The visit of the famous American activist to colonial Pyongyang.
Helen Keller in Pyongyang
Famous American visitors to Pyongyang include Dennis Rodman, Henry Rollins, Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Jimmy Carter, Mohammed Ali, Ric Flair, Douglas MacArthur, Ted Williams (by air), Jack London, and Helen Keller.
Four score and two years ago to the day, Helen Keller (1880-1968), the deaf-blind activist and author whose childhood is immortalized in The Miracle Worker, visited Pyongyang as part of a two-month lecture tour of Japan, Korea, and Manchuria. Keller’s invited at the time was Profesor Iwahashi Takeo of Kwansei Gakuin University, who was also blind (Saeki, 2014).
Keller arrived in Pyongyang on the evening of 15 July by train from Seoul. In Seoul, she had given an interview to journalists and lectures to both a woman’s school and the general public. According to the Donga Ilbo, the people of Pyongyang widely anticipated the visit by this famous American.
In Pyongyang, she gave two lectures-meetings on 16 July, one for the teachers of Pyongyang School for the Deaf and Blind and another to a general audience at the Pyongyang Public Hall.
The audience at the Public Hall were students from local schools, including Kwangsong High School, Sungshil University, and Pyongyang Normal High School. The auditorium was packed with kids seated in the auditorium floor, the balcony, and even behind the speakers. The Helen Keller archive has a photo of the event that day.
On 17 July Keller departed Pyongyang in the morning to Antung (Dandong) by train. In Antung, Keller gave a lecture to the Andong Women’s School and then travelled to Mukden (Shenyang) on 19 July, where she gave a press conference at the Yamato Hotel (Saeki, 2014).
Following World War II, Keller would return to Asia in 1948, but not to Pyongyang, then in the nascent North Korea. Keller’s legacy, however, lives on in the work of North Korean and international support for the visually and hearing impaired.
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Saeki, Chizuru. 2014. Helen Keller’s Civil Diplomacy in Japan in 1937 and 1948. Japan Review, No. 27. Pp 202-220.
Cover photo in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
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