Carl Imiola Young’s Journey from the Civil Rights Movement to Hawaiian Sovereignty

By Eddie Wong.

One of the great pleasures of publishing East Wind Ezine is uncovering little-known stories about Asian American artists or activists whose stories are missing from history.  We’re here to make sure people never forget the many ways Asian Americans have been part of the cultural and political life of the U.S. We continue to enrich our country as we advocate for an equitable, inclusive society.

Although there was no such thing as an “Asian American Movement” in the early 1960s, there were Asian Americans who put their lives on the line by going to the bastions of white supremacy in the South, answering the call for volunteers to support the freedom movement led by the Student  Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and other groups. Thus, we’ve been able to bring you the stories of Marion KwanEd NakatawaseJoseph Ozawa, Tamio Wakayama, and Vincent Wu, all proud veterans of the Civil Rights Movement.

Carl Young at Freedom House in Holly Springs, Aug. 1964. Photo by Gloria Xifaras Clark. Courtesy of University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections.

I came upon the remarkable story of Carl Se-Keung Imiola Young through the recommendation of Ed Nakatawase, a fellow activist in the Civil Rights Movement.  Ed did not know Carl in 1964 when they were both in the South but met him decades later through an American Friends Service Committee’s conference on indigenous peoples. Carl passed away on June 15, 2008. Through a bit of internet sleuthing and the contributions of comrades who knew him in Holly Springs and Honolulu and a long conversation with his sister Jade Young, I was able to piece together this partial portrait of a kind soul and seeker of justice.

Planting Seeds

Long before Carl arrived in Holly Springs, MS, a town of 28,000 in northern Mississippi, he had become an ardent support of the Civil Rights Movement.  He traveled to Atlanta, GA in the spring of 1963 to attend a voter registration workshop led by SCLC and attended the historic March on Washington in August 1963 where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Upon his return to Carleton College in fall 1963, he gave talks about the Civil Rights Movement and organized a photo display about the southern freedom movement at the college library. So, it was no surprise that Carl would decide to answer the call to go to Mississippi right after he graduated in summer 1964.

His younger sister, Jade Young, who is an educator in leadership development and hospice care, recalls that momentous decision: “By the time he graduated college, I was graduating high school so I, representing the family, flew up to Carleton College which is in Northfield, Minnesota, for the graduation. After graduation, my brother and I traveled by bus to the Western College for Women, which is in Oxford, Ohio because that’s where the students were being trained before they went South.  I dropped him off and said good-bye and went on to New York for the World’s Fair…People often asked, did my parents worry? Of course, they did, because no one in our family had done anything like this – going to the South was considered a very radical, and dangerous, thing.”

The seeds had been planted much earlier in Carl’s life. Here are more insights from Jade:

Carl’s temperament is what led him in that direction… My brother was a very caring individual, considerate and sensitive of others. He had a lot of what I would say is indicative of a more gentle, caring feminine spirit, unlike the masculine energy of moving forward, achieving and accomplishing. He was interested in the journey, the experience…And when I was 10 or 11, he borrowed a library book about women’s biology and the reproductive system for his sister. Now, that’s highly unusual for a teenage boy. He must have been 13 or 14, but that shows me that he had a high level of maturity for his kid sister. That care and concern I remember to this day…

Jade also mentioned the impact of the Community Church of Honolulu, which began as a mission serving young families of Chinese ancestry living in the islands in 1906.  “We went to church a lot when we were youngsters,” said Jade. “Our church had a history of being of service to the community…for example, we would go out to the state hospital, bring food to the residents, would sing songs and play simple games with them. No one talks about it, but the stuff just sinks in about doing good for others who are less fortunate.”

Family friends also made an impression on Jade and Carl.  Hung Wai Ching, who was a leading advocate for the Japanese Hawaiians during WWII, was a frequent dinner guest at the Young home.  Another dinner guest Dan Chun, regarded as a scholar by his peers, attended college on the East Coast. He recounted the racial discrimination he faced. “He had bought a first-class ticket,” said Jade.  “And he got into the train, showed the conductor the ticket… the conductor insisted that he sit in the back car. Dan Chun, however,  knew his rights and, of course, he was not going to the back. I was about 10 years old and remember that story about prejudice toward the Asians – and more importantly, Dan standing up against the racist attitude of the conductor.”

