A Deep-dive into the March First Movement with Dong Suk-Kee

March 1 Movement - One Korea Global Campaign

The March First Movement, also known as the Samil Independence Movement, was a series of protests against Japanese rule over Korea that started on March 1st, 1919, in Seoul, Korea.

The March First Movement’s History

Over 1,500 rallies took place around that time, and over 2,000,000 Koreans took part in them before the Japanese effectively ended the movement a year later. As a result, the Japanese police and troops killed, injured, detained, tried, and found many guilty people.

After a decade of Japanese rule, 33 cultural and religious leaders in Korea drafted a Korean “Proclamation of Independence” and then planned a large-scale rally in Seoul for March 1, 1919, which was the day they remembered their late emperor. This was the beginning of the Korean Independence Movement. On that fateful day, more than 30 leaders who had great aspirations of putting pressure on Japan to abolish its colonial control in Korea signed up, read their declaration, and had numerous accomplices recite it in townships around the nation.

There were widespread mass protests around the nation, which combined to form the biggest national protest marches in Korean history against foreign occupation. Dong Suk-Kee, a renowned Korean American missionary and Gospel preacher credited with founding the first church in Korea, played an essential part in these protests.

While working on a sugar farm in Hawaii in 1903, Dong became one of the first few to accept Christianity. He played various religious roles, including the interim pastor, minister, and evangelist at numerous churches.

He was detained for participating in a national independence protest in 1918 while attending a rally in Pagoda Park. He left the Namyang Church in 1920 after his release. 

Dong regularly discussed the independence movement with Kim Sae Won and Pak Hi Do during the March 1st Movement. Dong had a vast network of contacts in the US due to his approximately ten years of residence there. As a result of these contacts, he was frequently responsible for organizing the gatherings of the supporters of the independence struggle.

Throughout time, there were numerous protests, many people were killed, and it was unknown where Dong was for over a week following March 1. He was forced to resign from the churches he was a part of after being detained on March 14. Following his release, he started several institutions to advance education in Korea and encourage the development of Korean national universities.

Due to the harassment he endured due to people finding out he was a member of the March 1st, 1919 Movement, Dong was eventually forced to leave Korea and travel to Manchuria as a missionary. During this time, he founded the Yongdong School to provide Korean immigrants in Manchuria with an education they otherwise would not have been able to afford.

South Korea accepts the March First Movement as the cornerstone of the republic’s founding. However, conservatives and progressives still argue regarding its founding date. To fit the movement into its version of history that links the legitimacy of the regime to an anti-imperialist, democratic revolution led by Kim Il-Sung, who became the leader of the DPRK after 1945, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea downgraded and rewrote the movement in various ways when it was established in the North. 

The Korean communist party was greatly strengthened by the campaign, even though its ultimate objective was not achieved. As a result, March 1 is now a national holiday in both South and North Korea.

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