Trailblazing Korean American Honored

Fifty years to the month when the first Asian American was sworn into the California State Assembly, the late Alfred Hoyun Song received another distinction: the renaming of the Wilshire/Western metro station in his honor. The motion to rename the station, located in the heart of Koreatown, was sponsored by Metro Board Director and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who said it will serve an as inspiration to not just Korean Americans and Korean immigrants, but to all who overcome enormous challenges and obstacles to serve their communities and the nation with dedication.

“He was a trailblazer in many ways,” said Director Ridley-Thomas. “He made a mark and it is fitting that he be recognized in this way.”

Song’s family was on hand Thursday morning as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board voted on the name change.

“I only wish he were with us today, so he could know that his endeavors are recognized and appreciated,” said Leslie Song Winner, Alfred Song’s daughter, who, along with her two sisters and one brother, witnessed the vote. “It is our hope that young people, high school and college students, will learn of Alfred Song’s achievements and see public service as a worthy calling.”

Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles, was also on hand to laud Song’s achievements.

“This will be the first time that a Korean name will be placed on a subway station in Los Angeles and perhaps in the entire country,” said Sonenshein. “This is a decision rich with symbolism and recognition for one of the most dynamic communities of this region.”

Born in Hawaii in 1919 on a sugar plantation, Song was the son of plantation workers who had emigrated from Korea. In 1940 he moved to Los Angeles, studied at the University of Southern California and then as the war broke out, attempted to enlist in the Navy. He was initially turned away, however, because he was not white—or as recruiters put it “not part of Naval tradition.” Eventually he was admitted into officer candidate school with the U.S. Army Air Corps with a letter from the U.S. Department of War directing that he be treated like “any other friendly enemy alien.” Despite these setbacks, he went on to become a second lieutenant.

After the war, Song became a lawyer and went on to have a successful practice. Denied the chance to buy a house in the valley due to discriminatory laws, he moved his family to Monterey Park, and it was there that he became active in civic affairs. After being named to the planning commission, he went on to the city council and then in 1962, raising only $6,000 for his campaign, he was elected to the state assembly. Four years later, he was elected to the state senate, where he served three terms.

While his election preceded the movements of ethnic politics, he was active in fighting for minority rights—in particular outlawing harassment of voters at the polls. He authored a bill creating the office of the state public defender and another bill that overhauled the California Evidence Code, a guide to rules of evidence admissible in court. His crowning achievement, however, was the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act which protected consumers from products that were “lemons,” by attempting to beef up warranties and end misleading advertising. A sign replacement ceremony at the station will take place later this year.