Jose Greco's Black History of the Pacific Northwest

(Seattle and Pacific Northwest Black History and More)

The purpose of this web page is to discuss black history of the Pacific Northwest, from the perspective of a person who experienced Life in a black community from the 40's to the late 70's, not as a research paper but a fond reflection. My concern is that local Seattle area blacks and especially Seattle black youth, have a true understanding of their significance and value as a people, that they can rightly be proud of their accomplishments as black people able to have a better future. In the 1940's through the 1960's Seattle Public Schools taught a sanitized version of black history, concentrating a few good coloreds and a few "bad blacks", the first time I read a true black history book I cried because of the information it revealed. I was also very angry that I had been lied to all these years, that I had convinced myself that there was some truth to white propaganda, and that I now had to gain more insight into true black history. My hope is that all blacks of the Pacific Northwest, regard themselves as part of a Global community, using our 100 million plus black in the "Americas" and our soon to be annual 900 billion dollar income, to fully realize our future goals.


I chose Seattle's black community as a model Northwest black community, specifically The C. D. (Central District) where most blacks resided from the late 1940's through 1980, but has a lot in common with Houston, Texas' black "Fifth Ward", South-Los Angeles, California's Florence and Hooper black community, and other black communities throughout the United States. The center of each black community was the black church, followed by their school system, and of equal importance were places of culture and entertainment, such as movie houses, theaters, and cultural activity centers. Barber and beauty shops have been largely supplanted (but not completely) by internet connections and digital satellite, as places where blacks gather the majority of their information -- black communities like the rest of Americans are largely consumers rather than producers of goods and services. From the 40's through the middle 60's Seattle blacks knew, once we stepped outside our community, that we were always in danger and at the mercy whites, and could be attacked at any time. At minimum, we were constantly under the scrutiny of Seattle's white population. Now federal laws and racial tolerance of blacks, may have been "helpful" to receiving higher education and upward mobility, it also made the black community more reliant on outside influences, so the like community as I knew it in the 50's through mid 80's nolonger exists.

On television, Lowell Thomas had his program, High Adventure with Lowell Thomas, where he'd lead treks through "Darkest, Savage Africa, " surrounded by menacing black savages -- in recent years it was disclosed that Thomas had staged many of these "adventures, " with black city actors stripped naked for "authenticity". The only blacks we saw were Uncle Ben, Aunt Jemima, and other docile black characters, and the white entertainers in black face parodying blacks in an offensive manner. Even in the 1990's while watching Sidney Poitier's Lifetime Achievement Ceremony, I watched Paul Newman during his testimonial look in the audience at Sidney Poitier and jibe, "Smile Sidney, so I can see your face...Gottcha!", then the camera panned to President Bill Clinton who was chuckling at the comment. We don't have the luxury to dwell on past or present injustices, regardless of anyone's perception of black Americans, who can and will be a viable part of the 21st century. Barak Obama, U.S. Senator from Illinois, makes a salient case for finding solutions and making our primary goal success.

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Northwest Black Origins

Northwest Black History and the genesis of the Northwest is directly attributed to Black Families of George Washington Bush (1844) and George Washington (1852) settled the Puget Sound Territory, helped their white settlers during rough times in 1852, respected by the British, insured Washington becoming a state and submitted a bill (William Owen Bush) to establish Washington State University in 1890. The whites in the Willamette Valley Settlement had a restrictive covenant against blacks, so Bush had to go further north, and if he and other blacks hadn't be ostracized... the United States would not have had a strong claim with the British for instituting Washington Territory (Later Washington State).It is often quipped that Washington State, was actually named after the black settlers, and if not should have been.

Hopefully you'll find why Central Areas members and Greater Seattle are so proud of the Seattle Black Community, what are the contributions Northwest blacks continue to give to larger Seattle community, primarily a significant place in the history the Northwest (Oregon/Washington/Idaho). Northwest blacks are known throughout the world, originally because of unsung military heroes "fraternization" in distant lands, also the black Merchant Marines and our black lost generation who went to Europe; in the 1920's, 1930's, 1950's and 1960's, to find themselves, or evade persecution from their white counterparts.

"Anyone who doesn't like black people is Unamerican!"
-- President George H. W. Bush/Desert Storm Celebration

Interestingly, no one in the press or of any rank or authority (black or white)ever commented on President Bush's assertion, not even to elaborate on it or dismiss its importance, an American President declaring that Prejudicial Behavior Towards Blacks Was Unamerican wasn't worth pursuing? Singer Marion Anderson was having a difficult time performing in White American venues, in 1935 in Salzburg, Austria famous Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini heard her sing, and knowing the mentality of white American music patrons had this statement attributed to him, "The most beautiful, important instrument of the last one hundred years, is the voice of Marion Anderson!" Marion Anderson eventually sang at the Lincoln Monument (after the D.A.R. kicked her out of D.C.'s Constitution Hall, still in 1955 she became the first African to sing at the Met.

