Expert on Korean immigration in Hawai‘i to launch this semester’s Living History speaker series

Duk Hee Lee Murabayashi will speak on Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea and first president of South Korea, and his connections to Hilo.

By Susan Enright.

Duk Hee Lee Murabayashi
Duk Hee Lee Murabayashi

The history department at University of Hawai‘i at Hilo launches this fall’s Living History Symposium, a speaker series, on Sept. 25, with a presentation by Duk Hee Lee Murabayashi, an expert on Korean immigration in Hawai‘i.

Murabayashi, a retired urban planner, has devoted the last sixteen years to researching Korean immigration history in Hawai‘i and has published four books on the subject. She will speak on Syngman Rhee, the first president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea and first president of South Korea, and his connections to Hilo.

In addition to his well-known international activities in behalf of Korean independence, Syngman Rhee was a key figure in education, religious activities, and politics in Hawai‘i’s Korean community from his arrival in 1913 until World War II. Murabayashi will discuss Rhee’s involvement in all three areas, drawing on her research for her book, Hanin Kidokkyo Hoe Hanin Kidok Hakwon Taehanin Tongjihoe (A History of the Korean Christian Church, Korean Christian Institute, and Tongjihoe).

Murabayashi is Hawai‘i’s foremost researcher and writer on the history of Korean life in the islands. A graduate of Ewha Womans University in Seoul, the University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Southern California, she has been a professional city planner and a leader in numerous community organizations. She served as vice general chairperson of the highly successful 2003 observance of the centennial of the beginning of Korean immigration to the United States. She is a community associate member of the Center for Korean Studies.

UH Hilo history department’s Living History Symposium was conceptualized about a year ago with the first two presentations held in the spring 2014 semester.

“Through this series we hope to bring our students into contact with those in the community, kupuna (elders considered a source of wisdom), who have lived through, or experienced in some first-hand way, an historical event or era and who are willing to share some of those experiences with our students,” says Kerri Inglis, associate professor of history and chair of the department.

The presentations are open to the public, but the department is trying to create an intimate talk-story gathering for students.

“The students benefit from these speakers by connecting with those who have researched or lived through significant historical events or eras — allowing for history to come alive and be understood in ways that take us beyond the books, and allow for a true dialogue between the past and the present,” says Inglis.

There is no set schedule for this fall semester; organizers schedule speakers as they express interest or are suggested by someone in the community. Inglis encourages history scholars and enthusiasts to recommend speakers.

“The Living History Symposium inspires us, enriches our understandings of past events, and reminds us of why we love history so much,” says Inglis.

Mrs. Murabayashi will be speaking at UH Hilo on Thursday, Sept. 25, 6:00–8:00 p.m., in the University Classroom Building Rm 115. The presentation is free and open to the public. All are welcome.

For more information, contact Kerri Inglis.


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

Photo by Michael Macmillan.