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'Dean of Asian American journalism' to speak at anniversary event

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor

Released 2/22/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The Asian American Studies Program at the University of Illinois is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a conference that will explore its history and its future.

The conference, which is free and open to the public, will be March 2 at the university’s Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana.

Two panel discussions are planned. Panelists include U. of I. professors, graduate students and prominent Asian American Illinois alumni.

“We see the 10th anniversary celebration as an opportunity to recognize the contributions of all those who have helped to build a successful Asian American Studies Program,” said Kent Ono, the director of the program.

The keynote speaker is K.W. (Kyung Won) Lee, a U. of I. alumnus, Korean American activist and investigative journalist who has won 29 professional awards during his career and is widely recognized as the dean of Asian American journalism.

Lee, who was born in Kaesong, North Korea, immigrated to the U.S. in 1950 and earned his master’s degree in journalism at Illinois in 1955. He became the first Asian immigrant to work for a mainstream newspaper on the U.S. mainland. He wrote for the Kingsport Times (Tennessee), the Charleston Gazette (West Virginia) and, for 25 years, for The Sacramento Union (California).

His two-part series in 1977 for the Union about the 1973 murder conviction of Chol Soo Lee, also a Korean immigrant, led to a pan-Asian movement nationwide and ultimately to Chol Soo Lee’s exoneration and reintegration into San Francisco society in 1983.

In 1997, after 40 years as a reporter, editor and publisher in mainstream and ethnic journalism, Lee was featured in the Newseum’s first News History gallery in Arlington, Va.

He also is included in the Newseum’s newspeople database – one of only 500 “significant newspeople included because of his accomplishments,” said Cathy Trost, director of exhibit development at the Newseum, which will re-open next fall.

Three years earlier, Lee became the first Asian journalist to receive the Free Spirit Award from the Freedom Forum.

In 1990 – at a time of heightened ethnic tensions in Los Angeles – Lee launched and edited the Korean Times English Edition based in Los Angeles, and at the same time set up an internship program for Asian Americans and other minorities.

In 1987 Lee was the first recipient of the Asian American Journalists Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1979, Lee founded the first national English-language Korean American newspaper, Koreatown Weekly, also in Los Angeles.

Because of his ongoing investigative journalism courses on college campuses and his student and community conferences, Lee is regarded as “a most passionate and inspirational mentor for thousands of Asian American college students across the nation,” Ono said.

Now with 14 core faculty members and 10 affiliated faculty members, the AAS Program has become “one of the most respected programs in Asian American Studies in the United States,” Ono said.