No one ever got very
upset about the systematic virus of racism that infected the entire
curriculum of Seattle Public Schools ... The repression of the white
power structure thinking they could kill this movement by arresting its
leaders only inspired and motivated its growth.
-Larry Gossett, 2005
When two young
African American students were suspended from Seattle's Franklin High
School in March of 1968 after an altercation with a Caucasian student,
who was not reprimanded, the stage was set for one of the most
significant events of the Seattle civil rights movement. Following the
suspensions, Franklin's black students were in an uproar. They
immediately contacted a group of African American students at the
University of Washington who had been trying to start a Black Student
Union at Franklin. This essay explains the involvement of this group of
college students in the fight to earn equal opportunities for African
American students. The sit-in at Franklin High that they helped engineer
was one of the first Black Power demonstrations in Seattle. It rattled
the surrounding community, inspired the formation of the Seattle chapter
of the Black Panther Party, and brought the existence of a militant
civil rights movement in the Pacific Northwest to the attention of the
ORIGINS OF THE FRANKLIN SIT-IN
There is some
confusion about the origins of the sit-in at Franklin High. Larry
Gossett remembers the principal of Franklin, Loren Ralph, suspending two
female students for wearing a popular hairstyle for African Americans,
known as the Afro. Gossett recalled that Ralph told the young women
that they could return to school when they learned to look more
reveal a different story, however. The demonstration was prompted by Ralph’s
decision to suspend two African American students who were involved in a
hallway scuffle on March 28, 1968. Three male students took part in the
fight, however only cousins Charles Oliver and Trolice Flavors were
reprimanded. The third participant, who was Caucasian, was not. While
Oliver’s suspension would not take effect until the following Monday,
Flavors was accused of making a physical threat to Franklin vice Principal
Charles F. Shearer and was suspended immediately and indefinitely.
Concerned about the welfare of his education, Flavors, a senior, requested
to speak with Ralph in order to negotiate his suspension and contest the
alleged threat to Shearer. When it became apparent to Flavors that he would
not be reinstated, he contacted his mentor, Carl Miller, who was a member of
the Black Student Union at the University of Washington.
The Black Student Union
(BSU) was a new organization on the University of Washington campus. Founded
January 6, 1968 by members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
(SNCC), it cultivated the appreciation of African American culture and
social reform for minority students. Comprised of predominately black people
from the United States, Africa, and other countries, the University of
Washington BSU was part of a nationwide movement of black student
organization in the late 1960s. Targeting university curriculum and hiring
practices, the BSU hoped to “Establish a cohesive union of black students,
black faculty, other black organizations, and the community to facilitate
educational opportunities." According to the group's mission statement, "BSU
exists to enhance cultural awareness, political awareness, social events,
and to provide support for the students and the community.”
Charging the university with insensitivity toward black heritage, the
organization’s activism laid the foundation for the American Ethnic Studies
department and eventually pushed the university to create an Equal
Opportunity Program and support students of color through an Office of
Soon after being
contacted by Flavors, Carl Miller spoke with Dr. Eugene Elliott, an
assistant to University of Washington president Charles Odegaard, and asked
him to arrange a meeting with Ralph for the following morning. The plan was
for Miller and BSU co-founders Aaron Dixon and Larry Gossett to convince
Ralph to reinstate the two Franklin students. This would be the UW BSU’s
first high profile action. To the three men, it was imperative to fight the
issue as a matter of principle and because, as Miller put it, “The Black
Student Union encourages black brothers and sisters to stay in school.”
The BSU's attempt to
resolve the issue through negotiations proved unsuccessful, and this setback
became the catalyst for the demonstration at Franklin later that day.
Angered that Ralph was un-receptive to the peaceful negotiations of the BSU
students, African American Franklin students wanted to “burn the school
down,” but Aaron Dixon convinced the group of students “that if there was no
Franklin none of them could further their education.”
As reported in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, Dixon, Gossett, and
Miller instructed the students to gather at a local eatery called “The
Beanery” across the street from the school, to alleviate a potentially
There, the three UW students formulated a plan of action that would
peacefully yet effectively get their point across: racial discrimination
would no longer be tolerated within the Seattle Public school system.
According to Dixon, “Carl Miller and I … brought the students out (of the
Beanery) and formed them in twos. We felt if we were going to do any
demonstrating, it should be done in a peaceful and orderly manner.”