Training session for Civil Rights Movement volunteers, Oxford, OH. Photo courtesy of SNCC Digital Gateway.

The volunteers were asked to raise $500 for their own bail fund before going South. This would be the equivalent of nearly $4,000 today.  Carl wrote a letter to the Congregationalist church that his family attended and won the support of Pastor Richard Wong and longtime activist Hung Wai Ching.  In his letter to Pastor Wong, Carl said “I feel a moral obligation to direct action to help resolve America’s greatest domestic problem, and since I am in a position to do so, I’m asking the support of you and the church.” They raised the funds within one week.

Freedom Summer 1964 – Holly Springs, MS

Carl spent the majority of his time in Holly Springs as the security/communications officer with the Council of Federated Organizations, a coalition which included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP), the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), SCLC, and SNCC.  The bulk of the young workers were affiliated with SNCC. Carl’s job was to stay by the telephone, receive and type up the calls from the field staff, and send reports to the SNCC national office in Atlanta. Volunteers who were out doing voter registration or traveling to and from the Freedom School had to call in periodically to verify their safety and give updates on the work. Security was on high alert because Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner, three CORE volunteers, had been killed earlier that summer near Philadelphia, MS.

Larry Rubin, a fellow volunteer, described his work and the danger all civil rights workers faced:

Most days I canvass the predominantly Negro areas of Marshall County outside of Holly Springs, or I work at Freedom House, our headquarters (where we also live) across from Rust College in the Negro section of town. There are about 15 of us canvassing the counties around here, and others who teach Freedom School. Canvassing means going from house to house talking to people about registering to vote and encouraging them to come to mass meetings at churches. When we canvass, we try to go in pairs of either two Negro workers or one Negro and one white…

In a gas station on the other side of the street an elderly white man, standing with three or four younger guys, was yelling and cursing at me. I knew the older guy. A few weeks ago, he had run a group of us canvassers off his plantation, and several days ago he had stopped me on the street, pulled out a pistol, and said ‘if you don’t leave my niggers alone, I’ll kill you.’ … I continued walking, turning my back to the plantation owner and his guys. My legs felt wobbly, but I forced myself to straighten up and walk even more slowly…A beer bottle whizzed past my head. I felt a great sense of relief… If they were going to come after me, they wouldn’t throw things.”

Larry Rubin talks with two women about joining the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, winter, 1964, Holly Springs, MS. Photo courtesy of Larry Rubin.

One of Carl’s communications logs was saved by fellow volunteer Kathy Dahl and it gives you a sense of the courage of the African American residents who sought to register to vote in the weekly “Freedom Day” marches. Here’s the report from July 25, 1964.

8 AM – 35 policemen armed with long billy clubs and the usual pistols; wooden sawhorses blocking off one road; one fire engine parked in front of the firehouse; leashed police dog leading game warden.

8:15 AM – 15 COFO people go to Asbury Church to rendez-vous with local people wishing to be carried down to courthouse to register. 50 people are there.

 9:00 AM – police car circles twice; Mayor Sam Coopwood buzzes by.

 9:23 AM – 1st group on way down to courthouse led by our leader Ivanhoe (Donaldson). 2 staff and 3 local people in the group.

 9:30 AM – halfway there, group stopped by police and interrogated.

 9:31 AM – police insist that all people in group must be 8 feet apart “according to local ordinance.”

 9:37 AM – group has reached courthouse and are stopped second time by police.

 9:42 AM – police are intimidating people as people file past groups of police. Pre-planned picket line has been cancelled

 9:44 AM – Greenwood (the COFO headquarters) called: Justice Department official Owens asked advice on 8-foot ruling; JD and FBI to be informed of cancelled picketing and police intimidation of group walking to courthouse.

