Karl Ichiro Akiya

A leading Japanese-American Civil Rights activist and winner of Martin Luther King Award
Young and handsome, he was loved by women.
Karl Ichiro Akiya was a fighter.

As a Japanese American who was born in San Francisco, educated in Japan, and returned to the US before the Pacific War, he played a dramatic and sometimes contradictory role, that symbolized the history of Japan and the US in the 20th Century.

Always sympathetic to those who suffered economically or were discriminated against for various differences, he was a Christian (Methodist), and a Socialist at the same time.

He was a candid protester against Japan's militaristic invasion of China in Kobe, Japan in the early 1930s. He became a voluntary prisoner of an incarceration camp for the solidarity of the Japanese-American community's rights after the Pearl Harbor attack even though he was only one of five people exempted by the U.S. Government in recognition of his clear statements about Japanese Imperial aggression in the Pacific. In the relocation Camp in Topaz, Utah he documented camp life in various sketches and notes. As a bilingual person, he was soon assigned by the US Government to teach Japanese to GIs at the Army Military Intelligence Language School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

After the war he moved to New York and became a Union organizer for an Italian/Irish union. After working as a journalist for a Japanese American newspaper, in 1954 he went to work for the Bank of Tokyo and worked directly under Yoko Ono's father.

A portrait photo of Karl Ichiro Akiya at his memorial service
Continuing work begun before World War II he testified before the Congressional Redress Hearings Panel to recompense those affected by the indiscriminate relocation of Japanese Americans from the west coast states to wartime camps in the interior states. In addition to involvement with these matters, he continued advising on continuity organizing issues with many other ethnicities and racial groups. For these activities, he was nominated for and received the Martin Luther King Award for Community Organizing in (1987) by the State of New York. Akiya passed away on February 8, 2001 at the age of 91.

Reference (in English)
  • Profile: Karl Ichiro Akiya
  • Sandra Taylor "Jewel of the Desert: Japanese American Internment at Topaz" (1993: University of California Press)
  • For reference written in Japanese, go to our Japanese site.