At 12:45 p.m. 100
students, including roughly 40 non-Franklin students, marched into Principal
Ralph’s office, chanting “Ungowa, BLACK POWER!” They demanded, first and
foremost, that Ralph immediately reinstate Trolice Flavors and Charles
Oliver. Alongside this, the student's made three other demands: 1) that a
black administrator be hired at the high school level in the Seattle Public
School system; 2) that an African American history class be taught at
Franklin; and 3) that images of black heroes grace the school walls along
with the other American historical figures already featured.
was the first time a sit-it had been held at a high school in the Seattle
area, and Ralph as well as other school officials did not know how to react.
When it became obvious to Ralph that the demonstrators were not going to
leave until their demands were met, he dismissed all Franklin students and
faculty to ensure their "safety."
There was no violence imposed on Ralph or anyone else. While 2,000 people left Franklin at 1:45
p.m. the demonstrators remained firm, and did not leave school grounds until
3:45 pm. With so many students trying to get their point across, things did
become somewhat unruly. But as Carl Miller later assured reporters, the BSU
was not there to inflame the situation but rather as a focused means of
guidance. “We went there to keep things down,” he said.
police closed off the school building from the public and patrolled the
grounds so that demonstrators inside the building would not be able to
leave. Mediators from several local minority empowerment groups, including
the Central Area Motivating Program (CAMP), the state Multiservice Center,
and Seattle schools’ Intergroup Relations Office were called in to urge the
students from Franklin and the University of Washington to leave the
administration offices and take their cause to the auditorium – a larger
location better suited to fit all 100 students. After some hesitation, the
demonstrators agreed, but insisted that they would not completely exit
Franklin grounds until Ralph met their demands. Instead, school officials,
mediators, and students arranged a meeting for the following Monday to
discuss the demands and the issue of racial discrimination in the Seattle
Public School system. This compromise allowed the demonstration to end
peacefully. The only damage was in Principal Ralph’s office restroom, where
the sink had been disconnected from the wall due to the excessive in and out
flow of students during the demonstration.
A five hour hearing was held the following Monday at the Seattle
Human Rights Commission office. At the hearing, Seattle Public Schools
Superintendent Dr. Forbes Bottomly announced that one of the two suspended
students would be reinstated. However, he also insinuated that the King
County prosecutor’s office would be asked to press charges against UW BSU
leaders for their role in the protest. Bottomly claimed: “we want to be sure
that the loitering ordinance is upheld and that the schools are protected
from outsiders coming in and disrupting our schools.”
Miller, Aaron Dixon, Larry and Richard Gossett, and Trolice Flavors were
arrested for their participation in the Franklin High School sit-in at
approximately 8:30 a.m. on April 4th, 1968; later that same day, the
Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. The students were
charged with unlawful assembly. Although the five men had been involved in
various forms of community activism and protest in the past, this was the
first time any of them had been arrested and taken to jail. They knew that
the sit-in had gained a lot of exposure because it was headline news in many
Seattle publications; however, they did not believe what they had done
warranted arrest. They had assembled for a just cause and adjourned the
premises of Franklin peacefully and non-violently. As such, they viewed the
decision to press charges as clearly a politically motivated act. Never to
be discouraged, the five men were confident that justice would ultimately
prevail. Although the BSU students were not regretful about their
participation in the sit-in, it appeared that the general non-black
population felt differently. A quote from Principal Loren Ralph best
exemplifies the prevailing sentiment: “Can a mob or group of protestors go
into any public establishment and force their will on administration whether
the administration is right or wrong?”
The students didn’t have mainstream support, but they did have the support
of many in the Seattle community.
leaders were taken to King County jail, which, ironically, is now the newly
remodeled office of present day county councilman Larry Gossett. For all of
the insinuations about the BSU students being troublemakers, jail officials
labeled Miller, Gossett, and Dixon “peacemakers” during their time in
prison. As stated earlier, the five young men were arrested the morning of
Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. Citizens
across the nation were deeply saddened by King’s death; a leader was lost
but there was also the sense that the non-violent approach to civil rights
was being replaced by intense angst and disillusionment and a call for
immediate action by youthful revolutionaries. Riots broke out in cities such
as Washington D.C., Chicago, IL, and Baltimore, MD. Crowds of people were
angry and felt betrayed by the lack of progress in racial equality. The jail in Seattle was also in an uproar following the disheartening news
of Dr. King’s death, and there was talk of a riot. Gossett recalled that
or seven hours after we got in jail, news came that Martin Luther King, Jr.
had been assassinated. And the black prisoners, their conception of black
power was that they were going to go beat up these white prisoners.
