Now she has passed on.
Rest in Peace. Yuri Kochiyama.
May 19, 1921 to June 1, 2014.
She was a daughter, mother, grandmother, friend, mentor, activist and powerful example to so many people whose lives she touched during her long life.
The following video was made before her death.
Yuri Kochiyama is a tireless political activist who has dedicated her life to contributing to social change through her participation in social justice and human rights movements.
She was born and raised in San Pedro, California but spent two years in a concentration camp in Jerome, Arkansas during World War II. Following the war, she moved to New York and married Bill Kochiyama, veteran of the all-Japanese American 442nd combat unit of the U.S. Army.
Yuri’s activism started in Harlem in the early 1960’s, where she participated in the Asian American, Black and Third World movements for civil and human rights, ethnic studies, and against the war in Vietnam. In 1963, she met Malcolm X. Their friendship and political alliance changed her life and outlook. She joined his group, the Organization for Afro-American Unity, to work for racial justice and human rights. Yuri was present on the day he was tragically shot and killed in 1965. In the Life magazine article “Death of Malcolm X,” she can be seen crouched in the background, cradling Malcolm X’s head.
In the 1980’s, Yuri worked in the redress and reparations movement for Japanese-Americans along with her husband Bill. Support for political prisoners – African American, Puerto Rican, Native American, Asian American, and progressive whites – has been a consistent thread in her work.
She has also won numerous awards, spoken at over 100 schools and colleges throughout the country, and has been featured in several books, films (including Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice and My America: Honk if You Love Buddha) and a television documentary in 2001 (Cool Women – directed by Debbie Allen – as one of several segments on a diverse array of women in the United States). UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center published her memoirs entitled Passing It On in 2004. A biography on Yuri’s Life, called Heartbeat of the Struggle, was written in 2005.
She is the mother of six children, and has nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
(Source: adapted from a biography provided by the Kochiyama family)
Actress Sandra Oh reads the speech given by Yuri Kochiyama who was held in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. Part of a reading from Voices of a People's History of the United States given October 5, 2005 in Los Angeles California (Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove.)Densho Encyclopedia has a full biography of her incredible life journey and a series of video interviews with Yuri.
There are many tributes to her pouring in.
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Elaine Woo for the LA Times. "Yuri Kochiyama dies at 93; civil rights activist, friend of Malcolm X"
I have written about Yuri here on Daily Kos as one of my Sheroes. She spent her life adopting young activists, and became like a mom to many of us in the movement in NYC in the late 60's and 70's.
No coincidence that she inspired young hip-hop artists like Blue Scholars.
"When I grow up I want to be just like Yuri Kochiyama"