Skip to content

African Americans and Seattle's Civil Rights History

This page is a gateway to the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project resources for exploring the civil rights activism of African Americans in the Pacific Northwest. Included are a short film, activist oral histories, research reports, newspaper reports, photographic collections, maps, historical documents.

Film: "The End of Old Days" This 13 minute video explores a century of African American community building and civil rights activism in Seattle. It was created for the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project by Shaun Scott. It can be viewed online in several formats.

Activist Oral Histories Click to learn more about these activists and watch video excerpts of their oral history interviews.

Alexander, Belle

Belle Alexander was a "Rosie the Riveter" and one of the first African Americans to work at Boeing Aircraft. Raised in Georgia, she moved to Seattle in 1943. A sheet metal worker, she worked at Boeing for three years, then spent three decades working in Seattle area hospitals.

Adams, John H.

Bishop Adams was pastor of First AME Church from 1962-1968 and helped shape Seattle's civil rights struggles of the mid 1960s. He was the first Chair of the Central Area Civil Rights Committee and co-founded the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP).

Amen-Allah, Kenyatto

A child during the civil rights era, Kenyatto Amen-Allah grew up around the Black Panther Party, attending the BPP's Liberation School. He is currently active with the Panther Legacy Committee.

Caver, Vivian

Vivian Caver’s more than 50 year record of civic service in Seattle’s African American community includes substantial civil rights advocacy work: Urban League desegregation campaigns of the 1940s, open housing campaigns of the 1960s, and serving as Vice Chair and later Chair of the Seattle Human Rights Department.

Cook, Mark

Raised in Seattle, Mike Cook joined the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s and co-founded its chapter in Walla Walla state penitentiary.

Dixon, Aaron

Co-founder of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party, Aaron Dixon helped start the Black Student Union at the University of Washington before meeting Bobby Seale and agreeing to lead the first chapter of the BPP established outside of California. He served as Captain from 1968 to 1972.

Dixon, Elmer

Co-founder of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party, Elmer Dixon grew up in the Central District and helped organize a Black Student Union at Garfield HS before helping his brother Aaron begin the BPP. He served as Field Marshall and coordinator of the breakfast program for the chapter.

Dixon, Michael

Youngest of the Dixon brothers, Michael was a 15-year-old sophomore at Garfield High School when he joined the BP. Active also in the BSU at Garfield, he then attended UW and helped cement the relationship between the Panthers and the BSU.

Fiddler, Jake

Jake Fiddler served as Elmer Dixon's bodyguard and the Coordinator of Party newspaper sales and distribution for the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party from 1968-70.

Gossett, Larry

Larry Gossett grew up in Seattle's Central District and attended the University of Washington where he co-founded the Black Student Union and helped lead off-campus protests in the late 1960s. After serving as Executive Director at CAMP, he was elected to the King County Council, where he now represents the 2nd District.

Hawkins, Todd

Todd Hawkins is a plumber who took a leading role in the United Construction Workers Association’s struggle to desegregate the Seattle building trades unions and organize anti-discrimination organizing in Oakland, Denver, and the Southwest. He is a longtime leader at LELO.

Hollingsworth, Dorothy

A social worker, Dorothy Hollingsworth moved to Seattle in 1946 and became active in the Christian Friends for Racial Equality and later the Central Area Civil Rights Committee and Model Cities. She served as first director of Head Start in Seattle, and was the first black woman elected to the Seattle School Board.

Hobbs, Leon

After joining the Black Panther Party in 1969, Leon Hobbs used his military experience to train Seattle Chapter members in weapons and tactics. He later served as bodyguard to Huey P. Newton.

Hubbard, Walter

Walter Hubbard’s civil rights leadership grew out of his involvement with the Catholic Church. Hubbard co-founded Seattle’s Catholic Interracial Council and the Catholic Church’s Project Equality, and served in the leadership of Seattle's Central Area Civil Rights Committee and the National Office of Black Catholics.

Johnson, Charles V.

Charles Johnson has a long record of leadership in the NAACP: he was President of the NAACP's Seattle Chapter from 1959 to 1964, of its Northwest Area Conference until the early 1970s, and served on the National NAACP's Executive Board from 1968 to 1995. He played a leading role in the Central Area Civil Rights Committee and Model Cities. From 1969 to 1998 he served as a Judge, first in Municipal Court, then in Superior Court.

Johnson, Ron

Shortly after moving to Seattle from Los Angeles in 1969, Ron Johnson joined the Black Panther Party and served as the local Chapter's Minister of Information through much of the 1970s.

Lanier, Herman

Herman Lanier was a sheet metal worker in the early 1970s and an active member in the United Construction Workers Association.

McKinney, Samuel

Rev. Dr. Samuel McKinney came to Seattle in 1958 and led Mt. Zion Baptist Church for 40 years. He played a key role in the civil rights mobilizations of the 1960s. In 1961 he arranged the one and only Seattle visit for his former college classmate, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Mercer, Lyle

Since returning to Seattle after serving in WWII, Lyle Mercer has been an activist for peace and progressive politics. Over the decades he led opposition to HUAC, was closely involved in Congress of Racial Equality and the ACLU, crusaded for a National Health Security Act, served on the board of Group Health Cooperative, and remains active today in Veterans for Peace.

