The Rev. Dr. Bernice King , the CEO of Atlanta’s King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, was among the 10,000 guests who witnessed South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in’s impassioned March 1 speech reaffirming his country’s 1919 Declaration of Independence and setting his agenda for the reunification of the Korean peninsula.
Delivered in honor of the 100th anniversary of the independence movement, which sought an end to Japanese colonization, Mr. Moon said that the demonstrations launched in 1919 by the declaration set the course for “the great journey toward a democratic republic…”
Dr. King has had a long-term affiliation with Lee Young-hoon, senior pastor at Yoido Full Gospel Church, which reportedly is Korea’s largest church with a congregation numbering 1 million members.
According to the March 5 edition of the South Korean daily newspaper Hankyoreh, Pastor Lee attended a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination in Atlanta last year and invited Dr. Bernice King to visit South Korea to participate in its independence celebrations.
During a press conference held at a hotel in Seoul March 4, Dr King reportedly said that her first impression of Korea was ‘more peaceful and calm than the U.S.”
“I was surprised to see that even the police in Korea don’t carry weapons,” she is quoted to have said. “Since people are free to have guns in the U.S. there’s a fear that a shooting could happen anywhere and at any time but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Korea.”
In keeping with the theme of the March First Independence Movement Day, which is said to have inspired Mohandas Gandhi to adopt nonviolence as a form of political activism when he was in South Africa, Dr. King encouraged nonviolent dialogue to resolve the peninsula’s divided status.
Mr. Moon during his March 1 speech addressed steps to be taken leading to the reunification of the Korean peninsula. Looking into the future, he said, “It’s a new 100 years to achieve unity through novel ideas and mindsets.” He predicted that “the 38th parallel (which divides the peninsula between North and South Korea) currently drawn through our minds will disappear altogether…”
He pointed to the construction of railroads and roads between the two Koreas and the expansion of fishery rights, the development of a peace park in the Demilitarized Zone that separates the two, an eco-peace tourism project and more family reunions as steps toward unification.
He even referred to what has been broadly assumed was a failed meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam, as “providing meaningful progress,” because the two leaders held lengthy conversations.
Among the developments that he anticipates are efforts to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex located inside North Korea so South Korean companies could manufacture products using North Korean labor.
He foresaw the opening of an Inter-Korean Joint Military Committee and the normalization of North Korea’s relations with the U.S. and Japan. “Peace on the Korean Peninsula will serve as a new driving force for economic growth, which will not only impact both Koreas but also encompass Northeast Asia, ASEAN and Eurasia,” he said.
Mr. Moon’s positive messages crossed the Pacific and were picked up by members of the U.S. Congress who introduced House Resolutions 159 and 164 revealing bi-partisan support for the Korean Declaration of Independence and the March First Movement Day.
Robert “Rob” Woodall, who has represented Georgia’s 7th Congressional district since 2011, hailed the bipartisan support for the 100th anniversary. “There are so many things that divide us today,” he told Global Atlanta. “We can take bipartisan pride in our Korean-American communities.”
He added that his district, including portions of Fulton and Gwinnett counties, has provided him with communities composed of Japanese, Koreans, Indians and Bosnians. “Every community has a fabulous story and one of the joys of my job is to learn each of their history lessons.”
The local Korean community also celebrated the March First Movement Day with a musical concert at the Korean-American Culture Center in Norcross.
Mr. Woodall’s resolution cites that more than 7,000 Koreans lost their lives in the demonstrations opposing Japanese colonization and that 2 million Koreans throughout the peninsula demonstrated in favor of the Declaration. Their objective was postponed for 35 years since Japanese colonization lasted from 1910-45.
The resolution also cites the close ties between the Republic of Korea and the U.S.’s commitment to the denuclearization of the peninsula and a peaceful end to the Korean war, which still has not been officially concluded due to the absence of a peace treaty.
When asked if he was disappointed by the failure of the Hanoi meeting, he said that many of his fellow members of the Korean Caucus in Congress felt that Mr. Trump was under so much pressure to strike a deal “they were concerned that he might make a bad deal,” fortifying his opinion that no deal was better than a bad deal.
His resolution “commends the steps for a unified and denuclearized Korean Peninsula that have been accomplished and efforts that still must be made. It also reaffirms the United States commitment to the Republic of Korea’s “independence, sovereignty and safety.”
To get his resolution passed, Mr. Woodall said that he would have to lobby fellow members of Congress, working with U.S. Rep. William Pascarell Jr., who represents New Jersey’s 9th congressional district. Mr. Pascarell is one of five Democrats who introduced House Resolution 164.
The others include U.S. Reps. Grace Meng of New York, Gilbert Cisneros Jr. of California, William R. Keating of Massachusetts and Andy Kim of New Jersey, the lone Korean-American serving in the U.S. Congress.
While both resolutions are similar in content, H.R. 164 recounts the role Yu Gwan-sun played in opposing Japanese colonization. While a student at an American missionary school for women, she became an ardent proponent of independence. She was imprisoned, tortured and eventually died in prison.
Accocding to HR 164, she became “the face of the Korean independence movement.”
It also referred to several prominent Koreans who had been educated and lived in the United States including Dr. Syngman Rhee, South Korea’s first president who received a doctorate from Princeton University in 1919; Philip Jason, the first Korean to become a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1890 as well as the first Korean to receive a medical degree from Columbia Medical College, now the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and Dosan Ahn Chang Ho, one of the early community leaders who immigrated to San Francisco in 1902 and established the Friendship Society in 1903, the first Korean-American organization.
The World Affairs Council of Atlanta is to host Ambassador Harry Harris, U.S. ambassador to South Korea; Ambassador Cho Yoon-je, South Korea’s ambassador to the U.S. and Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, president of the Korean Economic Institute and former U.S. ambassador to South Korea on Monday, March 18 at 6:15pm to 8:15pm at The Commerce Club 191 Peachtree Street 49th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30303.
Click here to register.