Carl’s report detailed a host of intimidatory acts by police as well as unidentified persons in pick-up trucks circling the square and people in cars with electronic jamming equipment to block the COFO workers from communicating via walkie-talkies. One volunteer was arrested for “disturbing the peace.” The reports from the field staff concluded at 4:55 PM: “2 COFO cars picked up two carloads of people who had just finished taking registration test. The end of a successful Freedom Day.”

Freedom Day for voter reg in Holly Springs, MS. Note policeman photographing the demonstrators. Photo courtesy of Kathy Dahl in University of Southern Mississippi archives.

At the conclusion of the day’s report, Carl offered the following summary:

During the day we made about 20 trips carrying down about 60 people to register. It is inevitable that the lives and property of these 60 Negro citizens will be threatened in one way or another from the publicity of the two cameras and newspapers which will print the names of those who attempted to register for two weeks. These are brave people… We utterly despise this flagrant injustice and denial of human dignity. We are keeping records and affidavits of all incidents, copies of which are sent to Justice Department, LCDC lawyers, and FBI…. We are making progress. We have only 10 voter registration workers covering a total Negro population of over 45,000 in a 500 square mile area and yet we have Freedom Registered over 3,000 eligible Negro voters who risk everything when they sign our Freedom Registration books.

Although Carl spent long days on duty as the communications/security specialist, he had one other assignment that took him out into the community.  Carl discussed this task with Marsha Rose Joyner, who had also been a volunteer in the Civil Rights Movement. “The white students from the North had checks sent to them from their parents, “said Carl. “However, the banks would not cash them. Therefore, a middleman was needed. The white students would have the checks endorsed to COFO and I would go to the bank to cash them. The white bankers did not suspect a Chinese would be a part of the movement. Their only thought of a Chinese was what they saw in the movies of Charlie Chan or the corner laundry. So, I quickly became the money changer. As much as I wanted to teach in the Freedom School, it was my task to handle the check cashing.”

When I mentioned this anecdote to Larry Rubin, who later became a labor organizer and served on the Takoma Park, MD City Council, he laughed.  “There was a sweetness to Carl, almost a naiveté,” said Larry.  “They knew exactly who Carl was and they cashed the checks to keep tabs on who was in town.” This doesn’t take away from the fact that Chinese in Mississippi were often the middlemen who operated grocery stores in the Black community and were not accepted by either community.

Students at Freedom House, Holly Springs, MS. Photo courtesy of Kathy Dahl, University of Southern Mississippi Archives.

Larry Rubin was also part of one encounter that Carl wrote about in his “Essays on Mississippi: America’s Only Police State,” which provides a first-hand look at his job as communications/security officer and an overview of conditions facing African Americans in Holly Springs.  Here’s Essay #2: My “Friend,” Officer Rex Bill.

One night another worker and I had an unsettling one-way talk for two hours with a local policeman. It was midnight. It was pitch black and we talked in his police car. I sat close to the open door instantly prepared to jump out on the slightest sign of danger. We all had learned from training and experience never to trust a southern cop. He was nervous and so were we. He had come to investigate a near incident a few hours before when a white man had slowly driven by our office several times with a pistol in his lap. Rex told us that it was the old, dying father of two white racists renowned for terrorism against Negroes and who had taken rifles to the University of Mississippi riots in 1962 where one of them was shot in the neck. Rex told us he admired us for doing what we believed in but in his opinion, we were wasting our time because the Negro was inherently inferior.  Immediately he subconsciously himself saying that the only way the Negro was going to get equality was through education This statement could not have been more ironic because we were parked right opposite Rust College, a small coed, Methodist college where the average achievement of the graduate is equivalent to that of a 9th grader in the North.  This is typical of all colleges in Mississippi. He inadvertently revealed to us why he was respected in the local police force and in the county when he said that “if a ‘nigger’ asked my daughter out for a date, I’d blow his head off!”; and several weeks later he did what only he could do, he shot a Negro.

