The Seattle Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) began in earnest during the Summer of 1961. A previous attempt to start a Seattle chapter in the late 1950s never got off the ground, but the sit-in movement and freedom rides in the South sparked new interest and renewed commitment to using nonviolent direct action to challenge racism and racial segregation in the Pacific Northwest.
From 1961 to 1965, Seattle CORE served as the muscle behind the city’s civil rights movement. It challenged mainstream Seattle’s complacency by calling attention to the city’s pervasive practices of employment discrimination, housing discrimination, and “defacto” school segregation.
CORE activists adapted civil rights movement tactics popularly associated with the South to solve social problems in the Pacific Northwest. They followed a rigorous program to identify problems through intensive research, negotiate to solve them, and utilize direct action to demand results if negotiation failed. While its commitment to direct action set Seattle CORE apart from more moderate local organizations, it worked in coalition with the NAACP, the Urban League, and black churches through an umbrella organization, the Central Area Civil Rights Committee.
Joan Singler, Bettylou Valentine, and Jean “Maid” Adams (from left to right) were active members in Seattle CORE during its most intensive period of activity. Joined by Jean Durning, Singler, Adams, and Valentine are authors of _Seattle in Black and White: The Congress of Racial Equality and the Fight for Equal Opportunity_ (University of Washington Press, 2011)
Singler, Valentine, and Adams shared their memories about Seattle CORE’s history with Trevor Griffey and James N. Gregory on October 6, 2006.
They describe campaigns to desegregate Seattle’s grocery stores, department stores, neighborhoods and schools. They also discuss early 1960s civil rights movement culture: its emphasis on respectability, all-consuming lifestyle, multi-racial sensibility, and the indispensable role of women to the movement. The interview concludes with a discussion of how the War on Poverty, Black Power, and the anti-Vietnam war movement helped CORE activists grow in new directions in the late 1960s.