MEDIA — Mayor Bob McMahon announced a proclamation for the centennial anniversary of the March First Movement and the formation of the First Korean Congress (FKC). For those who might ponder the Media connection, the proclamation provided explanation.
“On March 1, 1919, 33core Korean Independence activists signed the Korean Declaration of Independence from Imperial Japan in the Korean capital city of Seoul. On that same day, in Korea, there was a public reading of the declaration.”
If that activism and democratic movement sounds familiar to Philadelphia, it is not accidental. In April 1919, Dr. Philip Jaisohn, Dr. Syngman Rhee and Henry Chung gathered with 150 Korean national leaders and Americans at the “Little Theater” in Philadelphia to hold the First Korean Congress in response to the First Movement March. This three-day event in Philadelphia helped publicize to the world the conditions in Korea and the need for Korean’s Independence.
The Media connection was Jaisohn. A political activist in Korea, Jaisohn (his anglicized name), fled his homeland for reasons of safety and came to the Philadelphia area by way of a mentor. Throughout his life, he was notable for many firsts: the first Korean to become a naturalized American citizen; first Korean newspaper; and first Korean to earn an American medical degree.
In 1925, Jaisohn moved to a house on Lincoln Street, with land in both the borough and Upper Providence. He had started a family, and practiced medicine with offices in the borough as well as Chester. He remained dedicated to Korean independence, sometimes traveling back to South Korea. When the first presidential election in Korea was confirmed by the United Nations, Jaisohn was asked to run. He declined, and his colleague Syngman Rhee won the post.
Jaisohn lived in Media until his death in 1951. His family remained for a time, but the house then became a center for study through a foundation. Although the red brick home and gardens do not stand out among their environs, they are frequently visited by tourists who pay tribute to the important figure in Korean independence.
As a post script, Councilman Peter Williamson recalled a significant day in the borough.
“My family had recently moved across the street from the Philip Jaisohn House," Williamson said. "Kim Jae-jung, then South Korean president, was receiving the Liberty Medal in Philadelphia and visited the house. I had bought two little Korean flags, and my son and I were outside waving them. A police escort came down the street, followed by many in the Korean press. I think my son was featured on Seoul TV for awhile."
The Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation continues to care for and manage the house and had, in the recent past, proposed additions which have not taken place. The foundation offers assistance and programs for those of Korean heritage. According to McMahon’s information, there are about 80,000 Koreans in the Philadelphia region. Dr. Jaisohn is also honored with a historic plaque in Rose Tree Park.