This experience was deeply unsettling because it showed a fellow human being held at bay, a victim of the close society with no freedom of choice, and because of this, torn asunder with the dilemma of accepting his Negro friends as humans and facing either outright ostracism or physical injury or both, or treating the Negro like an animal and suffering mental agony from doing what he inwardly knows is wrong. If I ever came near to feeling true compassion for someone it was that dark night. He was human enough to be my brother. I felt sorry for him.

When I read this essay online, eyes focused on the typewritten text, I could only imagine what it must have been like for Carl to be huddled in his room at Freedom House pounding out not only this essay but several others that reflected his denunciation of the humiliations heaped on African Americans every day in Mississippi.  There is an astonishing capacity on Carl’s part to feel compassion for Rex Bell. Despite the explicit racism expressed by Rex Bell, Carl still saw Rex Bell as a human being albeit one who was trapped in the claws of an oppressive system where he too presumably suffered. Perhaps, Carl was influenced by James Baldwin’s essay “Stranger in the Village” from Notes of a Native Son: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” White supremacy dehumanizes both the oppressor and the oppressed, but Carl’s compassion is startling considering Rex Bell’s proclivity to shoot African Americans.

Larry Rubin, who was the other civil rights worker mentioned in Carl’s story, shared his recollections of the Rex Bell incident with me.  “Carl was very sweet,” said Rubin. “He saw Bell as a human being and couldn’t grasp how one could be human and also a son-of-a bitch.”  Rubin also added that Officer Rex Bell was “smashed.. three sheets to the wind.”  Rubin also pointed out that the local Sheriff “Flick” Ash kept close surveillance on the civil rights workers and arrested them in part to show the local Ku Klux Klan (KKK) that he was in charge and that the KKK should stay away.  There were several Black landowners in the area and the largest employer in the city was Rust College, a Black Methodist college. The local establishment resisted full rights for African Americans, but they also did not want overt violence. Thus, the police were tasked with keeping both the civil rights workers and the local racists “in check.”

These essays can be read in full at https://www.crmvet.org/comm/carlyoung64.pdf .

Carl won the trust of Ivanhoe Donaldson, the dynamic SNCC Field Secretary, who helped guide the Holly Springs work. Carl stayed beyond Freedom Summer and worked with him until the end of the year. Hardy Frye, a fellow activist and now retired professor of African American studies at U.C. Berkeley, reflected upon Carl. “Carl was a nice guy,” said Hardy. “He was genuinely liked by the local people because he respected them.”

Hardy Frye, left, with SNCC car, Holly Springs, MS

One night, Carl spoke to a crowd gathered at the Freedom School for a performance of a play about slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.  He told the crowd about why he decided to volunteer in the Civil Rights Movement.

I come to Mississippi for three reasons. First of all, I came to Mississippi because I am an Oriental, a third generation American, a member of a minority group of citizens which has almost achieved their freedom and equal opportunity. I have traveled through 45 states of our union. I, too, have felt the pangs of discrimination although by no means what you have gone through. I have come down to help my fellow American achieve what I almost have.  Secondly, I came to Mississippi because I am a Hawaiian. In Hawaii we have shown mankind that the different races can live, work, and play side by side to a degree never imagined possible.  It is inconceivable for us to fully comprehend the cruel debasement of human dignity on racial groups.  Thirdly, and finally, I came to Mississippi because I am an American, a citizen member of the greatest nation on Earth with the greatest dream of mankind. I know I do not have to tell you that Mississippi is tragically far from this American dream.  I am here to do my little bit to bring this dream to reality…

There’s a clear streak of idealism that permeates Carl’s statement as well as a proud identification with the aloha spirit of Hawai’i. These sentiments would guide his entire life.

Living in Asia and Surviving the Vietnam War

Carl had graduated from Carleton College with a degree in political science and international relations. Thus, it was a natural move for Carl to join the Peace Corps where he spent two years in Uttar Pradesh, India where he worked with villagers to create a poultry farm and egg cooperative. He wrote in “Returned Peace Corps Volunteers” newsletter in March 2002 that he still spoke Hindi and that working with people in northern India was an unforgettable experience. He also advised returned volunteers to always “keep an open mind – be humble, learning never ends.”

