The Korean National Association was founded in America. Korean immigrants had learned how to utilize the opportunities provided by the political freedom of American democracy. They organized themselves to their advantage rather quickly considering how much Western political culture differed from the traditional political Korean ways and the destructive colonial policies of Japanese.
The Korean National Association was born out of the fight against Japan taking over Korea. Japan was orchestrating a conquest of Asia. Korean resources were the fuel for this military and political conquest. The land, the coal, the gold, the lumber, the rice, the animals, the fish and the people were crudely and cruelly refined to power the Japanese greed machine. Koreans resisted in many ways. The Korean National Association became the path of resistance and political harbor for many of them.
Significant historical developments are usually sparked by exact incidents that cause distinct reactions within a relative time frame. The founding of the Korean National Association was spurred by the assassination of an American by two Korean immigrants in San Francisco.
When major historical incidents take place, many situations influence their cause and their outcome. The assassination of Durham White Stevens was the result of a series of events connected to the Japanese taking Korea away from Koreans in the late 1800ís and the early 1900ís. The outcome of the assassination was the creation of the Korean National Association and the uniting of Koreans outside of Korea who were all determined to procure and protect the independence of their country.
Durham White Stevens was an American citizen employed as an advisor to the Korean government on its foreign affairs. Stevens also worked for the Japanese government as an advisor to the Japanese Resident General under a secret agreement he had with them. Stevens had originally gone to Japan as a missionary. He publicly defended the Japanese colonial policies in Korea. Stevensís loyalty and dedication was to Japan and his advisory position in the Korean government was part of a slick Japanese political scheme.
Stevens handled Japanís publicity activities relating to Korea. During the Russo-Japanese Peace Conference he handled all the public relations for the Japanese delegates. Dr. Homer Hulbert and other missionaries launched a campaign against Japanís illegal activities in Korea airing the peopleís grievances. Stevens ran the counterpropaganda campaign for Japan. Stevens made statements that Japanís rule in Korea was benefiting the Korean people. The world outside of Korea had no accurate idea of the criminal and inhumane actions Japan used to conquer Korea. These statements were damaging to the Korean fight for independence. Koreans both in Korea and outside Korea were outraged.
In 1908, Stevens came to San Francisco on one of his publicity campaigns praising Japan and insulting Koreans. While staying at the Fairmont Hotel he contributed strong propaganda against Korea to newspaper articles in the San Francisco Chronicle. Korean immigrants in San Francisco were angry and the Kongip Hyop Hoe (Mutual Assistance Association) and the Taedong Pogukhoe (Great Eastern Protection Association) groups were both hostile to Stevens. These two groups agreed to do something to stop Stevensís lies and clear Koreaís name. Two representatives from each group went to the Fairmont Hotel and met with Stevens. Stevens was very arrogant at the meeting in the hotel on March 22 and made his position against Koreans worse.
The Koreans learned that Stevens was scheduled to leave San Francisco for Southern California by train the next day on March 23, 1908. Two Korean students Chang In Hwan and Chun Myung Un decided they would confront him at the train station. They were so outraged they planned to assassinate Stevens. Stevens did not show up at the train station as planned. The two Koreans decided to look at the nearby FerryBuilding where Chun Myong Un was the first to spot Stevens. Chunís gun jammed so he struck Stevens with the butt of his gun. As Stevens tried to fight back a crowd gathered and was trying to grab Chun. During the melee Chang In Hwan pulled out his gun and fired three shots. Two hit Stevens and the other struck Chun.
Americanís feelings towards Asians were not good at this time. There was fear that Chun and Chang could be lynched right there. It was reported that a well-known American criminal lawyer emerged from the crowd and explained the heated passion of patriotism that drove the two Koreans to such violence. While the crowd debated what to do with the two Koreans, the police arrived and took Chang to the precinct and Stevens and Chun went to the hospital in an ambulance. Stevens died that night and after a week in the hospital Chun was taken to jail.
Chang was a member of the Kongnip Hyop Hoe and Chun was a member of the Taedong Pogukhoe. Both these organizations vowed to cooperate to defend the two Koreans. There was a critical need for a capable interpreter. The two organizations invited Syngman Rhee to San Francisco to act as the court trial interpreter. Rhee had come to America in 1905 as a student and was studying at Princeton. He could speak English well. When Syngman Rhee arrived he saw an opportunity to try and seize control of the two Korean community organizations. He claimed that to do his job he needed to become the sole leader of the two organizations and he would conduct their affairs. Yi Tae Wi and Choe Chong Sik represented the majority of the Koreanís who refused to make Syngman Rhee the sole leader of the San Francisco Korean community. Rhee had some acquaintances in the community. Mun Yang Mok and Paek Il Kyu could not support Rhee either. Rhee was subjected to questions from the community why he should become their new leader. He could not justify his claim of leadership and Rheeís temper resulted in some ill-considered statements and was unable to avoid the disruption he caused. Rhee showed the community a glimpse of his Messiah Complex, which would be a problem that grew worse over time.
Rhee resorted to his own propaganda to get himself out of the community and away from the controversy he started. He said he could not represent the two Koreans because it was beneath him to act as their interpreter, as a Christian he could not defend two criminal assassins, and because he was a college student he could not become involved in what he thought would become a long trial. He told the San Francisco Korean community he was going to return back to the East Coast. People made efforts to persuade him to stay and help. He refused and was harshly criticized for his arrogance at a time he should have carried out his patriotic duty.
The two Korean organizations based in San Francisco that had agreed to collect defense funds were in need of more financial help for Chun and Cheongís trial. The news of the assassination had reached Hawaii quickly and the Hanin Hapsong Hyop Hoe (United Korean Society) vowed to help. There were more Korean immigrants in Hawaii than in San Francisco. The Hanin Hapsong Hyop Hoe was a merger of twenty-four groups of Korean immigrants in the Hawaiian Islands formed September 2, 1907. The patriotic desire to defend the two Koreans at their trail was the key element that brought the immigrant groups in California together with the immigrantís organization in Hawaii.
On November 30, 1908 a decision was made to merge Hanin Hapsong and Kongnip. Cheong Chae Kwan of Kongnip Hyop He and Cheong Won Myung of Hanin Hapsong Hyop Hoe were the two leaders of the Korean community organizations at this time. The Korean National Association officially started the organization February 1, 1909.
Dosan Ahn Chang Ho had his first official contact with KNA representatives in Valdivostok in 1910 sent from the United States to open up a branch of the KNA there. Dosan had been in Korea since 1907 as a representative of the Kongnip Hyope Hoe and a leader of the Shinminhoe (New Peopleís Association).
On November 8, 1912 in San Francisco a decision was made to organize all branches of the KNA under a governing body called the Central Congress of the Korean National Association. The overall plans of the independence movement would be initiated through this body and legislation session would be conducted with representatives of every KNA regional branch.
Dosan would become the President and Park Yong Man the Vice President of the Central Congress of the Korean National Association in 1915.