Gossett, and Miller counseled against any violence, persuading the inmates
that taking out their anger in a violent fashion would not honor Dr. King’s
legacy. The BSU leaders decided to gather all inmates and encourage them to
talk about their personal problems and current world affairs. Prison
officials did not know how to react. They expected violence, especially from
African American men. Three young college educated black men were helping to
assist a peaceful congregation of inmates, encouraging them to verbally, and
non-violently, express their feelings as a means for solving problems.
Nevertheless, jail officials saw the meetings as threatening. According to
Gossett, “Word got out later that night we were having discussions
throughout the whole jail. By that (next) morning, the director of the King
County Jail was demanding that the three of us get put out of jail.” A hearing date for the three men was expedited as a means to
prevent any more gathering and discussion amongst the inmates.
initial hearing for four of the five defendants in the Franklin High sit-in
case was held April 5th, 1968. Since Richard Gossett had voluntarily
surrendered to the police, he was not included in the arraignment hearing.
The others were escorted into the courtroom in chains. Gossett remembers:
We were in
there for a misdemeanor, but they had, I think it was, the three of us
handcuffed around here [wrists], around our waist, around our ankles. It was
very symbolic of slavery. They had the guards holding the chains, about four
feet in back of us, as they brought the three of us in court, you know, like
we were the coldest murderers that ever hit Seattle, not some people that
had been busted for a misdemeanor unlawful assembly charge, but that’s how
they saw it.
just a preliminary hearing, not a trial, but the public support for the
defendants was astonishing. According to accounts in the Seattle P.I. several hundred people showed up for Gossett, Flavors, Miller, and Dixon.
purpose of the hearing was to see if Judge James J. Dore would uphold the
original ruling of Justice Court Judge Evans D. Mapolides, to hold the four
defendants in jail on $1,500 bail until their trial. A nervous feeling hung
over the courtroom as anxious family members, classmates, and community
supporters awaited Judge Dore's decision. Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor
William L. Kinzel and assistant Prosecutor Neal L. Shulman argued that the
bail was appropriate. Dore ultimately decided after a persuasive testimony
from an array of friends, relatives, UW faculty, and the four individuals
themselves, that the students were respectable in character and would indeed
show up for the trial that would determine sentencing. He stated, “The
purpose of bail was to retain people for hearing, not to keep them without
As Judge Dore announced to the courtroom that he would allow Miller,
Gossett, Flavors, and Dixon to remain out of jail on personal recognizance,
the group of 400 people that sat in the courtroom cheered. The issue was not
yet resolved, but it was a small victory for the civil rights activists.
6th, 1968, just five days before the scheduled trial by jury for the
Franklin sit-in participants, the defense team presented a motion asking the
court to drop the charges. They argued that the charges were
unconstitutional because the crowd had the constitutional right of assembly.
The defense also challenged the process by which jurors were selected for
trials. Specifically, the defense argued that they were unable to question
prospective jurors at the Justice Court level. According to procedure, each
side is allowed to have six jurors dismissed and the six remaining out of
the initial eighteen would become the jury. In Superior Court, attorneys can
question the jurors and can dismiss an unlimited number if cause can be
Aaron Dixon, who at this point had been appointed as Captain of the Black
Panther Party, Seattle chapter, had this to say in regards to jury
selection: “The Black Panther Party believes Negroes should be tried by all
Negro juries because a peer group is someone from the same racial and
historical background as you.”
Ultimately the trial continued as scheduled because Judge Dore did not have
the authority to change the law that the legislature had created regarding
jury selection. In addition, Carl Miller and Aaron Dixon instructed their
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney Michael Rosen to drop the
issue and proceed as scheduled.
13th, 1968, the trial of Aaron Dixon, Larry Gossett, and Carl Miller began.
A request for charges to be dropped against Trolice Flavors was granted. As
for Richard Gossett, because he never physically entered the school
building, he was not held accountable for the same crime as the other three
men and the charges were dropped.
As the defense team feared, the “randomly” selected jury
consisted of six "peers," three men and three women, all of whom were white.
The trial lasted a total of four days. Michael Rosen and other fellow
defense attorneys tried to have the case dismissed on several grounds. Rosen
argued that there was insufficient evidence against the defendants and
charged that the case was motivated by racial prejudice. A total of 14
witnesses were called to testify in behalf of the defendants including Dr.
Eugene Elliott, assistant University of Washington president, who had been
involved in efforts to recruit more minorities to the university. Charles
Odegaard also took the stand and described his efforts to arrange a meeting
with Principal Ralph. He vouched for the good character of all three men,
and affirmed his support of their efforts.