Carl also spent time in Guam working as a storekeeper for his uncle CQ Pang. In the evenings, he worked with the Chamorro people who advocated for self-determination. “He (Carl) joined in the early advocacy for Chamorro rights and participated in the burning of the Gannet Press newspapers which refused to print the Chamorro names of people in their obituary,” said Poka Laenui, a lawyer, scholar and advocate for Hawaiian sovereignty and Carl’s friend. “He also advocated for the integrity of Chamorro heroes in public life there and was an active supporter of independence for Guam from the United States.” Carl later served as a researcher for Poka Laenui’s numerous radio and television shows and traveled as Poka’s aide when Poka participated in European conferences as Vice-President of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.

Like many young American men in the 1960s, Carl was drafted into the U.S. Army, but he refused to bear arms and became a conscientious objector. He served as a medic specialist. Carl hardly ever spoke about his time in Vietnam. Carl told Poka Laenui that he would have flashbacks about the war when he heard military helicopters above him as he worked in the taro fields at Ka’ala in Wai’anae.  “I’m going to say without being a psychologist that my brother was suffering from some form of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder),” said his sister Jade. “I witnessed a couple of outbursts out of the clear blue and that’s one of the signs when they go into a rage and it wasn’t related to me. But it was something that got triggered in him…He was a medic specialist and both of us were photography buffs. When he came back from Vietnam, he showed me a lot of photographs. As a medic, you’re right in the tent when the soldiers were carried in…You’re seeing body parts; you’re seeing guts hanging out. No human being is built for that. ..In those days there was so much racism and I’m sure that Carl being Asian had to have confronted that from white officers and white soldiers… Had to… it was just something in the air. But Asian men and Asian culture, you just bottle that up. And you never talked about it.”

After Carl returned from Vietnam, he went to U.C. Berkeley in 1970 and got his master’s degree in International Relations.  In an oral interview conducted at Carleton College in 1994, Carl recalled that even after coming back as a Vietnam veteran, he would get called names by rednecks when he went off campus.  He was probably relieved to come back to Hawaii.

Supporting the Hawaii Sovereignty Movement

When Carl returned from U.C. Berkeley, he had changed and so had Hawaii.  Jade noted his new attitude in the following manner: “It (going to Berkeley) grounded him in a whole other way and gave him a larger political framework. He got deep into Karl Marx and quoting Mao Tse Tung and the Red Book. For sure he wasn’t going to learn that in Vietnam…When I visited him at the I House (International House) in Berkeley — I had my long hair, he had his long hair and it was like cool. When you’re in that politicized environment, there’s so much reinforcement that you’re doing the right thing.  He was becoming radicalized.”

Native Hawaiian gathering on stewardship of lands and fisheries. Photo from the Non-Profit Quarterly 2020.

Hawai’i had also changed.  There was a new consciousness in the air. Carl commented on it in his oral history interview for Carleton College in 1994:

As a way of becoming sovereign or feeling sovereign, many Hawaiian people are refusing to file for federal or state taxes. I have no Hawaiian blood but this elder, a couple of years ago, gave me a Hawaiian name Imiola. ‘Imi’ is to search and ‘ola’ is life, but I guess I was always asking questions and I do a lot of research. (Carl laughs)…Many Hawaiians who don’t have Hawaiian blood consider themselves Hawaiian in spirit and are using Hawaiian names…When people asked me when I was at Carleton what I was or where I’m from, I would always say I was Chinese Hawaiian, never said I was American…

Another reason why the Hawaiian sovereignty movement is gaining so many adherents is that we’ve been ruled for so many years by people with a continental mentality whereas we need people with an island mentality because we have limited water. Under the US Constitution, there is so-called freedom of movement so an unlimited number of people can come to Hawai’i. We’re suffering tremendously from having an inadequate amount of water and over pollution. So it’s really a question of allocation of resources which have been terribly distorted.

