Remembering Yuri Kochiyama, Japanese-American human rights activist and friend of Malcolm X.
Human rights activist Yuri Kochiyama died from natural causes on Sunday at age 93. The Japanese-American worked with leader Malcolm X in the 1960s and was known among friends such as Amiri Baraka and Angela Davis as “Sister Yuri.” Kochiyama survived the terror of World World II internment camps, fueling her fire inside to create a change in the world.
She went beyond her own race and reached out to others by being active in the fight for Puerto Rican Independence and also became the voice for “politically motivated” prisoners. After the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, Kochiyama experienced a discrimination similar to what Muslim-Americans have felt after 9/11.
Kochiyama worked with Malcolm X on various occasions, and was present when he spoke at the Audubon Ballroom, aware of the threats against his life. On that fateful day, Kochiyama did not run away from the sound of the gun shots that killed Malcolm but rushed towards him and cradled his head. The moment was captured by LIFE Magazine and is recognized as one of the most impactful photos in history. In a interview with NPR, Kochiyama described the scene vivdly stating,
“I just picked up his head and just put it on my lap. I said please Malcolm, please Malcolm, stay alive.”
In a statement exclusively to The Source, Malcolm X’s daughter, Attallah Shabazz shares her memories of Yuri Kochiyama,
“From the very moment I met Yuri Kochiyama in my childhood, it was apparent why she and my Father found such kinship with one another. They were “soul-siblings”, sharing a spiritual and mission defined principle that lived in her continued breathe until her recent transition. I was blessed to have grown up with her as an Aunt and example of human tenacity.”
Kochiyama found the correlation between the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and the battles African-Americans faced in the Jim Crow South. She dedicated her life to equality and peace among people and will be remembered globally for her activism.
Kochiyama is survived by her four children, Audee Kochiyama-Holman, Jimmy, Tommy and Eddie Kochiyama.