In Memoriam: Carl Imiola Young

Carl Imiola Young

1942 – 2008

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1942, Carl Imiola Young was one of several Asian Americans who became involved with SNCC. Carl graduated  from Carleton College in Iowa in 1964.  His sister Jade writes:

“Long before Carl arrived in Holly Springs, MS, a town of 28,000 in northern Mississippi, he had become an ardent supporter 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 the summer of 1964.”

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.

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.”

Carl stayed beyond Freedom Summer and worked in Holly Springs on SNCC staff until the end of the year.  Reflecting on his time with SNCC in Mississippi, Carl wrote:
… 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…

After his time with SNCC, Carl worked for the Peace Corps in India.  As a conscientious objector, he served as a medic in the Vietnam War.  He went on to finish a master’s degree at Berkeley in 1970, and later became a high school teacher, and worked in the Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement.

Carl died in Honolulu on June 15, 2008, age 66.

Carl Imiola Young