Carl’s first involvement with the Hawaiian movement for self-determination was in supporting the rights of Kalama Valley pig farmer George Santos to remain on the land despite an eviction order from the Bishop Estate, which wanted to remove local farmers, mostly native Hawaiians, for a housing development.  Many people rallied to resist George’s eviction. Among them were Jade and Carl Young.  Jade described the dynamics of this moment:

It was really a monumental thing because it was the first time the Hawaiians took a stand against the big corporate landowners, Bishop Estate – and the political community rallied around George, a small scale local pig farmer. It was really a big deal – David and Goliath. The Berkeley Barb editor came down and I was taking photos. Some of my photos are in the Berkeley Barb, that’s my claim to fame (laughs).  But it was a really important time because the Hawaiians were beginning to feel their strength that they as a people have a voice; they don’t have to accept this; we can defy this; we, can fight against this… Carl was an active part of this. Carl’s one of those who will pitch in wherever he’s needed to the point where he was digging the burrows for the latrines. They needed outhouses there. So, I remember helping out by mixing the pig food. They would bring truckloads of food trimmings and garbage from town.  It was pretty exciting in many ways.

George Santos was finally evicted by force in May 1971, but the movement for land rights for native Hawaiians was here to stay. And for Carl that path led him to work with Poka Laenui accompanying him on numerous protests such as the Sand Island eviction, the Hale Mohalu eviction protest, and rallies at ‘Iolani Palace. Carl also wrote and did and research for Poka Laenui for articles and radio and television shows. Since Poka Laenui lived in Wai’anae on the northside of Oahu, Carl spent more and more time there participating in potlucks where he always brought a homemade dish of tofu poke. He became part of the local community and learned to speak Hawaiian. He married Stella Pihana who grew up in that community. They had known each other for 10 years and worked together on community issues.

March to Iolani Palace led by Haunani-Kay Trask, Jan. 17, 1993. Photo by Ed Greevy

Carl wrote an article for the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website in which he described the relationship between the Civil Rights struggles in the Deep South with the movement for Hawaiian sovereignty. The following is excerpted from the full document In Memory.

In 1964 when I spent a summer in Holly Springs as a COFO safety/communications officer, there was no sovereignty/independence movement in Hawai’i.

Today in the archipelago of the Hawaiian Islands there is a burgeoning movement for self-determination among native Hawaiians and those of all races who identify as being Hawaiian — so much so that this movement for Hawaiian national liberation is approaching that critical point (kairos) that occurred in Mississippi in 1964.

Historical racism and its attendant historical trauma tie together the 400-year old struggle of Blacks in America with the century-long struggle of Hawaiians in Hawai’i. The pain from this ‘post-traumatic stress ‘disorder’, this historic trauma of slavery and colonialism, has brought about a deep anger and hostility that today threatens gains of the past. However, as we come to grips with what our genuine ‘deep culture’ is and as we retrace and rediscover our roots, the foundation is laid for real change, revolutionary change…

Most if not all tribal and/or indigenous cultures value cooperation over competition, community over individualism, etc. With the domination of the western deep culture, anything Hawaiian like the language and hula, was degraded and practicing it became punishable by law. A century of this post- traumatic stress syndrome has resulted in arguably the worst statistics in the US in terms of prison population, mortality, morbidity, poor education, etc.

However, in 1993 there was a centennial observance of the 1893 overthrow and by the tens of thousands native Hawaiians and Hawaiians by nationality and allegiance came out to march and mark the occasion. Last weekend, September 6, saw a repeat of 1993 when 10,000 took to the streets to stage a protest march against state and federal encroachment on Hawaiian civil rights. If Mississippi in 1964 was a turning point, this year or the next could be the point of no return for those espousing a return to the fully independent Hawaiian Nation and the nullification of statehood by international public opinion and courts.

Kathy Dahl, Chude Pamela Allen, Marjorie Merrill (top row, l. to r.), Karen Kunstler, Carl Young, Aviva Futorian (bottom row, l. to r.) at Mississippi Homecoming Reunion, June 1994. Photo by Gloria Xifaras Clark courtesy of Kathy Dahl.

