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Segregated Seattle

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.

Research Reports

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.

1965 Freedom Patrols and the Origins of Seattle’s Police Accountability Movement by Jennifer Taylor

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.

Battle at Boeing: African Americans and the Campaign for Jobs, 1939-1942 by Sarah Miner

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.