Cumberland County students with the historical marker on the Roanoke College campus. Photo courtesy of Roanoke College.

A historical marker to Roanoke College graduate Kim Kyusik, a leader in the Korean independence movement, was dedicated on the Salem campus Thursday. It’s one of three historical markers around Virginia that were proposed as a result of a class project at Cumberland Middle School in Cumberland County. (See background story.) The students and their teacher, history teacher Lewis Longenecker, attended the ceremony.  Another marker the students proposed will be dedicated Friday in Cumberland County. That one recognizes Samuel Bolling, who was born into slavery and after the Civil War became a prominent businessman and state legislator.

Kim Kyusik (1881-1950) was born in Korea and graduated from Roanoke College in 1903. Kim became an orphan as a young child and was adopted by Dr. Horace Underwood, a Lutheran missionary. It was through Underwood that Kim came to Roanoke College, a Lutheran-related institution.  

“There’s no exaggeration, this is probably the Roanoke graduate who’s had a greater influence on world affairs than any Roanoke graduate,” Roanoke College President Michael Maxey said at the ceremony, “so it’s a wonderful thing to come together and celebrate him.” 

Kim served the Provisional Korean Government based in China as secretary of foreign affairs, and later as minister of education and vice president. He advocated Korean independence at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, promoted the Korean cause in the United States as chair of the Korean Commission, and helped organize the Korean National Revolutionary Party in China. After World War II, Kim opposed the permanent partition of Korea into North and South. He was kidnapped by the North Korean army during the Korean War and died in captivity. 

Kim was nominated by students from Cumberland Middle School as part of a contest sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Office of the Governor to nominate Asian American Pacific Islanders for historic markers.

Their teacher, Lewis Longenecker, spoke about how his classes researched Kim and learned about his life.  

“We discussed the importance of recognizing individuals from diverse backgrounds who had been denied recognition or had been overlooked,” he said. “We followed up with a brief overview of several early 20th-century topics. Four names and events were put on the screen. We discussed who was most deserving of a historic marker and the first fifth-grade group of the day picked Kim Kyusik.” 

Longenecker shared a comment made by his student De’Von Carter, a current Cumberland Middle School sixth grader, who said, “’He stood up for the rights of others and helped others while fighting for Korean independence and democracy all the way to the end.’”

Roanoke College President Michael Maxey said the marker’s High Street location was selected because “we wanted it in a place where people could see it and ponder the significance of this individual. It stands as a beacon of all the virtues Kim represented.” 

The historical marker to Kim Kyusik at Roanoke College. Courtesy of Roanoke College.