The brief friendship of Malcolm X and Yuri Kochiyama began close to 50 years ago with a handshake.
Diane Fujino, chairwoman of the Asian-American studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, details the moment in her biography Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama.
Kochiyama and her eldest son, 16-year-old Billy, were arrested along with hundreds of other people, mainly African-Americans, during a protest in Brooklyn, N.Y., in October 1963.
“[They were] in this packed courthouse,” Fujino says. “[There were] a lot of activists who [were] waiting their hearing on the civil disobedience charges.”
In walks Malcolm X, who was quickly mobbed by adoring activists.
Kochiyama described the scene in a Democracy Now! interview in 2008. “I felt so bad that I wasn’t black, that this should be just a black thing,” she recalled. “But the more I see them all so happily shaking his hands and Malcolm so happy, I said, ‘Gosh, darn it! I’m going to try to meet him somehow.’ ”
Eventually, Kochiyama called out to Malcolm X, “Can I shake your hand?”
“What for?” he demanded.
“To congratulate you for giving direction to your people,” she finally mustered.
Malcolm X smiled and extended his hand. Kochiyama remembered how she could hardly believe she was meeting the most prominent black nationalist leader of the time.
‘A Nail That Sticks Out’
Kochiyama’s friendship with Malcolm X fascinated playwright Tim Toyama, who wrote a one-act play called Yuri and Malcolm X.
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