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Guide to the Karl Ichiro Akiya Papers TAM 236

Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archive
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
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Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives

Collection processed by Tamiment Staff, 2004

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on May 08, 2018
Description is in English.

 Updated by Jacqueline Rider to include materials integrated from accession number 2017.074.  , December 2017

Historical/Biographical Note

Labor and community activist Karl Ichiro Akiya (1909 - 2001) was born in San Francisco but at the age of six, sent to be educated in Japan. In 1927 he entered Kwansei Gakuin University (also known as Kansei Gakuin Daigaku), a Methodist school, for preparation in secondary school teaching where he studied Japanese and English language literature. During these years, Akiya fully immersed himself in extracurricular student life. He converted to the Methodist faith, was elected class chairman and participated in the movements opposing compulsory military training for college students and the increasing militarization of Japan. His political activities brought him into association with the union movement and the Japanese Socialist and Communist Parties. He became a member of the Communist Party and changed his first name to Karl after Karl Marx.

After graduating college in 1932, Akiya returned to the United States to avoid being drafted into the Japanese Army. Having relocated to San Francisco, where is father operated a hotel, Akiya landed his first job as a staff writer for the Japanese North American daily Nichibei Times. He later worked for the San Francisco branch of the Sumitomo Bank. In his spare hours, Akiya continued his activist work, joining the Japanese American Citizens League, which was becoming active in the fight against racial discrimination. In the late 1930s, he worked at recruiting Asian Americans as an organizer for the Congress of Industrial Organizations and National Maritime Union. He also joined the U.S. Communist Party.

Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Akiya was interned at Topaz, Utah. He was released shortly thereafter and recruited to serve as a language instructor at the University of Michigan's Japanese language school run by the U.S. Army. In 1944, he married fellow instructor Satoko Murakami.

In 1946, the Akiyas, with daughter Elizabeth in tow, settled in New York's Lower East Side. There, on February 20, 1947, the couple's second child Fred was born. In New York, Akiya pursued a profession as a furniture finisher and also joined the Furniture Workers Union. From 1954 until 1980, Akiya worked for the Bank of Tokyo in New York City. In addition to his communist-affiliated activities, Akiya was extremely active in the civil rights, peace, and anti-nuclear movements. In 1987, his efforts were formally recognized when he was honored as recipient of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Community Organizing for his work with African American youths in Harlem and Chinese and Korean immigrant workers.

In addition to community work, Akiya wrote prolifically. His writings include articles published in Hokubei Shimpo newspaper and The New York Bungei, a literary magazine he helped found in 1959; essays; short novels, and an autobiography.