Yuri Kochiyama was a Japanese American activist born in California.
Born Mary Yuriko Nakahara on May 19, 1921 in San Pedro, California. Her parents were Japanese immigrants, Seiichi Nakahara, an entrepreuner and fish merchant and Tsuyako Nakahara, a college-educated homemaker and piano teacher.
She went to San Pedro High School and Compton Junior College, where she studied English, journalism and art, graduating in 1941.
Yuri Kochiyama and Japanese Internment in WWII
Shortly after the Pearl Harbor Kochiyama’s father was arrested along with other Japanese American elders and held in federal prison. He was ill at the time and died shortly after being released in January of 1942.
The rest of Kochiyama’s family, her mother and brother, were assigned to Santa Anita Assembly Center and then the Jerome, Arkansas Concentration Camp as part of the Japanese American Internment.
After the war, and her marriage to Bill Kochiyama, she moved to New York City.
Yuri Kochiyama and Malcolm X
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. She began her association with Malcolm X in 1963, working together on the Organization of Afro-American Unity. Yuri’s activism spanned the later years of Malcolm X’s life—she cradled his head as he died—to the early formation of Tupac Shakur as a 9-year-old.
Yuri Kochiyama and Tupac Shakur
In the 70s Yuri and Bill’s apartment in Harlem was know as “Grand Central Station” or the “Revolutionary Salon”, and it was a hub for activism and community leaders. It was in the Kochiyama apartment where a 9-year-old Tupac Shakur spoke in front of an assembled group about th need to free political prisoners, including members of his own family like stepfather Mutual Shakur and godfather Geronimo Pratt. [Read More]
Excellent Democracy Now interview in 2008
Over her life she advocated for many causes, including Black separatism, the anti-war movement, Maoist revolution, reparations for Japanese-American internees, and the rights of people imprisoned by the U.S. government for violent offenses whom she considered to be “political prisoners”.
Yuri’s Google Doodle
On May 19, 2016, she was featured on the U.S. Google Doodle in honor of what would have been her 95th birthday.