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Oranges and Independence:
Ahn Chang Ho and Cornelius Earle Rumsey,
An Early East-West Alliance in Riverside, 1904-13

by Dr. Vincent Moses
Senior Curator of History

California's Citrus Gold

It is hard to overestimate the significance of citrus in the rise of Southern California. On review, it is easy to understand why. In just 25 years of the 20th century, citrus earned California more than a billion dollars, fully $250 million more than all the gold dug up in the state during the entire last fifty years of the nineteenth century! By 1920, the California citrus industry averaged more than $120 million per year in returns, while supporting around 200,000 people. An agricultural enterprise far ahead of any other in the nation, it generated land companies, banks, water companies, transportation infrastructure, institutions of learning, and more.

The modern citrus enterprise provided Southern California with an enduring gold rush, one which brought with it community builders who founded hundreds of towns, like Riverside, and sunk their roots into the state for generations to come. Citrus enterprise laid the foundation for modern Southern California. Along with oil, and the movies, citrus powered the economy skyward at an ever accelerating pace.

Growers brought the Revolution of Corporate Capitalism to California, and diffused its ethic throughout the region via the California Fruit Growers Exchange, their mammoth marketing cooperative. California citrus growers became a model for President Theodore Roosevelt's Country Life Movement, embodying his principles of civic virtue, economic modernization, and industrial organization of the countryside.

Through the Exchange, growers innovated new modes of promotional advertising on a national scale, booming California as a result. In 1916, the Exchange invented the orange juice craze with its "Drink and Orange" campaign, and in 1920 became the first food distributor to advertise the significance of its product as a source of the newly discovered "vitamines." In 1926, the Exchange sponsored the first coast-to-coast radio broadcast. The trademark, "Sunkist" became synonymous with California, and sunshine! By 1920, citrus, and the citrus landscape, embodied the California Dream. The labor intensive nature of the industry helped sustain California's cultural and ethnic diversity, as various groups poured into the region seeking the jobs it provided. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mexican, and Dust Bowl Anglos all were drawn here by citrus jobs.

The Modern Citrus Enterprise in Riverside

Riverside dominated the mighty navel orange industry for more than sixty years. The world-famous marketing cooperative, Sunkist Growers, Inc., originated here. From its introduction in Riverside, until its shift to the Central Valley in the post World War Two era, the navel orange enterprise made Riverside famous, and brought millions of dollars into the local economy. The industry made many wealthy, and employed thousands of others, who raised families and built communities from the steady income.

Until the 1950s, Riverside remained engulfed in twenty thousand acres of orange and lemon groves. Streets were named after citrus fruit, and packing houses dotted the landscape. The University of California Citrus Experiment Station and Graduate School of tropical Agriculture solved stubborn pest problems and carried out significant research to keep the industry sound. Sophisticated irrigation works brought artesian water from miles away to sustain Riverside's gold-bearing trees. The famous Mission Inn Hotel hosted guests from around the world, as they wintered in Riverside's mild climate. Handsome Spanish Colonial revival civic structures and period revival homes charmed visitors. Mount Rubidoux lured them to its summit with the promise of grand vistas of orange trees, and splendid Victoria Avenue inspired travelers with its grandeur.

Riverside's citrus enterprise drew diverse cultural groups here to fulfill their own California dreams. Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Korean, African American, and finally Mexican immigrants came to take advantage of the jobs and climate.

Today, Riverside seeks to preserve and interpret the artifacts, architecture, and stories generated by Riverside's citrus industry. The Ahn Chang Ho Memorial is one primary example of that effort.

Civic leaders here adopted the Arts and Crafts philosophy in the first decade of the twentieth century. Led by Frank A. Miller, Master of the Mission Inn, Riverside's city form, architecture, and landscape, were remade into the highest example of the Arts and Crafts philosophy. You can experience the Arts and Crafts Movement in Riverside in the downtown core, and in the Colony Heights and Mount Rubidoux Historic Districts, at the West side of the Mile Square. The Wood Streets, off Magnolia Avenue near Historic Riverside Community College, constitute one of the best preserved middle class period revival neighborhoods in southern California.

Cornelius Rumsey and Ahn Chang Ho in Riverside

Riverside and GangNam-Gu, Korea recently signed a formal Sister City International agreement, linking the two cities across the Pacific. Thanks to the creation of that Sister City relationship, a powerful story of an early East-West alliance in Riverside is springing to light. That alliance makes the Sister City arrangement even more significant. This alliance was formed between wealthy orange grower Cornelius Earle Rumsey and a modest Korean orange picker named Ahn Chang Ho. After C. E. Rumsey's death in 1911, Mary Rumsey donated their collection of Native American artifacts to the City, forming the basis of the Riverside Municipal Museum. Ahn Chang Ho, the man who picked Rumsey's oranges, went on to become the spiritual and intellectual leader of the Korean Independence Movement against the Empire of Japan. Today, a monument to Mr. Ahn stands in the center of GangNam-Gu. The story of the relationship with C. E. Rumsey, which helped shape the destiny of Dosan Ahn Chang Ho, is a fascinating one. Today, the story is being preserved by the Riverside Municipal Museum, which the Rumsey collection helped found.

