Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Remembering Civil Rights Activist Yuri Kochiyama, 1921-2014

Yuri Kochiyama. Photo by Lia Chang

Yuri Kochiyama. Photo by Lia Chang

Published: June 3, 2014; Updated: June 9, 2014
Statement released by Yuri and Bill Kochiyama’s family:

Life-long activist Yuri Kochiyama passed away peacefully in her sleep in Berkeley, California on the morning of Sunday, June 1 at the age of 93. Over a span of more than 50 years, Yuri worked tirelessly for social and political change through her activism in support of social justice and civil and human rights movements.

Yuri was born on May 19, 1921 in San Pedro, California and spent two years in a concentration camp in Jerome, Arkansas during World War II. After the war, she moved to New York City and married Bill Kochiyama, a decorated 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 Harlem Freedom Schools, and later, the African American, Asian American and Third World movements for civil and human rights and in the opposition against the Vietnam War. In 1963, she met Malcolm X. Their friendship and political alliance radically changed her life and perspective. She joined his group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, to work for racial justice and human rights. Over the course of her life, Yuri was actively involved in various movements for ethnic studies, redress and reparations for Japanese Americans, African Americans and Native Americans, political prisoners’ rights, Puerto Rican independence and many other struggles.

Yuri is survived by her living children—Audee, Eddie, Jimmy and Tommy, grandchildren—Zulu, Akemi, Herb, Ryan, Traci, Maya, Aliya, Christopher, and Kahlil and great-grandchildren—Kai, Leilani, Kenji, Malia and Julia.

At its annual convention at the Los Angeles Hilton and Towers in 1993, APALA honored four pioneers in the crusade for Asian American civil rights. (L-R) Jesse Jackson Jr., David Trask, Jr., a noted Hawaiian labor leader, Yuri Kochiyama, a peace and community activist from New York who died in 2014, Fred Korematsu, the civil rights proponent who called upon the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II who died in 2005; Jesse Jackson; Frank Atonio, who brought forward a complaint in the important labor discrimination case known as Wards Cove, and Kent Wong, APALA’s first president. Photo by Lia Chang

At its annual convention at the Los Angeles Hilton and Towers in 1993, APALA honored four pioneers in the crusade for Asian American civil rights. (L-R) Jesse Jackson Jr., David Trask, Jr., a noted Hawaiian labor leader, Yuri Kochiyama, a peace and community activist from New York who died in 2014, Fred Korematsu, the civil rights proponent who called upon the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II who died in 2005; Jesse Jackson; Frank Atonio, who brought forward a complaint in the important labor discrimination case known as Wards Cove, and Kent Wong, APALA’s first president. Photo by Lia Chang

Yuri Kochiyama: Passion for Justice (1994), a film by Pat Saunders and Rea Tajiri, chronicles her remarkable contribution to social change through some of the most significant events of the 20th century, including the Black Liberation movement, the struggle for Puerto Rican independence, and the Japanese American Redress movement.

Yuri Kochiyama and Dale Minami in Oakland in March, 2000. Photo by Lia Chang

Yuri Kochiyama and Dale Minami in Oakland in March, 2000. Photo by Lia Chang

Yuri appeared as herself in the TV movie, “Death of a Prophet — The Last Days of Malcolm X” (1981); in the 12 award winning documentary, All Power to the People! (1996), by Chinese-Jamaican-American filmmaker Lee Lew-Lee for ZDF-Arte, broadcast in 21 nations and the U.S. between 1996-2001; is the subject of a documentary film with Angela Davis called Mountains That Take Wing (2010) by C.A. Griffith & L.T. Quan; and is the subject of a Tim Toyama’s play, Yuri and Malcolm X.

She and her husband, Bill Kochiyama, were featured in My America…or Honk if You Love Buddha (1997), the documentary by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Renee Tajima-Peña.

Yuri’s speeches were published in Discover Your Mission: Selected Speeches & Writings of Yuri Kochiyama (1998), by Russell Muranaka, and she wrote Passing It On: A Memoir (2004).

In 2005, Kochiyama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through the “1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” project.

Click here for John Kuo Wei Tchen’s tribute on Yuri Kochiyama (1921–2014) on www.versobooks.com.