Murray, Mike

Mike Murray was 16 years old and a student at Garfield High School when he joined the Black Panther Party in 1968. He left the party after its first year.

Nelson, Lonnie

Born in Seattle, her father was a Communist Party member and helped organize the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen's Union in the 1930s. Lonnie joined the Party in 1951 and has been active ever since in civil rights and Indian rights struggles, Central District organizing, the Coalition for the Defense of the Rights of the Black Panther Party, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and Mothers for Police Accountability.

Owens, Garry

A member of the Black Panther Party from 1968-1972, Gary Owens had grown up in Seattle and served in the military before joining. Among other things, he handled the party's Speakers Bureau.

Sims, Beverly

One of the first women members of IBEW local 46, Beverly Sims is the widow of UCWA founder Tyree Scott. She helped create LELO (Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office) and was involved in enforcing pioneering court decisions that mandated affirmative action in the local construction industry.

Simmons, Fred

An electrician and long time activist, Fred Simmons was raised in St. Louis. After moving to Seattle, he apprenticed as an electrician. As a member of IBEW Local 46, he helped create the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus, serving as its first president. He is also active in LELO.

Singler, Joan

Co-founder of Seattle's CORE chapter in 1961, Joan Singler helped organize campaigns against employment discrimination in grocery stories and downtown department stores, against housing discrimination, and against police harassment of African Americans.

Smith, Charles Z.

Born in Florida, Charles Smith moved to Seattle in 1955 to attend law school at UW. Active in African American civil rights efforts, he also became a member of the Japanese American Citizens League. He served as Dean of the UW Law School and In 1988 became the first African American to serve on the Washington State Supreme Court.

Tagawa, Mike

One of only three Japanese Americans to join the Black Panther Party, Mike Tagawa was born in an internment camp, grew up in Seattle, and served in the military before joining the party in 1968. He later helped organize the Oriental Student Union at Seattle Central Community College.

Uhlman, Wes

Mayor of Seattle from 1969 to 1977, Uhlman presided over one of the most turbulent and significant eras in Seattle's history. Only 34 years old when he took office and more liberal than his predecessors, Uhlman changed the tone of city politics.

Valentine, Bettylou

Bettylou Valentine moved to Seattle in 1959 to attend graduate school. An NAACP activist, she joined CORE in the early 1960s and helped organize campaigns against employment discrimination in grocery stories and downtown department stores, against housing discrimination, and against police harassment of African Americans.

West, Marion

Marion and her African American husband Ray West were active members of the Christian Friends for Racial Equality in the 1950s and Seattle CORE in the 1960s. Marion was able to purchase a home in the racially restricted University District in the 1950s, but when neighbors discovered that she was married to Ray, and that they would rent the building out to people of color, they were driven from their home by harrasment, including a cross burning.

White, Bobby

Bobby White joined the Black Panther Party in 1968, shortly after returning home to Seattle after military service in Vietnam. He served as the Seattle Chapter’s Lieutenant of Information until leaving the Party in 1970.

Whitaker, Alvin

Alvin Whitaker is an electrician who helped integrate Seattle’s building trades in the 1970s as an activist in the United Construction Workers Association.

Williams, Shamseddin

The son of former Panther and former pro-football player, Malcolm Williams, Shamseddin Williams spent part of his childhood with the Seattle Black Panther Party.

Yates, John

John Yates was one of the first black apprentice insulators in the early 1970s and an active member in the United Construction Workers Association.

Special Sections

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.

Coon Chicken Inn: North Seattle’s Beacon of Bigotry by Catherine Roth

The Coon Chicken Inn was a popular roadside restaurant in Seattle from 1930-1949. The restaurant’s 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.

CORE and the Fight Against Employer Discrimination in 1960s Seattle by Jamie Brown

The Congress of Racial Equality mounted a concerted campaign to end employment discrimination in Seattle. This essay examines the tactics of the campaign and evaluates methods of the small but very active CORE chapter.

CORE’s Drive for Equal Employment in Downtown Seattle, 1964 by Rachel Smith

Culminating two years of campaigns to end discrimination in employment, CORE launched a drive to win jobs for African Americans in Seattle’s downtown retail district. This essay details the campaign and its impacts.

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.

The Early History of the UW Black Student Union by Marc Robinson

When members of the BSU took over the administration building on May 20, 1968, they began a sequence of activism that transformed the University of Washington and helped rearrange the priorities of higher education in Washington State.

The BSU Takes on BYU and the UW Athletics Program, 1970 by Craig Collisson

Denouncing the racist practices of Brigham Young University and the Mormon Church, the BSU demanded that UW sever its athletic contracts with BYU. When the administration refused, the BSU launched some of the most militant demonstrations of the era.

The Franklin High School Sit-in, March 29, 1968 by Tikia Gilbert

The March 1968 BSU confrontation at Franklin High was a pivotal moment for Seattle Civil Rights movements. It helped solidify the reputation of the BSU and launch the Black Panther Party.

