In celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Google Doodle is honoring the legacy of Corky Lee, a Chinese American photographer and activist who highlighted discrimination and racism against the AAPI community.
Lee, who died in January 2021 at the age of 73 due to COVID-19 complications, is notably known for his photograph of Peter Yew, a bloodied young Chinese American who was beaten and dragged away by police in 1975.
The photo, which he sold to the New York Post, inspired thousands of Chinatown residents to protest the rampant police brutality in their neighborhoods.
Lee, who was born in Queens, New York City, to Chinese immigrant parents in 1947, was first inspired to become a photographer after learning about how the transcontinental railroad was built in school.
When Lee was shown an 1869 photo celebrating the completion of the railroad, he realized that it failed to depict the Chinese laborers who helped build it.
Lee, who taught himself photography, later went on to recreate the photograph in 2014 with descendants of the original Chinese railroad workers. He called the image a “photographic justice.”
In a statement to Google, Corky’s brother, John “Johann” Lee, honored his brother’s legacy:
Throughout our childhood, our parents expounded upon the importance of doing the right thing. Simply because it was the right thing to do and carried with it an implicit call to action. Perhaps they were prescient in giving Corky his Chinese name (Lee Young Kuo). Loosely translated it means, “to praise”, “uplift the nation”, and so he did. Through his lens, he gave Americans of Asian descent their history, pride, and dignity and reminded all Americans of Asian contributions to the national American mosaic. Corky raised the consciousness not only of his camera’s subjects but that of the nation as well.
In 1988, May 5th was designated as “Corky Lee Day” in honor of Lee’s lifelong contributions to New York City’s communities.
His celebrated life was also made into documentaries, including “Not on the Menu: Corky Lee’s Life and Work” (2013) and “Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story” (2022).
E. Samantha Cheng, founder and executive producer of Heritage Series LLC and APA Legacy, told Google:
Although Corky is gone, his life’s work and passion live on in his photographs. Through his commitment to raising the visibility of all Asians and their contributions to America, his images have become tools to combat racism and bias and proof that we are all Americans.
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