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Being Black in the Northwest

Northwest black history is a microcosm of the history of blacks worldwide; commerce, the arts/entertainment academics, sports, race relations, internal struggles, are the same components guiding the lives of blacks here or in Central or South America. Though United States blacks (verses and South American blacks) are expected to have $600 to $700 Billion Dollars of disposable income in 2005 and $900 Billion Dollars by 2008. 100 million blacks reside in the US (10%) and Brazil, with the US having an ever growing influx of "The New African Americans" from Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leon, et al, and Latino Mundo (The Spanish/ Portuguese World), similar to the black migration northward in the United States in the 20's, 30's and 40's.

We had intrepid settlers like Seattle's 1860's restaurateur/hotel owner William Grose & wife Sarah, who bought 12 acres of land for $1000.00 for Henry Yesler in 1882, establishing an area know as Madison Valley (which whites in later years refered to as "Coon Hollow") that harbored the growth of earlier black families. A typical black community from the 40's to the early 60's was Seattle's Central District (Central Area or CD , a true ghetto in the sense that a lot of Jews and western Europeans resided there, and most of the former synagogues and temples are now churches and community centers. Black families were the guests of the Nihonmachi - Japan Town (later called Chinatown and finally The International District I.D., which was located adjacent to the two rail stations and the waterways. Black arriving to Seattle stayed on Jackson Street, had some businesses like barbershops, and were part of the community (commemorated in the Wing Luke Museum's Community Collection )they upward moved into the Central area a few blocks at a time.

The Central District where most blacks resided, was a multi-ethnic neighborhood; Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, English, Italians, Russians/ Slavs, African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, their children being first generation American and Seattlites, so all the cultures overlapped and we had a greater appreciation of one another's culture and lifestyles.

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Can We All Get Along?

In the 1940's - 60's the answer was Barely , young black males of that era where admonished to guard their younger siblings against white "Rape Gangs and Abductors", and we'd listen for alerts from vigilant neighbors and run to safety, awear that the police department wasn't sympathetic to our plight. We were also admonished to ignore the white men that brought their women here under the cover of darkness, to either "make love " to them on our dimly lit streets, or to beat them mercilessly away from the prying eyes of their children or neighbors. One of the most singularly frightening experiences of my life, was the day I awoke to find the whites and had torched all three of our neighborhood theaters, fortunately the local Mason's group ( Prince Hall ) stepped up and allowed the neighborhood to use their hall for viewing movies. One of the most infamous sexual predators of that day resided in the Central Area, and used his position on the police department and a scout leader, to sexually abuse black and white children for decades... he even bragged how parents would send his victims to him from other parts of the state and Canada.Black were relegated to 2 recreation areas Madrona and Leshi Park, trying to swim and play at white parks Greenlake and Madison Park(1960) caused my adolescent cronies and me to be threaten with bodily harm, and escorted of the parks by Seattle police.

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Angels Among Us

The Central Area of Seattle was the only truly integrated neighborhood of the 1940's throughout the middle seventies, African Americans, Latinos, Native, and Poorer Whites found this bucolic, lush green area, an inviting wholesome place to raise their families. Our longtime residents were literally Irish, English, Eastern European, Ashkanzi (European Jew), who sold blacks homes because their adult children move to homogenous white areas in Seattle and across the water to Bellevue. A lot of Seattle blacks originated from the Southwest (Texas) and further East (Arkansas/Louisiana/Alabama/Georgia), each group had their regional dialect of the Kang's Anglish, and varied in the attended worship services or prepared black cuisine. What blacks had in common was they were now in an environment where their love ones were not lynched and rape, just out pure meanness and a desire to promote fear and intimidation, and Seattle blacks didn't have to bow their heads or jump into the gutter for approaching whites. We were thankful we were being discriminated against and killed for different reasons.

While there has always been racist agitators and "Klan" in Seattle as well other Washington and Oregon state communities ; they were less visible and active, because the Status Quo targeted them for derision and banishment, these poor sometimes well educated whites were (and are), an image of the lowest common denominator in white American culture.

