For more than a half-century, the most iconic image of rights activist Yuri Kochiyama has been a violent one. When Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965, it was his friend Kochiyama who cradled his head in her hands in that Harlem ballroom — a moment captured forever by a LIFE magazine photo that ran across much of a two-page “doubletruck” above the headline: “The Violent End of the Man Called Malcolm.”
Today, Kochiyama is spotlighted instead with a full-color image that radiates a different kind of strength under fire. It is a Google Doodle by Bay Area-based artist Alyssa Winans that depicts Kochiyama letting her voice be heard at a rally for equality.
The Doodle marks what would have been the 95th birthday of Kochiyama, who died two years ago at her Berkeley home.
What Winans — who has an exquisite sense of palette and composition — especially captures here is one of Kochiyama’s signature characteristics: “fierce.”
Kochiyama had a fierce sense of patriotism, even when, as a young woman, her family was interned in Arkansas. Because this California native so intensely believed in American ideals, she was initially reluctant to believe just how long U.S. citizens of Japanese descent would remain interned during World War II — in what Kochiyama came to call “concentration camps.” Her return visit to the South decades later — with her World War II-veteran husband, Bill — makes for poignant footage:
In the 1960s, Kochiyama would again show her fierce sense of life, liberty and the pursuit of American rights after she met and befriended Malcolm X in New York. Kochiyama felt called to the civil rights movement, and her leadership in rights movements for black, Latino, Asian American and American Indian citizens became a central theme throughout her life.
Mary Yuriko Nakahara was born in 1921 in San Pedro, Calif., and met her future husband — a soldier with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team — during her two-year internment at Jerome Relocation Center in Arkansas. They married several years later and had six children.
In the 1980s, Kochiyama successfully fought for reparations for her fellow Japanese American internees, as well as an apology from the U.S. government. In 1988, in response, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which approved the payment of $20,000 to each of the surviving internees — about half of the original 120,000.
Kochiyama became, too, a figure of high controversy, especially because of her support of, and affiliations with, far-left and terrorist organizations over the years — going so far, as The Fix writes, as to express “a favorable opinion of Osama bin Laden.”
(And worth noting: Today is also the anniversary of Malcolm X’s birth; Google has never saluted him with a home-page Doodle.)
In 2011, the Seattle hip-hop group Blue Scholars released a song titled “Yuri Kochiyama.”
“Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it,” said Kochiyama, who died June 1, 2014. “We are all part of one another.”
— Smithsonian (@smithsonian) May 19, 2016
Yuri Kochiyama's 95th birthday today … here's a portrait I took of her in 2002 for the East Bay Express. pic.twitter.com/b00UA9mHy9
— Mark Gartland (@magartland) May 19, 2016
[This post has been updated.]