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mr-absentia

Yuri Kochiyama, Civil Rights Legend

from obitoftheday.com (via kyotocat):

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On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was gunned down during a speech in New York City. As he lay dying, one of the first people to rush to his side was Yuri Kochiyama who held his head in her hands saying, “Please, Malcolm! Please, Malcolm! Stay alive!” The scene was captured in a LIFE magazine photograph documenting the black leader’s assassination.

Mrs. Kochiyama met Mr. X several years earlier, going up to the black nationalist leader in a crowded courthouse and asking to shake his hand. When he asked why, she replied “To congratulate you for giving direction to your people.”

He was not the only one. Mrs. Kochiyama spent her life fighting for the rights of fellow Japanese-Americans. It began within hours of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Her father, a fisherman of Japanese descent, was one of the first men arrested by the FBI after news of Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. Navy. He was released six weeks later, but died within 12 hours of his return home.

A few months later, the rest of her family was moved into an internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas. They were forced to stay there for two years. It was at that time that she began to recognize the similarities in the treatment of Japanese-Americans and the Southern black community. She made a personal commitment to fight against racial injustice.

In 1960, she moved with her husband, Bill Kochiyama (a fellow internee and veteran of the 442nd regiment - the most decorated in World War II) to Manhattan. They lived in Harlem and were very active in the civil rights movement, hosting Freedom Riders in her home and joining the Harlem Parents Committee, which focused on neighborhood safety and equality in education.

It was in 1963 that she met Malcolm X and joined his Organization for Afro-American Unity the following year. (Another member of the OAAU was Maya Angelou, featured previously on Obit of the Day.) This was also when the FBI began keeping a file on Mrs. Kochiyama which included notes describing her as a “Red Chinese agent.”

She remained politically active throughout the 1960s and ’70s, protesting the Vietnam War and pushing for nuclear disarmament.

In the 1980s Mrs. and Mr. Kochiyama pushed aggressively for an official apology from the U.S. government for the blatantly racist segregation of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during the war. They were victorious. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act which was an official apology and awarded each survivor of internment $20,000.

For her work, Mrs. Kochiyama was nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

Yuri Kochiyama died on June 1, 2014 at the age of 93.

Sources: NPR (obituary), NPR (August 2013), Democracy Now (interview), www.blackpast.org, and Wikipedia

(Image: Yuri Kochiyama speaking at an anti-war rally in Central Park in 1968. Courtesy of the Kochiyama family/UCLA Asian American Studies Center vis NPR.org)

Also relevant on Obit of the Day:

Patricia Stephens Due - Founder of the Tallahassee chapter of CORE

Clara Luper - Oklahoma civil rights pioneer

Franklin McCain - One of the four college students who began the Greensboro, NC Woolworth sit-in

Fred Shuttlesworth - Leader of the “Children’s Crusade”

Senji Yamaguchi - Survivor of the Nagasaki atomic bomb who spent his life fighting for nuclear disarmament

Reposted byjapanicaseverak
(PRO)
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