Honor black soldiers who helped free Koreans
The Kansas City Star
Music will unite cultures in Kansas City in a celebration of African American soldiers.
The events, during Black History Month, commemorate the 60th anniversary of the truce that ended fighting in the Korean War and the black troops who helped keep South Korea free. It was 65 years ago that Missouri’s own President Harry S. Truman did the unthinkable with an executive order, integrating U.S. armed forces.
African American soldiers had fought in every U.S. war before then — but in segregated units — and were never fully recognized or appreciated. It was in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 that about 600,000 black soldiers were integrated with the millions of others who served.
Jim Crow was losing its grip in America, and South Korea was a big beneficiary, said Therese Park, who has organized two concerts to raise funds for the Blue Hills community around St. Therese Little Flower Catholic Church.
Park, a retired cellist from the Kansas City Symphony, will perform with Un Chong Christopher and Cristian Fatu at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Cure of Ars Catholic Church, 9401 Mission Road, and 3 p.m. Feb. 24 at St. Therese Little Flower, 5814 Euclid Ave.
For years, St. Therese Little Flower has worked to build cultural bridges, uniting blacks and whites.
Father Ernie Davis, a priest at the church, said the concert “adds another dimension.”
Park explained that black and Korean history are similar. “We were slaves to Japan; black people were slaves to white people,” said Park, who was inspired to study music after she and her family heard Marian Anderson in a “Good Will Ambassador” concert in 1957 at Ehwa University in Seoul.
The Korean peninsula suffered under the Japanese from 1905 until 1945, with men forced into the Japanese military and women used as concubines by Japanese men. It was an imperial era in which the U.S. had claimed the Philippines and France, Great Britain and other nations took other parts of Asia.
Japan’s goal — particularly during World War II in its alliance with Germany — was to reunite Asia. The Japanese also wrote the history to benefit Japan just as U.S. whites did in America, excluding blacks. But the U.S. and Allied forces defeated the Axis powers forcing Japan’s 1945 surrender.
“We were finally free,” Park said. “Do you know what that means — in our generation?”
The end of slavery, and her respect for the work of President Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. add to her spiritual kinship with African Americans.
Park, who got her music degrees in Seoul at the National University School of Music and her master’s at L’Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, remembers her elementary school was converted into a makeshift hospital after communist troops from the North attacked.
Park, who was born in 1941, recalls sirens, ambulances and wounded men being brought into the school on stretchers. “It was something I would not forget,” she said.
“It was so scary,” Park added. “Our teacher said, ‘This is what the communists did to us.’ It was a surprise attack.”
Park remembered later singing Korean songs with other children for U.S. troops.
“That was when we were introduced to American ice cream,” she said. Park vividly recalled that a black soldier provided the treat for each of the children.
“What goes around comes around,” said Park, a sixth-generation Catholic who’s a member of St. Therese Little Flower. “We received, now it’s time to give. It’s this spirit of sharing.”
Park hopes for a good turnout at the two concerts and she hopes to raise a lot of money to benefit the low-income families in the community. The boarded up buildings and vacant lots remind her of cities in South Korea after the war.
It’s not like the America she found when she came to Kansas City in 1966 to perform with the then-Kansas City Philharmonic. It’s also unlike the trendy spots or the tidy suburbs.
“You get the sense of another city,” Park said.
That’s what she and others are working to change.
The Black History Month benefit concerts are a wonderful start.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid, call 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.