When Ahn Chang Ho arrived in Riverside in March 1904, he found the Korean families, and single male workers there struggling to find jobs. Ahn had come south from San Francisco to assist his countrymen, and to find a stable job of his own. By so doing he hoped to complete his studies of English and democratic government. What he discovered instead were conditions which closely reflected the problems in Korea; all the jobs in the citrus orchards were controlled by Japanese labor contractors. Those contractors walled out the Korean workers.

Ahn set out immediately to find a remedy for this problem. Work was plentiful, but he had to find a way around the Japanese control of the labor market. Somewhere along the way, Ahn impressed C. E. Rumsey. Perhaps his dignified bearing, and work ethic caught the grower's attention. Dosan Ahn Chang Ho was a trained Confucian scholar, and carried himself with the distinguished bearing of his noteworthy ancestors. We now know that with the encouragement of Rumsey, Ahn formed a Korean employment agency of his own. Dosan, or "Island Mountain", as Ahn called himself, borrowed $1500 from Mr. Rumsey to capitalize the agency, and to pay for the use of a building as a dormitory for the single Korean workers. The debt was paid in full by the end of the first month. Rumsey quickly secured an arrangement with Ahn Chang Ho to supply his Alta Cresta Groves with all the Korean workers in town. Rumsey also helped to provide housing for the Koreans families living in Riverside, leading to the establishment of the first Korean village in Southern California. This settlement was located at Pachappa and Cottage, near the packing house district and the railroads.

About this time, Dosan and his friends decided to form Kongnip Hyeophoe, or Cooperative Association, in Riverside. The Kongnip Hyeophoe would become the basis for the Korean National Association, which Dosan later led as president. Around sixty Korean people lived in town by the time of the formation of the Association. We cannot know for certain how many were here, but the census reports at least fifty-one Korean residents in town at the time. Dosan's upright, and strong moral character shaped the Cooperative Association. He applied the Analects of Confucius, and Christian principles in his governance of the settlement. A visiting Korean named Kang Myeong-hwa described the settlement in Riverside as "a splendid Dosan Republic." The Association he founded maintained structure within the Korean village, both to build up the character of individuals and to enhance the image of Koreans within the mainstream community.

While in Riverside, Dosan convinced fellow village residents to attend night classes in English and the Bible. C. E. Rumsey apparently invited the Korean people to use his large craftsman house on Rumsey Drive, for church services and for English classes. A local pastor led the flock, and American Christians volunteered to assist with classes. In this way, Dosan's Korean improvement work in Riverside helped shape his future as the spiritual leader of the Korean Independence Movement. While here, he and his compatriots drew up plans for the movement, specifically laying the groundwork for the creation of the Hung Sa Dan in 1913.

Lessons from Picking Oranges

Dosan taught his fellow workers to practice discipline as they picked oranges. He learned from Mr. Rumsey that citrus fruit had to be carefully handled in order to avoid the development of decay, due to bruises, clipper cuts, and finger nail punctures. Dosan used this information as a means of training his fellow workers to be patient, focused, and diligent on the job. "To pick one orange with care in an American orchard will help our country," he told them. In so doing they would be more productive and make more money, to save, and to support the Independence Movement.

C. E. Rumsey died in 1911. In 1912, Dosan Ahn Chang Ho became president of the Korean National Association and moved on to San Francisco. He traveled back and forth between America and Korea on a number of occasions, building a western style house in the mountains of Korea during one long stay. His mountain house served as a symbol of his desire to overthrow the Japanese, in order to form an American style republic in Korea. To this end, Dosan served as an officer in the Provisional Government of Korea in Shanghai from 1919 through 1921. The great man died in 1938, as a political prisoner of the Japanese occupation forces in Korea.

In 1913, a great freeze stuck the orange belt of Southern California, nearly wiping out the industry. As a result of the freeze, with its associated loss of jobs, many of the residents of the Korean settlement in Riverside left the city. They moved to other parts of California or to Hawaii. City Directories, however, indicate that some of the original Korean pioneers remained in Riverside through the mid 1930s.

Riverside's new Sister City relationship energized the modern Korean community of this city to pursue and successfully complete an appropriate local monument to the great Dosan, bringing the story full-circle.

1. For a variety of political reasons, many others probably avoided enrolling in the census.

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