Video on Yuri
Watch Yuri’s 2008 interview on Democracy Now!
This interview aired the week that marked 43 years since Malcolm X was gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, and Yuri also recalls how she cradled his head as he lay dying on the stage.
Life.com: Yuri Kochiyama, at Malcolm X’s Side When He Died, Is Dead at 93
AAPI Civil Rights Heroes – Yuri Kochiyama

Other articles on Yuri Kochiyama
AsAmNews: Civil Rights Activist Yuri Kochiyama Dead at 93
The Independent: Yuri Kochiyama Dead: Japanese American Human Rights Activist and Close Malcolm Ally Dies Aged 93
SFGate: Yuri Kochiyama dies: activist got reparations for interned Japanese
Apex Express:Remembering Yuri Kochiyama (part 1 of 2)
Apex Express: Occupation of the Statue Of Liberty in 1977
NPR: Civil Rights Champion Yuri Kochiyama Dies at 93
NPR: Yuri Kochiyama: Passing it on
latimes.com: Yuri Kochiyama dies at 93; civil rights activist, friend of Malcolm X
Washingtonpost.com:Yuri Kochiyama, ’60s civil rights activist and friend of Malcolm X’s, dies at 93
New York Times: Yuri Kochiyama, Rights Activist Who Befriended Malcolm X, Dies at 93
Chicago Sun-Times.com: Yuri Kochiyama, 93, activist held Malcolm X after shooting
smithsonianapa.org: Folk Hero Yuri Kochiyama

Lia Chang

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia recently starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Phynjuar, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York.  She is profiled in Jade Magazine.

Other articles by Lia Chang:
Celebrating my mom – AN ACTIVE VISION: BEVERLY UMEHARA…LABOR ACTIVIST…1945-1999
Fred Korematsu, American Hero and Civil Rights Activist Dies at 86
Coming to America through The Angel Island Immigration Station
Crafting a Career
July 31-Aug. 3: Drama Desk Nominee Joel de la Fuente stars in Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths at ACT, Helmed by Lisa Rothe
Wesley Taylor and Mitchell Jarvis’ ‘it could be worse’ Series Featuring Adam Chanler-Berat, Alison Fraser, Gideon Glick and More Airs on Pivot TV in June; and on Hulu in July
Photos: The George Gee Swing Orchestra at SWING46; Launches Indiegogo Campaign for New CD, Swing Makes You Happy
Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ Appropriate, Lisa Kron’s Fun Home, Sonya Tayeh, Emmanuel Brown, Mia Katigbak, K. Todd Freeman, John Earl Jelks Among 2014 OBIE Award Winners
Asia Flores Debuts Royal72Co Fashion Line at Pa’ina Lounge
Jun. 23: The Black Stars of The Great White Way Broadway Reunion: Live The Dream at Carnegie Hall Features Chapman Roberts, Norm Lewis, André De Shields, Chuck Cooper, Brandon Victor Dixon and More
Jun. 4-29: Tony Award–winner BD Wong Leads Cast of A.C.T.’s U.S. Premiere of Orphan of Zhao, a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse
Photos: André Braugher, Ami Brabson, Christine Toy Johnson, Antoinette LaVecchia, Richard Topol, Victor Williams, Nikkole Salter, Elizabeth Van Dyke at Oni Faida Lampley’s Tough Titty at the Paradise Factory
Photos: Harriet Harris, John Tartaglia, Christine Toy Johnson, Alan Muraoka, James Saito and More celebrate Ann Harada’s Debut at Lincoln Center in the American Songbook Series  Lucille Lortel Awards for Here Lies Love, Fun Home, The Open House, Good Person of Szechwan
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder Leads 2014 Tony Award Nominations; Bryan Cranston, LaTanya Richardson, Neil Patrick Harris, Mark Rylance, Audra McDonald, Leigh Silverman among nominees Signature Theatre to Be Honored with the 2014 Regional Theatre Tony Award
Photos: Bryan Cranston, Peter Jay Fernandez, Roslyn Ruff, Tamara Tunie, Leslie Uggams, Ruben Santiago-Hudson Celebrate All The Way Opening Night
Photos: André De Shields, Michael Shannon, Rajiv Joseph, Christine Sherrill, Doug Peck, Alexis J. Rogers, Karen Ziemba and More Celebrate 2013 Jeff Equity Awards
Photos: Backstage and Opening Night of Signature’s World Premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Kung Fu
Photos: David Henry Hwang, Annie Baker and Rajiv Joseph honored at Sixth Annual Steinberg Playwright “Mimi” Awards
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Photos: The 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards and After Party
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2014 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at liachangpr@gmail.com

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