Carl was quite proud of his participation in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement. He wrote the following update in his 1994 Carleton College alumni update:

Politically, have been active with several Hawaiian sovereignty groups, especially IAHA (Institute for the Advancement of Hawaiian Affairs) and Of Sacred Times and Of Sacred Places, which seeks to maintain and rebuild the consciousness of the Hawaiian nation which was overthrown by US forces in 1893 against the wishes of President Grover Cleveland. Recently was a precinct captain in grass roots election for the first native Hawaiian Con-Con (Constitutional Convention) in 100 years.  Economically, we’re aiming for self-sufficiency, e.g. reviving traditional taro farming, etc.

Carl also became a high school teacher at President Theodore Roosevelt High School in Honolulu.  His sister Jade recalls that he had a heavy class assignment and would be burdened down with armloads of books and backpacks filled with student papers. Since the commute from downtown Honolulu to Wai’anae could be two hours each way with heavy traffic, Carl often stayed with Jade at the family home in Kapahulu.  “We didn’t discuss the classes that he taught,” said Jade.  “So, when he moved back from Wai’anae to stay at the family house in December 2007…that was about six months before he died. He had already lost a lot of weight – and sometimes you don’t notice these things because he would wear this oversized denim jacket and baggy pants. Significant weight loss is generally a sign that something could be wrong…He thought it was an ulcer for two years and refused to see a doctor. As a sister I said, ‘You idiot guys who don’t like to go to the doctor.’ They’re going to tough it out or whatever. That was unfortunate as I look back.”

Carl passed away from pancreatic cancer on June 15, 2008. A service was held in Wai’anae and another service in Honolulu at the family church. Carl wanted his ashes to be sent out to sea, so the family and friends boarded Uncle Bob’s boat at Waianae Harbor.  “The beautiful thing is that we got about a mile out and we’re getting ready to pour out the ashes and about a dozen porpoises began circling the boat,” said Jade.  “I’m telling you it was so chicken skin (ed. note: Hawaiian expression for getting goose bumps). Anyway, we go back and do another service a week later because he wanted something up in the mountains where the taro patches were. His wife and another friend did the Hawaiian protocol where you call upon the spirits to get their permission and to let them know we’re coming.  I brought two kukui nut sapling and planted them. You know about kukui nuts and the oil that’s used in lamps, and the Hawaiian language has spiritual meanings as well. The spiritual meaning of kukui is illumination.”

Carl S.K. Imiola Young. Photo by Gloria Xifaras courtesy of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives.

In her eulogy for Carl, Jade said, “Carl’s Chinese name Se-Keung has two radicals in it. One means scholar… a man seeking knowledge and understanding, which is one of the driving principles of Carl’s life. The other radical means warrior, the other driving principle of my brother’s life.  A man of courage, conviction and inner strength seeking justice for the poor, for those ignored or abused by the political system, a man who was willing to put his own life at risk to help others achieve their freedom and goals.  There are no accidents…his name carried the seed of his future life’s work… In closing, I think this was his final message to all of us.. to live pono…to respect and love each other. To forgive…The New Testament Galatians sums it up: ‘whether Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, young or old… Whether Chinese, Chamorro, white, brown, or black, rich or poor, to reach out and help our sisters and brothers, to make things pono (righteous) where they are not.”

The light has gone from Carl’s life, but his story shines on inspiring a new generation of activists who strive to fulfill the dream of peace and justice for all peoples.

Author’s bio:  Eddie Wong is the editor/publisher of East Wind Ezine. He was a co-editor of Roots: An Asian American Reader (UCLA 1971) and a co-founder of Visual Communications in Los Angeles. After working with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition for many years, he became the Executive Director of NAATA/Center for Asian American Media and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.

I wish to thank Jade Young, Larry Rubin, Kathy Dahl, Poka Laenui and Hardy Frye for sharing their stories about Carl with me.

11 Comments

  1. Kathleen Dahl on August 6, 2020 at 3:19 pm

    Loved the article, Eddie. Civil rights veterans are thinking of that summer of ‘64 in the light of John Lewis’s death and this adds a piece and facts about another hero of those days. Thank you for your hard work.

