsored the Joint Senate Resolution and Carolyn and I testified before the State Senate in Trenton, New Jersey. Simultaneously, Assemblyman Verrelli and Assemblyman Mukherji sponsored Joint Assembly Resolution 182 to designate January 30 of each year as Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution. Both measures passed. A final vote in the Senate passed 33 to 0 and a final vote in the Assembly will take place in February. We remain committed to shepherding the passage of this important resolution through the remaining steps in New Jersey and hope that in time, Fred Korematsu day will be recognized nationally.
[EdNote: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of JAVA.]