Video Oral History
Mayor, City of Seattle, 1969-1977
Wes Uhlman served as Seattle’s Mayor from 1969 until 1977, during an electrifying period of protest and change. Uhlman grew up in Moscow, Idaho and Aberdeen, Washington and described himself as “basically a small town person.”
Moving to Seattle to attend college, Uhlman was elected into the Washington State House of Representatives while still a student at Seattle Pacific University. After serving eight years in Washington’s House and four years in the state Senate he was elected Mayor in 1969. At 34 years old, he was the youngest Mayor ever elected in Seattle. There was little time for celebration. Boeing announced massive layoffs only weeks after he took office and Mayor Uhlman was forced to deal with one of the most severe economic downturns in Seattle's history. In addition to the economic crisis, Mayor Uhlman tried to clean up a notoriously corrupt Police Department and bring racial integration to Seattle’s City Departments.
In a video-taped interview with Janet Jones and James Gregory on August 25, 2005, Mayor Uhlman discussed the challenges of his years in office, with particular attention to his role in a number of important moments in Seattle’s civil rights history: Seattle’s Model City Program, its integration campaigns, the school bussing controversy, Fort Lawton takeover, and efforts to clean up the Police Department.
The highlight of the interview is a long description of the moment in early 1970 when federal agents planned a raid on the Black Panther Party headquarters. Mayor Uhlman intervened to stop the raid, fearing a repeat of the recent assault in Chicago that left several Panthers dead. His action brought down the wrath of the Nixon administration, but he was sure it was the right thing to do. With a police informant inside the Panther organization, city authorities felt that there was no need for federal intervention.
To the right are streaming-video excerpts of the interview. Video editing by Nathan Roberts.