Today’s Doodle celebrates Corky Lee, a Chinese American photographer, journalist, and activist whose photographs documented the diversity and nuances of the Asian Pacific American community that are frequently overlooked by mainstream media. This is done in honor of US Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. In recognition of his lasting contributions to the communities of New York City, May 5 was designated as “Corky Lee Day” in 1988.
Lee was born on September 5, 1947, in Queens, New York City, to parents who had immigrated from China. At the point when he was in school as a little fellow, he found out about the cross-country railroad in friendly examinations class. He saw a photo during the lesson that celebrated the railroad’s completion but did not show the thousands of Chinese laborers who helped build it. Lee later stated that this event served as the impetus for his entire career. He went on to learn photography by himself and study history at Queens College.
Lee went to rallies, protests, and demonstrations throughout his career. There, he captured powerful moments that showed the struggles and successes of the Asian Pacific American community. Notably, in 1975, he took a picture of Peter Yew, a young Chinese American, being dragged away by police. After witnessing a 15-year-old boy being beaten by police for an alleged traffic violation, Yew had intervened. Before being charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer, Yew also suffered severe beatings both in the station and on the spot. Thousands of Chinatown residents gathered a week after the photo was taken to protest the widespread police brutality in their communities.
Across his life, Lee’s photographs were remembered for endless distributions like Time Magazine, The New York Times, New York Post, and that’s just the beginning. Additionally, he received numerous awards for his works, and films like Not on the Menu have documented his life: Corky Lee’s Life and Work (2013) and Visual Equity: The Story of Corky Lee
Lee made frequent trips to Utah’s Promontory Summit in later years to recreate the photograph taken at the completion of the transcontinental railroad. In an effort to demonstrate that Asian American history is American history, he invited several descendants of the Chinese laborers who were not depicted in 1869.
Thank you for your devotion to protecting the tales of so many, Corky. Yours is also not overlooked.