Throughout the trial, Gossett, Dixon and Miller received tremendous
community support. Dedicated supporters showed up each day of the trial,
holding signs that expressed both encouragement and outrage. Signs read:
“Call off your Pigs;” “Black Control of the Black Community;” “Free Aaron
Dixon;” and “Support the Panthers, not the Pigs.”
As indicated by the latter two messages, public support and media coverage
had shifted from focusing on the three students to Dixon’s now very
prominent participation and leadership of the Black Panther Party, circa May
of 1968. Photographs by Fred Londier reveal how racially mixed the crowd was
that gathered daily in support of the defendants. His photos also capture
the calm demeanor of Miller, Dixon, and Gossett during the trial. They
remained confident that no matter how the trial turned out, they had made
their mark in Seattle.
prosecution was relentless in portraying the UW students as violent
criminals. Principal Loren Ralph insisted that he was manhandled, and
prosecuting attorney Shulman stated, “It was not these defendants who
maintained order - it was Mr. Ralph and the school administration. They kept
reached a verdict on June 13th after a one-hour deliberation. Carl Miller,
Larry Gossett, and Aaron Dixon were found guilty on gross misdemeanor
charges of unlawful assembly. The verdict was decided, but sentencing for
the three men was delayed until July 1st, 1968. For his part, Judge Dore was
in complete agreement with the jurors, stating that he felt the sit-in had
been unlawful because of the disruption of classes at Franklin and the chaos
that ensued as a result.
1st, 1968, Judge Dore sentenced Gossett, Dixon, and Miller to 6 months in
prison, posting bail at $500. Immediate outrage erupted in the Seattle area,
particularly in the predominately African American neighborhood known as the
Central District. The anger from racial tension only heightened once the
three students were sentenced to jail, resulting in riots in some Seattle
areas. Damage to businesses and physical assaults increased as a result of
the community’s frustration. Defense attorney Gary P. Gayton stated in the Seattle Times, “There is no question about this (the riot). This is
what caused it.”
same time that the sentencing was being announced, the Black Panther Party
held a press conference to voice its displeasure with the sentencing.
According to reports in the Seattle P.I., the Panthers said, “We
intend to get to the source of the problem and that’s downtown - in
Prosecutor Charles O. Carroll’s office.”
Meanwhile, supporters raised money for bail. The morning after sentencing, a
total of $1,500 was collected to free the students from jail. Contributors
included the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party, Ecumenical
Metropolitan Ministry, a group of UW law professors, the Revs. D. Harvey,
McIntyre, and Joseph A. Buck, and a host of independent donators.
THE FOUNDING OF THE SEATTLE BLACK PANTHER PARTY
One of the
most notable developments arising from the Franklin sit-in was the
establishment, in Seattle, of the nation's first chapter of the Black
Panther Party outside of California. The Black
Panther Party (BPP) was founded in Oakland, CA. in 1966 by Huey P. Newton
and Bobby Seale. By 1968, it had already received large amounts of press
coverage for its militant advocacy of armed self defense to ward off
‘oppressors’ of any kind. The BPP argued that the mainstream civil rights
movement, which stressed nonviolence and formal legal equality, had failed
to eradicate injustice, and thus new, more radical forms of protest were
necessary. They demanded community control, economic rights, and access to
quality education. The days of conforming were over. The mood was restless,
and the message that a new day had arrived was clear. As the BPP's
membership grew it helped change the direction of civil rights activism. As
it did so, conflicts with police increased. In subsequent years tensions grew even higher as members of the Black
Panther Party were slain by police officers in what were perceived by many
in the civil rights movement as senseless acts of violence.
release from jail after the April 5th hearing, Aaron Dixon, Larry Gossett,
and Carl Miller, along with other University of Washington BSU members,
attended a Black Student Union national conference at San Francisco State
University. While in California, they also attended the funeral of Little
Bobby Hutton, who was the first Black Panther member to be killed by police.
The day after Hutton’s funeral, Bobby Seale spoke at the BSU conference.
Though still dealing with the loss of his friend, Seale gave a compelling
speech about the Black Power movement. His words touched all of the BSU
members but had a major impact on Aaron Dixon. Dixon recalls, “It was one of
the most inspiring speeches I have heard, even up until this point.”
Larry Gossett remembers, “We were so immensely impressed with the
discipline, and the solidarity, and the youthfulness of the Black Panther
The Seattle BSU members were so enthralled with the Panthers that they
approached Seale and invited him to come speak on their campus. He agreed,
arriving a month later, and was hosted by Aaron Dixon’s family. Seale
determined that Seattle was ready for a Black Panther chapter. It seemed
logical to appoint Aaron as the captain of the Seattle Panther chapter, as
Seale was impressed by his energy and ideas. Although Dixon was reluctant,
he accepted the role and, as a result, became a focal point of the media,
especially during the Franklin trial.
