By Ross Killion, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Hundreds of mourners stood for the funeral procession Saturday for legendary photographer Corky Lee who passed away from COVID-19 last month. The procession started at the Wah Wing Sang funeral home in New York City and visited 9 other locations in Manhattan Chinatown that held significance to Lee’s life.
“I met Corky through Blockwatch last summer. He held a photography gallery showcasing Asian American activists and allies. Even though he had only just met me, he took me through the whole show.”, said Daniella D., a Chinatown resident and Chinatown Blockwatch volunteer.
“I felt very lucky to have met him. Every encounter I had with him was educational. He treated everyone extremely well. I remember the last time I saw him on December 26. He was always very dedicated to the community. It’s really heartbreaking.”
A funeral car with a framed photograph of Lee on top led the procession. Friends of Lee displayed Lee’s photography from cars. After leaving the funeral home, the procession stopped at 70 Mulberry Street, a historical Chinatown community center, before heading towards The American Legion where Lee served as a commander and community advocate for veterans and pacifism. The fourth stop was located at 54 Elizabeth Street which is where Lee organized the “Basement Workshop” that promoted Asian American cultural arts and civil rights.
Next, the procession visited the corner of Bayard and Elizabeth Streets, the site of massive Chinatown protests in response to the beating of Peter Yew at the hands of the NYPD that were in-part inspired by a widely publicized photograph of the bloodied victim taken by Lee, before proceeding to Confucius Plaza. This is where Lee campaigned for housing and employment equality for Asian immigrants. From the Plaza, the procession moved towards 21 Pell Street where Lee co-founded the 21 Pell Project which documented Asian American history.
Kimlau Square, the eighth stop, is where Corky crusaded for the Chinese American WWII Congressional Gold Medal. At this location, The Guardian Angels, led by Curtis Sliwa, stood in formation to honor Lee’s memory.
The penultimate stop at 22 Catherine Street was where the first Chinatown Health Clinic was based. The procession ended at 99 Madison Street, the location of the initial Two Bridges Neighborhood Council where Lee’s photographs were used as evidence in favor of tenants’ rights.
Following the procession, a small private gathering of family and friends arrived at Kensico Cemetary in Valhalla, NY for the burial service.
One touching moment came when a war veteran presented Karen Zhou an American flag along with a shawl. The veteran added that Corky came to her in a dream and wanted her to give Karen a shawl-symbolic of Corky’s arms around her when she was cold.
The veteran served five tours of duty and earned a flag for each tour. The flag she gave Karen was one of those flags. Lee’s father Lee Yin Chuck served in WWII and Lee himself served as a commander of the The Sons of the American Legion.
“I knew him from the neighborhood. His presence was always nice. Everyone knew him. That’s why I felt I needed to be here”, said Evelyn G. who is also a Chinatown Blockwatch volunteer.
Lee was born Lee Young Kwok(李揚國) in Queens in 1947 to Chinese immigrants. A self-taught photographer, Lee documented many significant events in Asian American history including the protests that occurred after the murder of Vincent Chin in Michigan.
“Everything I see in Chinatown reminds me of him”, said Grayson, a Chinatown resident, Blockwatch volunteer and close friend of Lee’s.
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