The worst chewing out I ever received from my father, was when I dismissively ignored an older white man walking toward us, our elders taught us to respect all elder people regardless of race or their response to us, actor Ozzie Davis said to me, "Regardless how famous I get or how important I think I am, when I'm in the presence of my mother, I'd better treat her with the utmost respect and courtesy." Most blacks reading this will add, " or you'll get the taste slapped out of your mouth ", Youngsters were admonished that they:

(Some of the Manners and Etiquette We Were Taught)

These were a small part of a system of laws and code of ethics, established after the "War Between The States" to ensure our populations survival and prosperity, because though we were no longer slaves we would be Enslaved for the next one hundred years.Some of our Slave Patterns of Behavior became American custom, for instance according to Father James E. Royce SJ/ Seattle University; "Social Drinking" was a way of rewarding slaves and controlling alligence to their masters, whites could drink as they willed but blacks were relegated to designated times. Only 10% of the slaves went out to celebrate Emancipation in a raucous fashion, most gathered for prayer and gratitude, many Seattle black church covenants still prohibit the drinking of spirits.

For the majority of Seattle black folk their normal routine was; work Monday through Friday, catching up on house work and errands on Saturday, afternoon movies for the children and on rare occasions a night out on the town for the parents. Sunday was God's day and church began promptly at 11:00 AM, characterized as the "Most Segregated Hour in America", in the South and Southwest(Texas)blacks worked on Sunday up until 11: AM. Black Seattle worshiped God, as Baptist, Church of God in Christ, African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) - oldest established black church in America, Roman Catholic and smaller groups of Falasha Jew traditional Moslems and Bhuddist. In 1992 presidential candidate Bill Clinton specifically flew into Seattle to get Reverend Samuel Berry Mckinney/of Mount Zion Baptist Church's blessing, then leaving town without contacting other supporters or Democratic committes. At one time the governor, mayor, and many of the city and state officials, regularly attended Mount Zion Baptist Church at the same time.

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Do You Have It in Black?

Black Pastor Rev. Fountain Penick of Mount Zion Church (pastored New Hope Baptist, Founded Peoples Institutional Baptist Church) and other black pastors worked with Rabbi Raphael Harry Levine, Rev. Katagiri, First Baptist Church, and many religious and civic leaders on issues of tolerance and racial harmony, the goals were greater assimilation and economical/ academic parity. We didn't want to live in the white communities, most blacks other minorities were pleased and content to remain in their own communities, but we also reject the idea that we deserved second class status because of race, creed, color, origin, or sex.

The older black people in the CD weren't enamored with the idea of being treated like whites, some asserted that black people were "good as most and better than some!", so our elders only wanted to be treated as well as whites, many blacks who'd been regularly employed by whites were replete with fantastic anecdotes of their employer's unseemly behavior. A white acquaintance who grew up in Seattle's Madison Park neighborhood had a black domestic in her family, she related; "My folks always acted like she was one of the family , we gave her gifts and drove her home in the evening, then my dad lead us in counting the silverware and rewashing the dishes. Blacks loving feelings that their, community and culture was best for them, that their neighborhood would always thrive because of the C.D.'s hardworking talented population, was mislabeled as Ethnocentrism by white society who didn't appreciate or accept black's lifestyle the same token you had really great people like principal Frank Hanawalt of Garfield High School, who wanted all of the student to feel accepted and respected, changing the names of the "Boy's Club and Girl's Club to Men's and Women's Club, at a time when black Seattle children were derisively being called boys, girls and even worse.

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If You Don't Stand For Something

An old sauw, "If you don't stand for'll, fall for anything!" Specifically an admonishment from our black elders, but also referenced to me by Asian, and Jewish mentors during my adolescence, Common sense is universal and and ignoring the truth cal lead to disaster. Two decades after we established our community in the Central Area of Seattle, invading forces began to erode our forward momentum, and the civil Rights movement was greeted by people whom were neither Right or Civil. Black Seattle really wasn't intereste in integrating with white Seattle, because feared and hated the possibility of blacks unsupervised outside the C.D., and black people really believed that positive change would occur only if it was in the best interest of the"Real White People". Black Seattle had no desire to move out to White Seattle, we wanted to be able to go to the amusement park Playland or see a drivein movie at the Sunset drivein theater, but it would be a hardship to live so far away from our culture and established community. Our elders basically raised a lot of 1950's white children, were sorry the way they were treated in their family, and were adamant that if their children acted-out like some of their white charges... young black offenders would be severely punished. Seattle blacks knew that their welfare was dependent on the white hierarchy, if we affected their financial bottom line or convinced them of the appropriateness of supporting civil rights, we would and did immediately receive better treatment. The United Construction Workers(UCWA) trespassed and locked up the University of Washington Health Med. Center construction site, because minorities were not being employed, then called the press, Howard S. Wright and the Seattle Police Department surrounded us with their Riot Squad - led by a menacing police sargent barking consequences at the chained gate. Three nicely dressed white gentleman approached the barracaded gate; said they'd like to enter the premisses, the anger laidened red faced sargent barked;

"Oh yeah, and who are you?"

