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Activist Who Cradled Malcolm X After Shooting Dies At 93

Yuri Kochiyama print (dignidadrebelde/Creative Commons, via CBS San Francisco)

Yuri Kochiyama print (dignidadrebelde/Creative Commons, via CBS San Francisco)

BERKELEY, Calif. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Civil rights activist and former Harlem resident Yuri Kochiyama, whose photograph famously appeared in Life magazine showing her cradling the head of Malcom X moments after he was shot, has died of natural causes in her Berkeley, California home. She was 93.

Kochiyama’s family said she died in her sleep Sunday.

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The mother of six was living in New York when she forged an unlikely bond with Malcolm X, and she witnessed his 1965 assassination in Upper Manhattan.

She was sitting in the front row of the Audubon Ballroom Auditorium, at 165th Street and Broadway in Washington Heights, when assassins burst in and gunned Malcolm X down.

And among her many accomplishments during 50 years of work, Kochiyama’s activism led directly to the U.S. Senate’s agreement to pay reparations and apologize to Japanese-Americans and others who were interred during the World War II.

Kochiyama was born in San Pedro, California, to a middle-class family. She and her family were interred for two years in Arkansas during World War II. After the war, she moved to New York and married her husband, Bill, who died in 1993.

After her release at the war’s conclusion, Kochiyama dedicated her life to social activism that spanned races, nationalities and causes, including vocal opposition of the Vietnam War and anti-apartheid policies in South Africa while supporting independence for Puerto Rico.

“Her tireless dedication to civil rights helped inspire generations of activists, including within the American Muslim community,” the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement. “She will be fondly remembered by all those of us who continue to defend civil liberties and promote justice.”

The California Assembly adjourned in Kochiyama’s memory Thursday.

Kochiyama is the author of a memoir, “Passing It On,” and is survived by four of her children and several grandchildren.

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