Yuri Kochiyama ( May 19, 1921 – June 1, 2014) was a Japanese American human rights activist. She is notable as one of the few prominent non-black black separatists. Influenced by Marxism, Maoism, and the thoughts of Malcolm X, she was an advocate for many revolutionary movements.
Kochiyama met the African-American activist Malcolm X, at the time a prominent member of the Nation of Islam, in October 1963 during a protest against the arrest of about 600 minority construction workers in Brooklyn, who had been protesting for jobs.
Kochiyama joined his pan-Africanist Organization of Afro-American Unity. She was present at his assassination on February 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York City, and held him in her arms as he lay dying. A famous photo appeared in Life magazine capturing that moment. Kochiyama in the mid-1960s joined the Revolutionary Action Movement, a clandestine revolutionary nationalist organization which was one of the first organizations in the black liberation movement to attempt to construct a revolutionary nationalism based on a synthesis of the thought of Malcolm X, Marx, Lenin, and Mao Zedong.
She was one of the few non-blacks invited to join the Republic of New Africa (RNA, established in 1968) which advocated the establishment of a separate black nation in the U.S. South. Kochiyama joined, and subsequently sided with, an RNA faction which felt that the need to build a separate black nation was even more important than the struggle for civil rights in Northern cities.
In 1977, Kochiyama joined the group of Puerto Ricans who took over the Statue of Liberty to draw attention to the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. Kochiyama and other activists demanded the release of four Puerto Rican nationalists convicted of attempted murder—Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, and Irving Flores Rodríguez—who in 1954 had opened fire in the House of Representatives, injuring five congressmen. According to Kochiyama, despite a strong movement enabling them to occupy the statue for nine hours, they intended to “give up peacefully when the police came.” After the four Puerto Ricans were tried, convicted, and effectively given life imprisonments, they were eventually pardoned by President Jimmy Carter and released. Yuri also had close relationships with many other revolutionary nationalist leaders including Robert F. Williams (who gave Yuri her first Red Book of quotations by Mao Zedong).
1982 for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, nuclear disarmament and reparations for the internment of Japanese Americans. Through her activism—starting in the 1960s and continuing into the mid-2000s—Yuri participated in the Black, Asian-American, and Third World movements for civil rights, human rights, Black liberation, political prisoners, ethnic studies, anti-war, and other social justice issues.
In 2005, Kochiyama was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize through the “1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005” project. In a lifetime of community service starting in her hometown of San Pedro, California, Yuri also taught English to immigrant students and volunteered at soup kitchens and homeless shelters in New York City. Yuri spoke at over 100 high schools and colleges in at least 15 states and Canada, including Harvard, Radcliffe, Yale, Princeton, Spelman, Temple, UMass/Amherst, New York University, UC Berkeley, and San Francisco State University. In 2010, she received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from California State University, East Bay. In Debbie Allen’s television series Cool Women (2001), Yuri stated, “The legacy I would like to leave is that people try to build bridges and not walls.”