By Heart Mountain
with images from the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center
Heart Mountain by Yoshio OkumotoHeart Mountain
Born Behind Barbed Wire
Kiyoshi Kuromiya was born on May 9, 1943, inside the Heart Mountain concentration camp in northwest Wyoming. His parents were among the over 110,000 Japanese Americans forced from their homes and unjustly incarcerated by the US government during World War II.
The Heart Mountain 63 (1944-06)Heart Mountain
A Family Tradition of Activism
“He felt he was exiled even before he was born,” Kuromiya’s Uncle Yosh said of him. “No wonder he was dedicated to civil rights.” Yosh had his own history of activism. He was one of 85 young men from Heart Mountain that refused to be drafted into the Army unless their families were returned home. For his act of resistance, Yosh served three years in federal prison.
A Bold Beginning
Kuromiya’s activistism began in 1962, while attending the University of Pennsylvania. He spread rumors that, in protest of the Vietnam War, a live dog would be incinerated. Thousands of counter-protestors showed up. They found only a message from Kuromiya: “Congratulations on your anti-napalm protest. You saved the life of a dog. Now, how about saving the lives of tens of thousands of people in Vietnam?”
Beaten in Selma
In 1965, Kuromiya joined Martin Luther King’s Selma March, fighting for Black rights in the South. Kuromiya was clubbed and trampled by officers on horseback. In solidarity with the Selma marchers, Kuromiya and friends also staged a sit-in at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, which they renamed "The Freedom Hotel."
Gay Liberation Front Newsletter (1970) by Gay Liberation Front - PhiladelphiaHeart Mountain
The Gay Liberation Front
Kuromiya helped to found the Gay Liberation Front-Philadelphia in 1969. The group fought not only for gay and lesbian rights, but for the rights of other marginalized groups. “We’d go up to a line of cops with tear gas grenades and horses and clubs,” Kuromiya recalled about the GLF’s protests. “And link arms and do a can-can. Really threw them off guard.”
Kiyoshi Kuromiya at a Protest by Harvey FinkelHeart Mountain
Fighting a Pandemic
In the early 1980s, the AIDS pandemic took a heavy toll on Kuromiya’s community. Congress refused to help educate about the disease, citing concerns about government funds supporting “homosexual activities.”
Power in Knowledge
Kuromiya took up the charge; mailing newsletters, opening telephone hotlines, and even going to court to defend his right to spread information about AIDS on the internet. His educational efforts helped to save countless lives.
Return to Heart Mountain
Kuromiya returned to Wyoming in 1983 with his mother, to see the remains of the camp where he was born. The visit strengthened his resolve to fight injustice wherever he saw it. He kept up his activism until his death in 2000, just after his 57th birthday.
An Inspiration for the Future
His Uncle Yosh said of his legacy: “I too always felt out-of-place, but I could never do what Kiyoshi did… I learned about myself from Kiyoshi’s actions. He was so ahead of me; he became my teacher…” Kiyoshi Kuromiya remains a teacher, and a role model, for many today.