This amazing photograph on the front page of my website was taken on April 19, 1960, in Seoul, South Korea, as recorded in the journal I kept of those events and recently posted on this blog.
On that day, tens of thousands of Koreans, led by students and workers, rose up in rebellion to protest 15 years of harsh dictatorship and a rigged election in which the U.S.-backed president, Syngman Rhee, was “re-elected” once again (read an amazing retrospective of the uprising here). Days later, Rhee stepped down and was flown out of the country in an airplane provided by the CIA.
I was living in Seoul then as a missionary kid, and this event – in which ordinary people took history into their own hands and created a revolution – changed my life. I never forgot the events of 4/19 and the lessons it taught. This image of a revolution unfolding before a photographer’s eyes still sends shivers down my spine 50 years later. Unfortunately, the democratic upsurge – which included widespread demands for unification negotiations with North Korea – was cut short in May 1961 by a military coup d’etat led by Park Chung Hee, a general trained during World War II by the Japanese Imperial Army. Park ruled the country with an iron hand until he was assassinated in October 1979.
What happened after that turned eventually into the tragedy of Kwangju and the seeds of South Korea’s eventual democratic revolution. For that part of the story, go to my KOREA section. The picture below is me at the 4.19 memorial marker in downtown Seoul, in May 2015.