Facinghistoryblog

Facing American Civil Rights and Wrongs

Facing History and Ourselves Cleveland is proud to be a community partner for The City Club of Cleveland’s event, Of Civil Wrongs and Rights, on November 10th. The event is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our organization’s values and our commitment to other groups doing similar work.The event will be a great example of the effort to deconstruct historical events as a method of engaging with the past, in order to develop lessons for the present.

Facing History and Ourselves is a nonprofit international educational and professional development organization. Our mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. Facing History and Ourselves fights for justice and democracy through education, combatting bigotry, and prejudice by encouraging young people to act as upstanders—people who take action against injustice and better their communities. We use historical and contemporary events as teaching moments to help students identify racism, religious intolerance, and prejudice. We challenge youth to make personal connections between the past and their own present in order to develop empathy and understanding. We believe that we can break down “us” vs. “them” mentalities by fostering thoughtful, reflective dialogue among students and teachers of all diverse backgrounds so they can embrace differences and make positive choices in their lives.

As part of our work, we encourage schools, teachers, and students to re-engage with moments of tension in American history. By examining historical events through new and diverse lenses, we believe that students will gain critical thinking skills, empathy and tolerance, civic responsibility, and the belief they can make a difference in the world. It is essential to teach about historical wrongdoings so our students stand up for justice in the future.

Karen Korematsu’s planned presentation is an example of how lessons from the past can help us work toward a better future. Her work as a civil rights advocate, public speaker and public educator, has helped to extend her own father’s work advocating for civil liberties for all communities. Korematsu’s talk will center on the internment of over 120,000 Japanese Americans in the United States during the Second World War. President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 granted the U.S. military the power to ban tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese ancestry from areas deemed critical to domestic security. The military utilized the power bestowed upon it and banned “all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien” from areas stretching from Washington State to southern Arizona, placing them in internment camps for the duration of the war.

Karen Korematsu’s father, Fred Korematsu, rose in defiance of the order and refused to leave his home in San Leandro, California. For this, he was duly convicted and his appeal reached the Supreme Court. Though the Court upheld Korematsu’s conviction, his defiance and his later work in helping to bring about the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 shows us how individuals who stand up for justice can make a significant difference. Today, we look to our past misdeeds to help us understand the work that must be done in the present to promote social justice and equity. Ms. Korematsu will speak about this dark moment in American history, one that the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians now defines as being motivated “largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

We hope that in learning about this historical wrongdoing, those who attend the event will think about the relevance of these issues today, as well as understand the importance of teaching and learning the multifaceted perspectives in the complex history of this nation.

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