On June 26, 2007, Yoon Han Bong, the “Last Fugitive” involved in the May 18th Gwangju People's Uprising of 1980, and a central initiator of the progressive Korean American grassroots movement, passed away at the age of 58. Yoon Han Bong is widely recognized by the overseas Korean American movement and the human rights and social justice movement in South Korea as a critical, astute and eloquent political leader.
Here in Los Angeles and the United States, Yoon Han Bong challenged and motivated many young Korean Americans to combine their passion and awareness of injustice with practical skills in organizing, education and movement building. He taught young activists to always start with a broad and accurate political analysis of issues at the local, national and international level. We were taught that the Korean American community serves as our home and the crux of our organizing strength, and we must branch off to build meaningful coalitions with other communities in order to fulfill our social justice agenda. By example, we learned that pure & genuine social activism is realized by the integration of our political ideals with how we live our own lives.
Yoon Han Bong was born in Kang Jin, South Jeolla Province, South Korea in 1948. As a college student, his leadership role in the “Youth and Student Coalition for Democracy” led to his expulsion from Jun Nam University. From 1978 to 1979, Yoon was imprisoned multiple times under violation of Special Order 9 for opposing the military dictatorship at the time. The following year, Yoon was blacklisted as the most wanted due to his involvement in the May 18 Gwang Ju People's Uprising. (This event was the genesis of the modern democracy movement in Korea and more than a decade of activism in South Korea and internationally led to the end of successive military dictatorships.) In April, 1981, Yoon secretly escaped on a cargo ship and after more than 40 days, arrived in the United States where he received political asylum.
Upon Yoon’s arrival in the United States, he focused on building an overseas solidarity movement to support the democracy movement in South Korea. Among his accomplishments are the founding of the Korean Resource Center in 1983, Young Koreans United (YKU) in 1984 and the Korean Alliance for Peace and Justice of USA in 1987. YKU spawned the formation of grassroots community-based organizations throughout the country including the Korean American Resource & Cultural Center in Chicago, YKASEC – Empowering the Korean American Community in New York City and the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC).
In May, 1993, after South Korea elected its first civilian president by direct popular election, Yoon returned home --- ending 12 years of political asylum in the United States. Upon his return, Yoon established the Korea Future Research Center (analytical research and planning on the future of Korea) and played a leadership role in the formation of the May 18 Memorial Foundation which seeks to transmit the spirit of democracy and human rights throughout the Asia Pacific region. From 2003 to 2006, Yoon served as co-chair of the “No on Park Jung Hee Memorial Museum People’s Coalition” and in 2004, he was elected as the first chairperson of the “Deu-Bul” (Wild Fire) Activist Commemoration Project to recognize the grassroots leaders of the May 18 Gwang Ju People’s Uprising.
As a young man, Yoon Han Bong’s body suffered from the hardships of struggling against government repression. For 15 years, his lungs had been failing him and he was in great need of a transplant. Complications from an operation on June 23 led to his passing three days later. Yoon is survived by Soha Shin, a former member of Young Koreans United of Los Angeles and former social service director of the Korean Resource Center.
Yoon Han Bong