By Hansi Lo Wang
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 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.