As Colorlines reported in 2014 when she passed away at the age of 93, Kochiyama is known to some as the woman who held a mortally-wounded Malcolm X in her arms in 1965. But her activism had much earlier roots.
Kochiyama, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Japan, lived through internment during World War II. Before then, her father was arrested under suspicion of treasonous activities. As a 2005 San Francisco Chronicle story describes, she linked up with a growing Black nationalist movement in New York City and often served as a facilitator between authorities and the activists they arrested:
As an Asian among Blacks, she was always sensitive of her place, working more as a facilitator and supporter. Her genius was networking, and as many leaders began being arrested in FBI crackdowns, she became the point person for those arrested, as well as those released from prison.
“… our first call went to WA6-7412,” recalls activist Mutulu Shakur in the book, rattling off Kochiyama’s phone number from memory 30 years later. “Anybody getting arrested, no matter Black, Puerto Rican, or whatever, our first call was to her number. Her network was like no other.”
Well before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined “intersectionality,” Kochiyama embodied the term by acting in solidarity with Black nationalists while also working with the then-burgeoning Asian-American movement.
Check out the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s page on Kochiyama, with includes art inspired by her life.