Malcolm X was, perhaps, the single most influential person on Yuri Kochiyama’s political life and ideas. She was a great admirer of his work before they met, and an associate and a friend of his after. Today she still loves speaking about him to interviewers or groups of children, and talks of his viewpoints about the integration vs separation movement of the 1960s.
Yuri says of Malcolm: “Before I met Malcolm, I had no understanding of the two trends in the black movement. I was involved only with the civil rights movement, represented by Martin Luther King and his vision of harmonious integration of people to make a greater America through nonviolence. But after listening to Malcolm, I strongly felt that his position of total liberation from the jurisdiction of the United States was the only way that black people in this country would be able to empower themselves, to determine their own destiny. His position of self-determination, self-reliance, self-defense, and a sovereign nation was integral to realizing one's own potentials, humanity, and dignity. It is impossible to attain justice in a racist country. Malcolm helped me to see, more clearly, the true essence of the United States in all its negative reality."
A story Ms. Kochiyama is often asked to retell is how she first met Malcolm X in Harlem. Ms. Kochiyama had been an admirer of Malcolm X for sometime when she happened to see him walk into a courthouse in Brooklyn, where he was instantly surrounded by people shaking his hand. Ms. Kochiyama was shy at first of approaching him amongst all his African followers, but when he met her eyes she found herself asking if she could shake his hand.
“What for?” Malcolm had asked, almost suspiciously.
When Ms. Kochiyama finally answered, “You’re giving direction [to your people]”, Malcolm strode out of the crowd with a smile, and shook Ms. Kochiyama’s hand.
The first time Malcolm and Yuri were able to talk at length however, was not until half a year later in 1964, when Yuri’s family hosted several reporters from the Hiroshima/Nagasaki World Peace Study. The reporters had invited Malcolm X to come speak with them, but had received no answer. In the middle of the actual conference, a knock on the Kochiyama’s door opened to reveal Malcolm and a bodyguard, come to speak with the small convention. He thanked the Japanese for coming to Harlem, and brought them to Harlem’s “The World’s Worst Fair”, a tour of neighborhoods and living conditions in Harlem in direct contrast to the ongoing “World Fair” in Flushmeadow, and later spoke of some of his beliefs and ideas.
Very soon afterwards Yuri became active in Malcolm’s Organization for Afro-American Unity (OAAU), and also joined his Liberation School to gain background information on Black history and politics. She says in --- “…we didn't know anything about black history, black thinking, or black culture, and in order to understand the black community and and its people, we thought we'd better sign up. So we enrolled, along with our three eldest children, Billy, Audee, and Aichi. The education we received was priceless."
Integration vs. Separation:
"As long as we don't know our history and other's history, there will be no positive interactions or understanding"
- Yuri Kochiyama
There were two trends in the Civil Rights Movement, one following the other in influence and popularity during the mid 1900's. At first, groups such as the NAACP, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) spearheaded the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, fighting mainly against the issue of segregation in America through the courtroom, marches and protests, and civil disobedience. Several key victories won by the Civil Rights Movement during this time included the court case Brown vs. Board of education (see here) which made segregation in public schools unconstitutional, and the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in voter registration requirements and public accommodations such as hotels, restaurants, and theaters, and withdrew government funding from programs which were discriminatory.
In spite of these victories, progress was slow, and many people lost faith in working for equality within the system. The movement for nationalism, of which Malcolm X was an influential leader, arose in the mid-1960s, and was based around the idea that the one solution for racism in America was for blacks to form their own nation and government, and be completely separate from whites.
As his political philosophy matured, Malcolm toned down his separatist beliefs, realizing that it alienated people of other colors who might be fighting for the same dream. Although he still had a distant dream of blacks organizing their own government, he focused on improving conditions for blacks in America now, and went on to say "We will work with anyone, with any group, no matter what their color is, as long as they are genuinely interested in [ending black injustice]."
Yuri Kochiyama talks about Malcolm X: from Yuri Kochiyama: A Passion For Justice