Honoring Korean Laborers Buried a Century Ago in Queens

Visitors to Mount Olivet Cemetery (Photo via Korea Daily)

Built in 1852, Mount Olivet cemeteryin Queens has 190,000 graves. Among them, many in unmarked plots with no headstones, are around 40 Koreans who worked on Hawaiian sugarcane farms in the early 1900s.

A group of Korean-Americans are trying to bring attention and honor to these workers, who used their meager earnings to support Korean independence during the Japanese colonial era.

Chulwoo Jang, a pastor of New York Korean Church, first discovered the unmarked graves. Excerpts from a Korea Daily article on his efforts are translated below

Four years ago, pastor Chulwoo Jang found out that many Korean workers died here during the Japanese colonial period.

“I read a list of names of people buried in Mount Olivet cemetery,” Pastor Jang said. “There are 40 people who have Korean last names. And mostly [the cemetery] doesn’t have any sign of their identity.”

According to historical records and experts, these laborers from Korea sent money for the Korean independence movement during the Japanese colonial period.

“All of the workers who came to New York from Hawaii participated in fund-raising for the independence movement,” said Sunpyo Hong, a senior researcher at the Independence Hall of Korea.

Pastor Jang said the patriotism of these long-dead immigrants should be honored. He is quoted in another Korea Daily article, translated below.

“We must start a campaign to build headstones for the early Korean laborers in Mount Olivet cemetery,” said Pastor Chulwoo Jang. He said he will restore the honor of Korean immigrants who came to America during Japanese imperialism. “They didn’t know how to read or write, but they lamented that their home country was taken by Japan, and they gave money for the independence movement out of their earnings. I cannot just sit and watch.”

The Korean American Heritage Foundation also supports this campaign. The vice president and director of the foundation has visited the cemetery several times. Pastor Jang has been looking for some help from the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in New York and the Korean Cultural Service New York.

“All of the authorities told me, with indifference, that it’s none of their business.” Pastor Jang said with a sigh. “The U.S. and Japanese governments are really concerned with their own nationals who reside in foreign countries. But I doubt if the Korean government is interested in this.”