Karl Akiya (1909-2001) was born in San Francisco and educated in Japan. A vocal opponent of Japanese militarism, he returned to the US in 1931. Upon his return, he joined the Japanese American Citizens’ League and organized kibei (Japanese Americans who had been educated in Japan) membership sections in California. After a brief incarceration at the Topaz War Relocation Center, a concentration camp, Akiya was recruited as a language instructor for the US Army. He married fellow instructor Satoko Murakami in 1944 and, after the war, moved to New York City’s Lower East Side. It was there that he became active in the civil rights, peace, and anti-nuclear movements. Akiya worked as a furniture finisher, and later as a banker. He spent his evenings writing articles, essays, novellas, and a memoir. His writings were printed in The New York Nichibei newspaper and The New York Bungei, a literary magazine Akiya founded in 1959. In 1987, he received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for Community Organizing for his work with African American youth in Harlem, as well as Chinese and Korean immigrant workers.
The Akiya Papers include personal and published writing, artwork, publications, pamphlets, photographs, and news clippings. These materials offer insights into the life of an accomplished man, and illustrate the many overlapping communities, commitments, and experiences of many Japanese Americans of his generation.
To learn more about the contents of the Karl Ichiro Akiya Papers, located at the NYU Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, view the collection’s finding aid.