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Korean laborers arrive
Following groups of Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Okinawans, Koreans arrived to work on Hawaii's sugar plantations, the first 102 of them disembarking from the SS Gaelic when it docked in Honolulu in 1903. By 1905, their numbers were up to 7,843. Unlike the previous groups, most of the Koreans had been urbanized residents of seaport towns rather than farmers from rural areas. Many had also converted to Christianity in Korea, giving them an avenue of entry into Western culture. They came to Hawai'i for plantation jobs but could not be locked in to years of contract labor - by 1903 Hawai'i was a U.S. Territory and American law forbade labor contracts - so many moved on soon to more urban jobs.
The political situation in Korea strongly affected the Korean community in Hawai'i. The country was in decline when the first large group of Koreans left for Hawai'i. By 1905 it was a Japanese protectorate and all Korean immigration was stopped. In 1910 Korea was annexed by Japan. From 1910 to 1924 immigration was again allowed and a second wave of Koreans arrived in Hawai'i, including about 700 picture brides. In 1924, America's Oriental Exclusion Act law halted immigration. After World War II, immigration doors opened again and after the end of the Korean War in 1953, arrivals included Korean brides of American servicemen and orphans adopted by American families.
Koreans living in Hawai'i spawned a number of international organizations that worked diligently from 1905 through the following decades to restore Korea's sovereignty. One of the most active organizations was Dongji Hoe (Comrade Society) led by Rev. Syngman Rhee. Centered in the Korean Christian Church, the organization advocated a diplomatic approach to freeing Korea. After years of activism, Rhee was chosen by the Korean National Assembly in 1948 to serve as the first president of the Republic of Korea. He led the country until 1960.
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