LOS ANGELES — The Manzanar Committee expresses its deepest sympathies to the family of Yuri Kochiyama, a long-time civil rights and community activist in the African American, Latino, Native American and Asian American communities, who passed away on June 1, at the age of 93.
On June 2, the Kochiyama family released the following statement:
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 fifty 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, [and] 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.
In the 1980’s, Kochiyama and her husband, Bill, joined community activists in the fight for redress and reparations for the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans in American concentration camps during World War II, helping win passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
In recent years, Kochiyama was a scholar-in-residence at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, which published her memoir, Passing It On, in 2004. Kochiyama also donated some of her papers on the Asian American Movement to the Center.
“Yuri Kochiyama was an inspiration to us all,” said Manzanar Committee Co-Chair Bruce Embrey. “Her incredible energy, vision and activism served as a model and as motivation for so many.”
“This is a tremendous loss for our communities because she led by example,” added Embrey. “Whether it was around redress and reparations, or the rights of the wrongly convicted, Yuri Kochiyama was fearless. Her life’s work will surely inspire others to work to make our world a better and more just place.”
“On behalf of the Manzanar Committee, I want to extend our condolences to her family. She will be sorely missed.”
Photo of Yuri Kochiyama courtesy DiscoverNikkei.org.
For more on Kochiyama, the Rafu Shimpo has published a comprehensive obituary.
The Manzanar Committee is dedicated to educating and raising public awareness about the incarceration and violation of civil rights of persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II and to the continuing struggle of all peoples when Constitutional rights are in danger. A non-profit organization that has sponsored the annual Manzanar Pilgrimage since 1969, along with other educational programs, the Manzanar Committee has also played a key role in the establishment and continued development of the Manzanar National Historic Site. You can also follow the Manzanar Commitee on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.
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