One day in the late 1960s, a number of flyers showed up at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It’s the Vietnam War Era, and the flyers, which alleged to be from the Americong, stated that to protest the military use of napalm in Vietnam a dog would be burned with napalm to show just how horrific the agent was. Both the mayor of Philadelphia, James Hugh Joseph Tate, and the police department decried the flyer, stating that the perpetrator would face significant jailtime.
At noon on the day specified 2,000 people and four ambulances arrived in front of the University of Pennsylvania library; the place where this horrific exhibition was to take place. But when these people arrived there was no dog. There was no napalm, there was no Americong, but there were more flyers. They read, “Congratulations, you have saved the life of an innocent dog. How about the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese that have been burned alive?”
Although there was no dog, this was indeed the largest antiwar demonstration to ever take place at the University of Pennsylvania. The mastermind behind this demonstration? Civil Rights activist extraordinaire, Kiyoshi Kuromiya.
Kiyoshi Kuromiya was born May 9th, 1943 in Heart Mountain, Wyoming, in one of the U.S. government’s Japanese Internment camps during World War II. He arrived at the University of Pennsylvania in 1961 to pursue a degree in architecture. It was here his work as a Civil Rights activist began. He was involved in the Antiwar Movement during the Vietnam War, participated in sit-ins with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in Maryland in 1962, and marched in the March on Washington in 1963.
Kuromiya was an activist in many of the social movements that defined the 1960s, and he was an activist all his life. This included his involvement in the Gay Rights Movement beginning in the 1960s when he worked with the Gay Liberation Front. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic arose in the 1980s, Kuromiya was once again on the front-lines with other AIDS activists, which later included organizations like ACT UP in the 1990s. It was also during the 1990s that his efforts went digital.
For those who know Kuyomiya’s story of AIDS Rights Activism he is perhaps best known for the Critical Path Project, a program he founded in 1989 to provide treatment, resources, and prevention information to People With AIDS (PWA). The Critical Path Project began as a newsletter routinely delivered to thousands of people living with AIDS around the world, including incarcerated Americans. From its earliest days the Critical Path newsletter was meant to provide access to all information pertaining to HIV/AIDS.
Kuromiya did not stop with the newsletter, however, despite how widespread it was. As was his way, he began incorporating new technologies to increase the accessibility of the information, and to grow and strengthen the network of PWAs to ensure their access to said information. The Critical Path Project set up a 24-hour hotline/pager service to improve efficiency. In 1992, they established a computer bulletin board system to provide individuals and agencies around the country with news updates about HIV. Then, in 1993, Critical Path established an email listserv to facilitate conversations between PWAs, medical providers, and activists. This was crucial in organizing for cutting-edge research and clinical trials for the many men desperate for treatment.
The ingenuity of Kuyomiya’s digital activism, particularly in the early days of the internet, seem boundless in hindsight. By 1995 the Critical Path Project became an internet service provider comparable, at that time, to AOL, or for younger readers, like Xfinity and Comcast. Critical Path provided free internet access and email to PWAs, opening up an entire digital world to them where information on the newest treatments and places to access them was at their fingertips. According to the Critical Path Project’s website, between 1995 and 2008, over 10,000 people in the greater Philadelphia area signed up for and used Critical Path.
In 2000, Kiyoshi Kuromiya died from complications related to AIDS. His lifetime of activism continues beyond his own life, as the Critical Path Project continues to provide resources and information for people with HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, and other chronic conditions. The Critical Path newsletter became Philadelphia FIGHT’s Greater Philadelphia AIDS Resource Guide which continues to publish new editions annually. These organizations, extensions of Kuromiya’s lifelong commitment to help others, live on as a testament to the impact he had on countless lives. What a remarkable legacy to leave.