    • Eddie Wong on August 7, 2020 at 9:39 am

      Thanks, Kathy. Can’t wait to read your story. It’s wonderful that you’ve kept so many of the primary documents from that period.

  2. Franklin Odo on August 7, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Thanks, Eddie, for this story. I was Director of the Ethnic Studies Dept [then Program] at UH Manoa in 1978-93 and met Carl several times. And I knew he was intimately involved in Native Hawaiian advocacy but had no idea of his Civil Rights/Southern work. These are important stories to uncover and circulate; keep ’em coming.

  3. Poka Laenui on August 7, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Mahalo for this article which gave so much more light on the humanity of a very good friend to us in Hawaii. I had known very little of his activities in the South during the Civil Rights movement. This article puts a whole new understanding of `Imiola, the man who has always been in search of life. His transition from the cause of Civil Rights within the United States “civil society” and the transition to the cause of Human Right (Hawaiian Sovereignty) in his expression of fundamental freedoms of nations in the international society, was a logical transition in his life. Some would argue it was more a natural incorporation rather than a transition. To a certain extent, it was a reflection of his inner core, developed through his up bringing in Hawaii including the influence of his church, and school surrounded within an environment of equality and justice, his family influence of strong education and years of involvement in the justice causes in China, and a common sense approach to right and wrong. His return to Hawaii and the subsequent imprint on him of Hawaii’s history under U.S. colonization added to his maturity and expression of human rights, which fueled him in his role for pono in Hawaii and the world. Aloha

  4. Marion Kwan on August 7, 2020 at 9:33 pm

    After reading about this Carl, whom I never met or knew about until Eddie’s article, I am honored to read about him. I do know two others in the article, namely Hardy Frye and Chude Allen – both still active in the Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement (of which I am also a member). I can’t wait to tell them, although they probably know about the article. Thanks for keeping this hero alive in such an inspiring way. Another Brother who walked the path of Justice for All.
    In Kindred Spirit, Marion.

  5. Lockwood Se-Joong Young MD on August 9, 2020 at 4:45 am

    Mr. Eddie Wong,
    Thank you for your efforts and time to remember Carl. Being an older brother plus being immersed in my medical education/training resulted in my being unknowing about Carl’s specific accomplishments. It does bring back memories:
    my urging him to transfer to a mainland college to broaden his perspectives, attending his graduation in Northfield, accompanying our Dad to a parents meeting of Hawaii students in Mississippi doing voter registration to discuss plans in case they got into trouble. I’m very proud of other people’s opinions of Carl and feel he best exemplified our family heritage of political activism. Aloha.

  6. Gary Kubota on August 10, 2020 at 7:21 am

    Many thanks for your excellent article. As a member of Kokua Hawaii, I came to know Carl and enjoyed his Company, whether slopping the pigs on George Santos farm as volunteers to discussing Mao Tse Tung. You’ve done a great service.

  7. STEPHEN GONG on August 10, 2020 at 4:57 pm

    Great article Eddie, thank you filling in this important part of history. You pulled together key perspectives on the period, and on Carl, the person and exemplar.

  8. Sharon Tanaka on August 20, 2020 at 5:35 pm

    Incredibly beautiful piece written about an unassuming man I worked with at Roosevelt High School and missed an opportunity to learn from such humble and giving person. Carl represents a lot of we expound that we believe in and few of us have gone to do work he has done unnoticed. Mahalo nui loa for writing such a wonderful piece to a man and his contributions to our lives and world.

  9. Casimiro U Tolentino on September 20, 2020 at 10:33 pm

    Great article and illuminating a time and place that many of us APAs know little about. Many APAs participated in the civil rights movement in an unheralded and untold way. It is great to hear their stories, especially in these times. I continue to be inspired by their work and advocacy.

  10. ALEX HING on October 2, 2020 at 7:36 am

    Thanks for this article about one of our heroes who is unknown no longer. And thanks for the entire series. Makes me proud.

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