“Corky Lee: Celebrating the Life and Legacy of an Asian-American Activist and Photographer”

Google Doodle Celebrates Photographer Corky Lee: Honoring Asian-American Activism


May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to our country’s history, culture, and society. This year, Google celebrated the month by featuring a Doodle that honored photographer and activist Corky Lee, who dedicated his life to raising awareness about discrimination against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Lee, who passed away in January 2021 due to COVID-19, would have turned 76 years old on September 5, 2023.


Born in Queens, New York, in 1947, Lee was the son of Chinese immigrants. He grew up learning about the history of the transcontinental railroad and was inspired to become a photographer after realizing that the famous photo of the “last spike” being placed at Promontory Summit in Utah in 1869 did not include the thousands of Chinese workers who had helped build it. Lee’s passion for photography led him to document the broad range of Asian American life, and he became a self-taught photographer who used his photos to combat injustice and discrimination.


One of Lee’s most famous photos was of Peter Yew, a bloodied Chinese-American who was protesting police brutality in 1975. The New York Post published the photo, which helped to bring attention to the issue of police violence against minorities. Lee went on to take photos for other major publications such as The New York Times and Time Magazine, using his camera to capture the struggles and triumphs of the AAPI community.


In 1998, May 5 was declared Corky Lee Day in honor of Lee’s activism and dedication to promoting Asian American visibility. Lee believed that every time he took his camera out of his bag, he was drawing a sword to combat indifference, injustice, and discrimination, and trying to get rid of stereotypes. In 2014, Lee returned to Promontory Summit to right a wrong by recreating the 1869 photo with a group of descendants of the original railroad workers. He called it “photographic justice.”


Lee’s life and work were the subject of two documentaries, Not on the Menu: Corky Lee’s Life and Work (2013) and Photographic Justice: The Corky Lee Story (2022). Lee’s commitment to raising the visibility of all Asians and their contributions to America has made his images powerful tools to combat racism and bias, and proof that we are all Americans.


Google’s decision to honor Corky Lee with a Doodle during Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a testament to his legacy as an activist and artist. Lee’s photographs continue to inspire us to fight for equality and justice, and to celebrate the diversity and richness of our country’s cultural heritage.