CONCLUSION: THE AFTERMATH
14th, 1971 the case of the three men was appealed before the Washington
State Supreme Court. Judge Solie Ringold found the
verdict unconstitutional, but was over-ruled by the other members of the
court. The court ordered a retrial, but the prosecution team declined to
1960s was a tumultuous period in American history. The Vietnam War raged on,
consuming the lives of thousands and setting off uprisings in dozens of
American cities. The My Lai massacre in South Vietnam, which took place on
March 16th 1968, sparked a great deal of controversy when it came to light
and greatly reduced public support for the war. Yet as Edward P.
Morgan stated in the Seattle P.I., “The greatest issue facing the
country [was] the racial problems, not the Vietnam war.”
Morgan’s quote effectively demonstrates the urgency to change race relations
in the United States during the Civil Rights era. The Franklin sit-in and
the creation of the Seattle Black Panther Party reflect this sense of
The sit-in at Franklin High was more than a mere attempt to
get two students reinstated in school. It evolved into a critical fight for
justice and equal opportunity in the Seattle area. The Franklin sit-in was the first demonstration for the UW BSU and inspired
many other movements in the Seattle area and throughout the region. After
the media publicity of the first hearing, hundreds of black students around
Seattle wanted to join forces with the Black Student Union at the University
of Washington. The BSU is still thriving at the UW today. All of the BSU students contributed to the Civil
Rights Movement in their own way. Against the odds, they persevered and
remained non-violent, a tactic that many would argue proved successful.
Among the positive changes that can be attributed, either directly or
indirectly through the growth of the UW BSU, to the Franklin sit-in, was the
desegregation of several schools, new employment opportunities for minority
faculty, and new programs that sought to further the education of African
Americans beyond high school.
back, all three BSU founders said they wouldn’t have done anything
differently. They endured a lot but accomplished so much more. As Larry
Gossett proclaimed in an interview years later, nothing rattled Seattle like
that sit-in at Franklin.
Copyright (c) Tikia Gilbert 2008
HSTAA 498 Autumn 2005
HSTAA 499 Winter 2008
oral interview, Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project,
 “Franklin Sit-In Protests
School Suspensions,” Seattle P.I., 30 March 1968, pg. 3
Morris, “Final Testimony in Franklin,” Seattle P.I., 13
June1968, pg. 6.
Hannula, “Non-Franklin Students Led Negro Sit-In, Says Principal,” Seattle Times, 30 March 1968, pg. 13.
 Maribeth Morris, “Final
Testimony in Franklin,” Seattle P.I., 13 June1968, pg. 6.
Hannula, “Non-Franklin Students Led Negro Sit-In, Says Principal,” The Seattle Times, 30 March 1968, pg.13.
 Constantine Angelos,
“Student Reinstated After Rights Hearing,” The Seattle Times, 2 April 1968, pg. 6.
Hannula, “Non-Franklin Students Led Negro Sit-In, Says Principal,” The Seattle Times, 30 March 1968, pg.13.
 Larry Gossett oral history
interview, Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project. http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/gossett.htm.
Accessed 12/5/05 Brooke Clark & Trevor Griffey
Sieverling and Forrest Williams, “Four Men in Franklin High Case
Released Without Bail,” Seattle P.I., 6 April 1968, Pg. 3.
Cheer Bail Rejection in Franklin High Sit-In Case,” The Seattle
Times, 6 April 1968, pg. 28.
Due Tomorrow in Franklin High Case,” The Seattle Times, 6
June 1968, pg. 6
 Mike Parks, “Odegaard Aide
Testifies At Franklin Trial,” The Seattle Times, 11 June
1968, pg. 4.
McCarten, “Sit In Trio Guilty, 2 Free,” Seattle P.I. 14 June
1968, pg. 5
 Larry Brown, “Three
Sentenced in Franklin Case,” The Seattle Times 1 July 1968,
 Constantine Angelos, “Disturbance Linked to Franklin Sentence,” The Seattle Times, 2 July 1968, pg.29.
Franklin High Sit-ins Are Jailed and Bailed Out,” Seattle P.I.,
2 July 1968, pg. 11
Whites Post Bail for 3 Negroes,” Seattle Times, 2 July 1968.
 Darrell Glover, “White
Racism Critic Calls Franklin Sick High School,” Seattle P.I., 29 June 1968, pg. 3