Seventy years after the United States detained citizens of Japanese ancestry, the gallery that honors noteworthy Americans on Thursday dedicated a portrait of a man who defied the order.
The National Portrait Gallery put up two photographs of Fred Korematsu, a welder from Oakland, California, who refused to comply with President Franklin Roosevelt's directive to round up some 120,000 Japanese Americans.
After he was caught, Korematsu challenged the order all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the detentions were justified after Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor triggered US involvement in World War II.
Korematsu kept pursuing the case after his release, and a court cleared his name in 1983. The United States formally apologized in 1988 for incarcerating Japanese Americans due to suspicions over their loyalty.
"He believed for almost 40 years that we have the ability in this country to come to justice if we're given the opportunity and he never gave up hope," Karen Korematsu said of her father, who died in 2005.
"If we don't learn the lessons of history, we're doomed to repeat them," she told the dedication ceremony.
Asian American groups have been seeking greater recognition of Korematsu. California has made January 30, his birthday, Fred Korematsu Day with events around the state to highlight his story.
Korematsu becomes the first Asian American in a permanent collection at National Portrait Gallery called "The Struggle for Justice," which features Americans who worked on behalf of the disenfranchised.
Coincidentally, the photographs of Korematsu hang next to a portrait of Earl Warren, who organized the detention of Japanese Americans when he was California's attorney general.
Warren is better known for his later stint as the US chief justice under whom the Supreme Court reached landmark decisions including the 1954 ban on racial segregation in schools.
Source: AFP American Edition