"We're with Howard Wright Construction."

"Certainly Sir", the fawning officer got out of the delegations way.

In a very short period of time, Tyre and the heads of UCWA and Howard Wright representatives reemerged at the gate. The spokesperson for Howard S. Wright accosted the police sargent, "We've spoken to the men inside, and no one will be charged, you can tell your men to leave." The police started dispersing sloooowly, but with no further contact with the protesters. Heading home pass the long line of SPD Riot officers, was like negotiating stone statues of Praetorian Guards with deadly looking shotguns, but I now realized its how has the the power but who directs that force. Blacks knew "Maggie" Senator Warren G. Magnesum and "Scoop" Senator Henry M. Jackson as go - getter, like our own Sam Smith, Freddie Mae Guitier and George Flemming, whom you could always find actively involved in the community they represented.

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The Devil You Know

Blacks have a fable about what happens if you invite the devil into your house, in the film To Sleep with AngerDanny Glover arrives at a Northern friend door, but really being the devil Danny begins to destroy this good family by diabolical tricks. Hard Drugs in massive quantities from the white community and the US government started turning up in the black community about 1975, Captain James Griffin/ Seattle University ROTC and concerned black leaders and community members, delegations asked the city father to interceded, drugs in conjunction with interlopers pressuring black you to join gangs, meant blacks were being plagued with increasing drug addiction and criminal activity. Black children were being jumped into newly formed gangs, children were being beaten and robbed, the Seattle School District rather than support the Central Area denied the problems, and instead contriving a useless program to help black"disadvantage youth"; because black children lacked leaders and role models, so Seattle Public Schools rationalized their in loco parentis treatment of our children, who received "benign neglect" rather than expecting and black children compete on a level playing field. People who disliked blacks used this to further attack blacks, even though their racial or ethnic background had negative components, black and Central Area residents were stigmatized as those people always causing problems.The Seattle Police chief and Mayor asserted that there was no verging gang activity or drug perpetration in the black community, since the police chief was from a large urban he would know such things, so the City of Seattle ignored their black citizens and later gasped in horror when their worst prejudices were realized. When blacks overhear of acts of violence on the TV or the radio, we immediately pray, " Dear Lord, don't let this be a black person", because we don't want more ammunition to be used against us. Negative stereotyping and racial profiling made it easy for banks and insurance company to Redline parts of the central area, and companies in general found it lucrative to charge black residents higher prices for services, police , fire and emergency services did provide basic service but their attitudes toward blacks varied from dismissive to overt hostility. Better public and private service did increase, as whites began with the help of the city to gentrify the Central Area (like the colonization of Africa), so the Central Area was divided into sections and banks, insurance companies, and the city government allocated money and services denied black for 30 years.

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The Worst Thing...

The worst thing is not believing bad things about black people, it's wanting to believe bad things about black people.

The Black Community has always had people who believed and supported them: for legal matters we always depended on attorney/activist Phillip Burton and "Charles Z." Smith (former Washington State Supreme Justice) I had a friend who went from being a gangbanger to student body president of a junior college, he was so loved and appreciated that when President Clinton came to visit, he was placed on stage with the president, Bill Gates, and Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Jim McDermott. Their is money for; home renovations, attending school, and buying computer technology. Their are programs to help blacks enjoy our Baby Boomer years: Tai Chi, Chi Gung, Cardiac/Vascular related classes and groups, extension of pleasure and vocational interest. You can check with your banks, lending institutions and state and local officials, and find that you haven't been taking advantage of many helpful programs, I found $60, 000 in 2 program with minimal checking. Again, the welfare of the collective "Black Community" doesn't reside in individual blacks acquiring money, but realizing, gaining and utilizing the resources available, its part of our legacy that dates back to George Washington Bush and William Greose. I want to ask you to use this information to dialogue with others in the Community, that means even calling your aunt in Detroit or writing Grandma D.C., last big renaissance for the black community was in the 30's and 60's... so we're about overdue. Help with all the particulars I omitted; war heros, scholars, mathematicians, musicians, philosophers, financial /money management, multiracial/blended families, religious mentors, internet - multimedia experts, and anything that will enhance this black community of ours.

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Jose-Nicholas Greco


© Copyright 2005 by Jose-Nicholas Greco
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