Civil Rights Activist Yuri Kochiyama Passes Away at 93

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On June 2, civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama passed away in Berkeley, California at the age of 93.

Born in 1921 as Mary Yuriko Nakahara, Yuri Kochiyama was a Japanese American activist and civil rights leader. Kochiyama spent her early life in San Pedro, California until World War II, when she and her family were relocated to a Japanese internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas.

It is here that she met her future husband, Bill Kochiyama, a Nisei soldier in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. After World War II, the couple married and moved to Harlem in New York City where they became active in the Civil Rights movement.

Through her organizing work, she became friends with civil rights activist Malcom X, and was with him during his final moments. Kochiyama went on to organize in other social movements, including the push for Puerto Rican independence, rallies against the Vietnam War, and efforts to grant reparations to Japanese Americans through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), said in a statement: “Yesterday, the world lost an American icon with the passing of Yuri Kochiyama. A tireless civil rights activist and fierce coalition builder, Yuri was at the heart of numerous movements, including efforts to provide redress for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. With her deep commitment to creating a more just society, she mentored and empowered generations of Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders. While she is no longer with us, her life and legacy will continue to inspire Americans for generations to come.”