For most of its history Seattle was a sharply segregated city, as committed to white supremacy as any location in America. People of color were excluded from most jobs, most neighborhoods and schools, and many stores, restaurants, hotels, and other commercial establishments, even hospitals. As in other western states, the system of severe racial discrimination in Seattle targeted not just African Americans but also Native Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, people of Mexican ancestry, and also, at times, Jews.
This special section presents research that will surprise many Pacific Northwesterners. Included are maps, photos, documents, and newspaper articles that follow the history of segregation in Seattle and King County from 1920 until today.
- Segregation maps: Here is a set of detailed maps showing residential locations for Blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese, Jews, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Whites in Seattle from 1920-2010. Follow the link above to view more than 70 demographic maps.
- Racial Restrictive Covenants Was your neighborhood restricted? From the 1910s through the 1960s, many Seattle neighborhoods and King County suburbs practiced overt and total racial exclusion. White-only clauses and other restrictions (which sometimes excluded Jews as well as people of color) can be found today in property deeds for many many neighborhoods. We have collected over 500 restrictive documents on file in the King County Archives.
- Restricted Neighborhoods Map This interactive map shows more than 200 subdivisions where deeds contained racial restictions. Filters allow you to see which neighborhoods excluded particular populations. And also to see the segregation work of particular developers and real estate companies.
- Slideshow: Seattle's Segregation Story Telling the story of segregation practices from the late 1800s in photos maps, and short videos, this vivid slideshow clarifies the distinction between segregation as practiced in southern states and Seattle's version. And it reveals shocking facts about hospitals that would not treat patients of color, stores that would not serve African Americans or Asian Americans, and real estate firms that organized neighborhoods to keep them segregated. Teachers will find it perfect for introducing the subject.
- How this project helped change state law Three times the Washington State Legislature has changed state law in response to the work we have done to uncover the history of racial restrictive covenants, most recently in Spring 2021 with House Bill 1335 which authorized our team and one from Eastern Washington University to conduct a statewide survey to locate the racist deed restrictions that still haunt property records. The project will report results in 2022 and 2023. The law encourages home owners to file a Restrictive Covenant Modification form to strike racist language from deeds.
Racial Restrictive Covenants: Enforcing Neighborhood Segregation in Seattle by Catherine Silva
Until 1968, racial restrictive covenants prevented certain racial minorities from purchasing homes in specific King County neighborhoods, segregating Seattle and shaping its racial demography. This essay details the history of racial restrictive covenants in different King County neighborhoods, charting both the legal and social enforcement of racial covenants and the struggles to prohibit them.
The Seattle School Boycott of 1966 by Brooke Clark
“What do we want? Integration. When do we want it? Now!” This familiar chant from the civil rights movement reflected the desires of Seattle parents of school age children in 1966. That year, for two days, K-12 students poured out of Seattle ’s public schools and attended “freedom schools” to protest racial segregation in the Seattleschool system. This essay tells the story of that boycott—from its origins to its effect on Seattle’s students and politicians.
Combatting Anti-Semitism at the Laurelhurst Beach Club by Anne Levine
The Seattle chapter of Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith was founded in 1913. In the 1950s it won a signal victory against the Laurelhurst Beach Club that systematically denied membership to Jewish residents of the Laurelhurst neighborhood. This essay tells the story of the twenty-year-long campaign.
What began as a fight between two white police officers and two unarmed black men in Seattle’s predominantly non-white Central District became political when an officer shot and killed one of the African Americans. African American community leaders demanded justice and set up “freedom patrols” to monitor the police.
After Internment: Seattle’s Debate Over Japanese Americans’ Right to Return Home by Jennifer Speidel
On December 17th, 1944 U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt announced that the federal government would officially end the exclusion order that prevented Japanese and Japanese-Americans from returning to the West Coast. The announcement set off a fiery debate over “resettlement,” with some Seattle residents supporting the right of return, while others, including many public officials, tried to stop it. This essay explores both sides of the resettlement debate in Seattle.
In 1942, Florise Spearman and Dorothy West Williams became the first African Americans ever to be hired at Boeing. Their employment capped a two-year campaign led by the Northwest Enterprise, Seattle’s black-owned newspaper, and a coalition of black activists. The Aeronautical Workers union fought the demand for open hiring and it was only when the federal government intervened that the company and the union gave up the white-only employment policy.
Coon Chicken Inn: North Seattle’s Beacon of Bigotry by Catherine Roth
The Coon Chicken Inn was a popular roadside restaurant just beyond Seattle city limits from 1930-1949. The name and logo, which derived from racist caricatures of African Americans, was a galling reminder of segregation and discrimination for black Seattleites. This essay recounts the Coon Chicken Inn’s history and documents little-known examples of African Americans organizing against the restaurant.
The 1964 Open Housing Election: How the Press Influenced the Campaign by Trevor Goodloe
In a crushing defeat for civil rights, Seattle voters overwhelming rejected a 1964 ballot measure that would have made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race in the sale or rental of housing. This essay examines the surprising role of the city’s newspapers in the open housing election.