Longform

How a Battle Over a Korean-Owned Kwik Stop Divided, Then United, South Dallas

Page 5 of 7

That same week, Peter Johnson got a call in Foundation/Justice Seekers' shared Oak Cliff office. It was Muhammad.

"We're at a 75 percent success rate!" Johnson announced to the Wright twins. Protesters were out in force everyday. Only a quarter of customers crossed the picket lines. Deliveries to the Kwik Stop slowed; Pak simply wasn't turning product over fast enough.


Pak was on the ropes, and the coalition hatched a plan to finish him off: They would find a black investor to buy out the beleaguered Pak. It'd cost about $500,000 to purchase it, Johnson and the Wrights figured, although they were going to try to force the price down. To do that, they were going to protest, denting his profits until he submitted.

By now the protest was making headlines in Korea. Friends and family called to make sure Pak was still alive. One of Pak's supporters says Koreans opened three bank accounts to channel money to Pak and his business.

Finally, Pak and his attorney reached out to Koreans. A few came to the rescue: Chong Choe, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees and the Chairman of the National Korean American Coalition. Ted Kim, an ordained minister, the only independent banker in the country, and the vice president of the Korean Society in Dallas. And Charles Park, the eldest of Dallas' Korean community leaders, whom Ronald Wright referred to as "the Godfather."

Charles Park, who once held a post in the NAACP, and the coalition went to the NAACP and brokered a meeting with Anthony Bond, Wallace's good friend and the founder of the Irving NAACP chapter.

When they met, Bond looked Pak up and down.

"Did you call him a nigger?

Pak's eyes were red, and he was sweating. He nodded. Then, he started to cry. Pak told a different story.

He said he was working when a bald, black man in a suit and bow tie walked in. He now knows it to be Muhammad, but Pak didn't recognize him at the time. Muhammad was irate as he accused Pak of exploiting blacks and price gouging.

"I want $5 on my debit card, right now!" the man demanded after a brief exchange, slamming his debit card onto the counter.

Pak said he felt disrespected in his own store. So he lied. "Sorry. We have a $10 minimum."

Pak told Bond the customer then called him a Chinaman — a slur to any Asian but especially a Korean, since the Chinese had oppressed Koreans for the better part of two millennia. Pak lost it.

The customer shouted right back. "You don't know who you're messing with. I'll be back!"

It was a more nuanced version of Muhammad's events, and believable since Pak admitted to calling him a "nigger." Muhammad never strayed from his claim of innocence. But later that morning, he seemed as enlivened by the encounter as he did offended: "Korean called me a slave and said we should go back to Africa," he wrote on Twitter. "Can't tweet my words, but I invited both clerks outside to a savage beating."

Two weeks later, he was outside with a camera crew.

After his meeting with the NAACP, Pak went on a popular black radio show to apologize, to submit. He cried again.

The Korean community, meanwhile, was so scared that a Korean consul flew up from Houston, and the president of the Federation of Korean Associations personally invited Muhammad and the NAACP's Dallas president, Juanita Wallace, to the Korean-American leaders' first General Meeting and Leadership Conference at the Omni Hotel. Muhammad was even scheduled a half-hour to speak. Media would be there. No one else from the United South Dallas Coalition was invited. Muhammad didn't ask them, either.

"We are the mother and father of human beings, and you should honor your mother and father, as the Bible said." Muhammad's NOI cohorts urged him on.

"The Honorable Louis Farrakhan has taught us that business is warfare, and it appears our community is under siege. Many have asked us, are your protesters targeting Asian businesses?" He paused. "The real question is, has the Asian community targeted the black community to exploit? I believe there's more evidence to the latter."

Until this moment, Muhammad had managed to keep his most extreme views under wraps, at least in mainstream media outlets. Coupled with his giving credit for the protests to more palatable leaders, the effort had stayed on track. Now, with cameras rolling, Muhammad was veering off the rails.

"The Jews have always wanted a relationship with the black community, and they have sucked the resources out of the black community, and after them, the Pakistanis have done it, and after them the Indians have done it, the Arabs have done it, the Italians have done it in our community, and now the Vietnamese did it, the Koreans," he said. "You are now the next person in a line of people who has come to the black community and taken advantage of a people."

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Greg Howard