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Korean Congress Meeting

"First Independence Movement March"


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The March First Movement,
1919 in Philadelphia

On April 14, 1919, Dr. Philip Jaisohn (Seo Jae-Pil), Dr. Syngman Rhee and Henry HK Chung, gathered with national leaders and 150 Americans at the "Little Theatre": Plays and Players Theatre in Philadelphia, to hold The First Korean Congress, in response to the 3·1 movement in Korea. They publicized to the world the reality of Japanese aggression and revealed the legitimacy for Korea’s independence. Following the meeting, all of the participants marched to Independence Hall in a demonstration to bring awareness to the American people.


Surprisingly, in support for the cause, the Mayor of Philadelphia sent a police escort and marching band for the event. Newspapers published articles of the spectacle, sympathizing for the Korean people and their need for FREEDOM; simultaneously, educating the American public the truth about the affairs in Korea. This promoted great progress by the independence movement, considering Americans were not well aware of conditions in Korea.


Dr. Philip Jaisohn established the “Bureau of Information for ROK” and The “Korea Review” publication to continue informing the public of the efforts for independence. In addition, Dr. Jaisohn created “The League of Friends of Korea” composed of numerous high-ranking officials; such as senators, religious leaders, and scholars; was comprised of 23 chapters: 21 chapters in the U.S., 1 chapter in London, and 1 chapter in Paris; and totaled approximately 25,000 members.


The combination of these establishments greatly contributed to the international efforts for Korea independence by keeping the general public well-educated. Although the March·First movement was difficult to maintain in Korea due to repression by Japan, Dr. Jaisohn and fellow activists continued the independence movement in the U.S. for 3 more years. The prominent historian Dr. Chong-Sik Lee described this entire campaign as "the March·First Independence Movement in America".


(Excerpt from Dr. Hong, Sunpyo publication on the Korean Independence Movement Research Institute).





The March First Movement,
1919 in Korea

In 1919, the radical and active nationalists in Korea were either in hiding or in prison. However, the Japanese permitted their colonial subjects to assemble for religious purposes; therefore, pro-independence political activity centered around religious organizations (Christian, Buddist, and Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way). Leaders of all three religious groups were in contact with young Korean nationalists and were inspired by the Tokyo Declaration of the Korean Youth Independence Corps.


With their help, plans for a large demonstration of Korean UNITY spread through the colony. Nationalists secretly drafted a Declaration of Independence, and thirty-three men prepared to read and sign the documents in a downtown Seoul park. Copies of the document were distributed around the country and overseas using the church network.


The movement gained strength and visibility when it turned the funeral for the last Choson king, Kojong, into an opportunity for a huge public protest against the occupying Japanese power. Although in life, Kojong had not been an able leader, in death he became a powerful symbol of Koreans’ yearning for independence.


Setting the date for the demonstration was critical, and the occasion of the king’s funeral seemed ideal, as the organizers expected people to gather in large numbers. The day of Kojong’s funeral was March 3, 1919; but fearing a leak or a traitor turning them in, the planners moved the date up to March first.


Demonstrations supporting the declaration of independence quickly spread throughout the country. It is estimated that more than a million of Korea’s twenty million people participated in street demonstrations. Their cry was “Manse!” (pronounced mahn-seh), literally meaning “ten thousand years”. It is often translated as “long live”, and in this case “long live Korean independence!” The Japanese indeed referred to it as the “Manse Movement”.



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