On March 20, 1908, Durham Stevens, an American advisor to the Korean government, then under Japanese control, arrived in San Francisco on a propaganda mission: Tell the American public that Koreans, backward and illiterate, had no confidence in their corrupt native government and welcomed Japanese rule.
Outraged by Stevens’ statement in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Koreans staged a mass meeting on March 22 to protest his treacherous act. They decided to send a delegation to meet with Stevens at the Fairmont Hotel and demand an apology. He refused, and one of the delegates assaulted him.
Yang Choo Eun was the only living eyewitness to the assassination of Stevens that took place in front of the San Francisco Ferry Building the next day, according to historian B.Y. Choy, author of Koreans in America, who interviewed Yang in 1974.
Following is Yang’s witness account, as documented by Choy:
Yang attended the second meeting called to discuss future acts against Stevens. At that meeting, Chun Myung-woon, a member of the Mutual Cooperation Association, said: “I will take care of that pro-Japanese on my own.” Every Korean knew Chun as a man of action and expected him to take violent action against Stevens.
At this meeting, Yang noticed that another man, Chang In-whan, was also present. Chang, however, was known as a very quiet and shy Christian gentleman.
As far as Yang recalls, Chang didn’t speak even one word during the meeting. At that time no Oriental was able to buy a gun. But Chang purchased a real gun from his roommate and took it with him to the Ferry Building, when Stevens arrived in a limousine provided by the Japanese consul general. (Meanwhile, Chun had apparently obtained a toy gun to take with him.)
At once, Chun Myung-woon struck Stevens with his toy gun, and the two men engaged in a fight. At this juncture, Chang fired three shots (from his real gun). The first struck Chun by mistake; the second and third shots hit Stevens’ chest, and he fell to the ground.
Yang recalls that it was about 9:30 a.m. on March 23, 1908. He heard a crowd of white people shouting, “Lynch the Oriental devils!” Stevens was taken to Saint Francis Hospital by ambulance. Chang and Chun were apprehended by the police. Two days later, Stevens died.
The crowd was angry at the violent action taken by Koreans against the white American. At this confused and emotional moment, Lee Hak Hyun, who was one of the delegates of the Korean community, appealed to the public:
“We Koreans had to take this kind of action because Mr. Stevens has been pro-Japanese for many years, and he even justifies the Japanese domination of Korea.
“We Korean residents in San Francisco, who escaped from the Japanese barbarous rule, knew that hundreds and thousands of Koreans have been persecuted by Japanese military and police forces because they have advocated freedom and liberty as you Americans did during the Independence War against Great Britain.”