Kim Dong-gil

Kim Dong-gil (金東吉, 1928-2022) was a university professor, writer, and politician who served as an independent member of the 14th National Assembly.

He was born on October 2, 1928, in Hyangpyeong-ri, Wonnam-myeon, Maengsan-gun, Pyongannam-do. His father, Kim Byeong-du, was the administrator of the area of  Wonnam-myeon. However, after his father tried his hand at the mining industry and went bankrupt, Kim moved to Pyeongyang. After the Kim Il-sung regime came into power in 1946, Kim Dong-gil felt threatened and fled to South Korea with his parents.

After arriving in Seoul, Kim Dong-gil studied English and Literature at Yonhee University, but later transferred to the Department of History to learn from Baek Nak-jun and Ham Seok-heon, whom he always respected. Upon Baek Nak-jun’s recommendation, he traveled to the United States to study. There, he studied history at the University of Evansville, Indiana, before enrolling at Boston University, where he earned his Ph.D. in history after completing this dissertation on Abraham Lincoln.

After returning to Korea early 1970s, he worked as a professor at the Department of History at Yonsei University, where he published harsh social satire. After the Yushin (Restoration, 1972), he participated in the democratization movement by writing blatant criticisms of the Park Chung-hee regime in ‘Sound of Seeal (씨알의 소리),’ published by Ham Seok-heon. He was accused of being the mastermind behind the student movement and was prosecuted for the 1974 Mincheong Hakryeon (National Federation of Democratic Youth and Students) Incident and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was later released on a suspended sentence.

Nonetheless, he was dismissed from the university. After President Park Chung-hee was assassinated on October 26, 1979, Kim was temporarily reinstated. However, due to the oppressive measures of the new military government, he was again dismissed (1980). The new dictator, Jeon Du-hwan, connected Kim Dong-gil to Kim Dae-jung and accused them of rebelling against the new regime.

From that time on, Kim distanced himself from the democratization movement and showed a cynical attitude toward politics, writing essays and newspaper columns intermittently while living in seclusion.

He published more than 100 books during his lifetime. Most are collections of numerous essays and newspaper columns. He was a best-selling author with excellent writing skills and easy-to-read essays. His brief book The Life of Lincoln, based on his research at Boston University, is still considered his representative work. Kim Dong-gil died in October 2022 at the age of 94.