Yu Gwan-sun’s Police Profile Card [Image: Republic of Korea, National Institute of Korean History]

Female Korean Freedom Fighter Gets Recognized in New York


Marking the centennial of Korea’s March 1st Independence Movement, New York State Senate and Assembly adopted a resolution to honor the lasting legacy of Yu Gwan-sun — one of the youngest human rights leaders in history. At a joint session on January 14th, the state of New York’s bicameral legislatures convened and unanimously passed the resolution. Consequently, in the United States – or at least in New York – March 1st, 2019, will be remembered as “Yu Gwan-sun Day.”

March 1st is a national holiday in South Korea commemorating the 1919 Korean national independence movement. Dozens of Korean leaders convened that day to recite the Korean declaration of independence from the Japanese colonial occupation, and proclaim the autonomy of the Korean nation. Yu, a 16 year old student attending a Christian missionary school at the time, participated in the March First protests and furthered her struggle by organizing protests from her home town in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province.

The New York Times, last year, published a profile of Yu in their Overlooked series — an on-going project that publishes obituaries for under-recognized heroes. The Times provides an illustrative account of events building up to the March First Movement. Furthermore, the story presents a detailed insight into Yu’s involvement in the protests as a compassionate freedom fighter and resilient leader.

The Korean American community played a pivotal role in nudging the state legislatures to pass the resolution. Korean American Association of Greater New York (KAAGNY) which represents over 140,000 Korean American New York residents worked closely the State government not only to heighten the awareness of Korean heritage but also to promote the values of courage and self-sacrifice.

Municipalities in the United States have worked closely with the South Korean government and civil society to promote awareness of Korea’s struggle for independence. In cooperation with various NGOs and South Korean local governments, the United States now hosts nine comfort women monuments that symbolize resilience of the human spirit. In collaboration with the Korean American community, New York became the second state in the United States to host a monument dedicated to the memory of the Korean comfort women.

Brian Kim is participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He holds a master's degree in Korean Language and Asian Studies from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.