The Christian Friends for Racial Equality, 1942-70 by Johanna Phillips

Started in 1942 by Seattle women of different faiths and races, Christian Friends for Racial Equality (CFRE) pioneered interracial and interreligious cooperation that laid the groundwork for Seattle’s more activist movement in the break down social and cultural barriers to interracial cooperation.

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

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.

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

What began as fight between two white police officers and two unarmed black men in Seattle’s predominantly non-white Central District immediately became political when an officer shot and killed one of the African Americans. Occurring during the heat of the civil rights movement in 1965, the shooting inspired local African American community leaders to demand justice. The method of direct action they used was the “freedom patrol.”

Electrical Workers Minority Caucus: A History by Nicole Grant

Historically the construction trades have been a bastion of white, male unionism. Since 1986 the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus has carved out a space for workers of color and female workers in IBEW Local 46, the union representing electrical workers in the Pacific Northwest. This essay explores the history of race, gender, and struggle before EWMC and examines the organization’s role in Local 46 today.

Blocking Racial Intermarriage Laws in 1935 and 1937: Seattle’s First Civil Rights Coalition by Stefanie Johnson

In an era of American history marked by racial segregation and anti-immigrant attitudes, Washington was an anomaly: the only state in the west, and one of only eight nationwide, without laws banning racial intermarriage. When anti-miscegenation bills were introduced in both the 1935 and 1937 sessions of the Washington State Legislature, an effective and well-organized coalition led by the African American, Filipino, and Labor communities mobilized against the measure.

Susie Revels Cayton: "The Part She Played" by Michelle L. Goshorn

Wife of publisher Horace Cayton Sr., mother of the famous sociologist Horace Cayton Jr. and labor leader Revels Cayton, Susie Revels Cayton was also Associate Editor or the Seattle Republican and an activist in Seattle’s African American community. This biographical essay uses her writings to provide a window into her personal life and to help clarify her dual commitments to her family and her community.

Black Longshoreman: The Frank Jenkins Story by Megan Elston

Frank Jenkins (1902-1973) was a second generation Seattle longshoreman and one of the first African Americans to hold leadership positions in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. A participant in the 1934 strike that created the ILWU, for the next thirty-three years he served Seattle’s Local 19 in various leadership capacities and was regularly elected to the Coast Labor Relations committee of the International union. This biography tells the story of a pioneer black union leader who helped promote civil rights activism in his union and in his community.

Revels Cayton: African American Communist and Labor Activist by Sarah Falconer

On February 19, 1934, a group of Communists involved in the League of Struggle for Negro Rights decided that discrimination toward African Americans and Filipinos in Seattle must come to an end. Led by a young, African American,Revels Cayton, the group entered a Seattle City Council meeting demanding laws that would make discrimination based on race illegal. This essay examines the activism of Revels Cayton, son of the prominent middle class black leaders Horace and Susie Cayton, brother of the influential sociologist Horace Cayton, Jr., and a leading figure in Seattle’s Communist Party in the 1930s.

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 Seattle school system. This essay tells the story of that boycott—from its origins to its effect on Seattle’s students and politicians.

Tyree Scott and the United Construction Workers Association by Trevor Griffey

Seattle’s politics of fair employment entered a new phase when African American construction workers and activists began to protest racially exclusionary hiring practices in Seattle’s construction unions in the fall of 1969. Led by electrician Tyree Scott, workers used direct action to challenge institutional barriers to African American employment in Seattle. In the process, they became pioneers in shaping the early national politics of affirmative action. This unit includes interviews, documents, a short history of the UCWA, and full reproductions of the UCWA newspaper No Separate Peace.

The Black Panther Party in Seattle 1968-1970 by Kurt Schaefer

This essay explores the first three years of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party from its founding by Black Student Union members in 1968 through the 1970 crisis negotiated by Mayor Wes Uhlman. The essay is presented in three parts.

Organized Labor and Seattle’s African American Community: 1916-1920 by Jon Wright

"Seattle’s labor community saw many developments in the late teens and early twenties, and one small but important group that played a part in these developments was the African American population. Organized labor in Seattle was very active and was seen by many people as even radical, with the Seattle General Strike of 1919 being given for evidence. In relation to the African American community though, the labor movement was anything but radical. Seattle unions were often racist and excluded Blacks from their ranks. At other times they voiced support for Blacks, but in actuality they did little to erase the color bar in unions.

Race and Civil Rights in the Washington State Communist Party: the 1930s and 1940s by Shelley Pinckney

The Communist Party of Washington State struggled diligently to fulfill Lenin’s pledge, working to improve conditions for people of color in the Pacific Northwest. The CP was one of the first left groups to take up the issue of racism and oppression. During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, the CP made important strides in the areas of union desegregation, public education about racial injustices, and legal support for civil rights activities.

Newspaper reports

Founded in 1967, the Afro American Journal was a consistent voice for Black Power and community control. No issue was more important to the newspaper than education. (by Doug Blair)

Photo Collections

Maps of residential patterns

Document collections

Other resources and links