BERKELEY -- Yuri Kochiyama, a pioneering Japanese-American civil rights activist whose radical advocacy crossed racial boundaries and spanned generations, died on Sunday at her Berkeley home. She was 93.
Kochiyama's causes ranged from racial justice to nuclear disarmament, Puerto Rican independence and prison reform, but she was perhaps best known for a friendship forged with Malcolm X in the year before his assassination.
A Life magazine photo captured Kochiyama cradling Malcolm X after he was shot Feb. 21, 1965, during a speech at a New York City ballroom. She raced toward him as others in the audience ducked bullets.
"I wanted to get up to where Malcolm was," Kochiyama said in 2008, recalling the tragedy in an interview with this¿ newspaper. "I sort of put his head in my lap, praying and hoping that he was still alive."
Born Mary Yuriko Nakahara May 19, 1921, she grew up the daughter of Japanese immigrants in San Pedro, south of Los Angeles. Her middle-class life was shattered when she and family members were rounded up and relocated to an Arkansas detention camp during the World War II-era internment of Japanese-Americans.
That humiliating experience became formative for Kochiyama, who saw parallels between the violation of the rights of Japanese-Americans and the Jim Crow racism against African-Americans.
She lived in Harlem for about four decades, joining a parents' group and other activist organizations as she and her husband, Bill, raised six children and brought them to rallies.
In her first meeting with Malcolm X in a New York courthouse in 1963, she shook his hand, thanked him for his work but also confronted him about his views on racial integration. When he dropped out of the Nation of Islam, she joined the new black liberation organization he founded.
"He was so dynamic, and of course, his message so powerful," Kochiyama said in 2008.
Among her successful causes was fighting for former Japanese-American internees who won a formal apology and reparations during the Reagan administration. She rallied against wars and for immigration reform, and spent decades corresponding with imprisoned black activists.
She moved to Oakland in 1999 to be closer to family, and later to Berkeley.