He was arrested, convicted of a felony and sent to an internment camp in Utah. He challenged the conviction but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against him in 1944.
Forty years later, uncovered documents revealed the government had concealed evidence that racism, not military necessity (as had been purported), had motivated the internment.
With the help of a team of pro bono attorneys led by San Francisco attorney Dale Minami, Korematsu reopened the case. A federal court judge reversed the conviction and agreed with Korematsu when he said, "They did me a great wrong."
Korematsu lobbied Congress for a reparations bill, which passed in 1988, and which mandated a national apology and payment of $20,000 to each survivor of the internment camps.
In January, President Clinton awarded Korematsu the Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor.
Committed to his conviction that no other American should experience the injustice that he and other Japanese Americans endured, Korematsu, who lives in San Leandro, travels around the country telling his story to students at universities and law schools.
Last year's recipients of the Pearlstein Civil Rights Award in its inaugural year were Virginia and Carl Pearlstein and Riva and David Berelson.
Cost for the luncheon is $50. For reservations, call ADL at (415) 981-3500.