February 4, 2016 – February 10, 2016
Every month is Black History Month at HistoryLink, and this week we note some of the many African American "firsts" in Washington history. We begin with George W. Bush and his family, who in 1845 were among the first Americans to settle north of the Columbia River in what is now Thurston County. Seven years later, Manuel Lopes became Seattle's first black citizen and businessman, and in 1883 John Conna moved to Federal Way and would later become Washington Territory's first black political appointee.
In 1899 the University of Washington School of Law admitted William McDonald Austin, who would become its first black graduate. Fifty years before Seattle hired its first black teachers, Kitsap County hired Jane A. Ruley in 1897, the same year that Mary B. Mason became the first black woman to seek her fortune in the Klondike gold rush.
In 1913 Seattle got its first national civil-rights organization with the founding of a branch of the NAACP. In the early 1940s, Yesler Terrace opened and was believed to have been the first racially integrated public-housing project in the United States. In 1942 Florise Spearman became Boeing's first African American employee, and in 1947 Willetta Esther Riddle Gayton became Seattle's first black professional librarian. In 1950 Charles Stokes became the first black legislator from King County, and Zoë Dusanne opened Seattle's first professional modern-art gallery.
John Prim became Washington's first African American judge in 1954, and in 1963 Carver Clark Gayton was appointed the state's first African American FBI special agent. Carl Maxey was Spokane's first black attorney, James Chase was Spokane's first black mayor, and Benjamin F. McAdoo was the first African American architect to maintain a practice in Washington. Dr. Earl V. Miller was the first African American urologist west of the Mississippi, and Dr. Rosalie Reddick Miller was the first African American woman to practice dentistry in the State of Washington.
Contributions by the black community to Washington's growth and prosperity have been legion. Their influence has been felt as educators, school board officials, community organizers, civic leaders, activists, pastors, newspaper publishers, agronomists, city officials, county officials, legislators, police officers, lawyers, judges, professors, athletic recruiters, doctors, bank executives, and broadcasters.
Black citizens have also greatly enhanced Washington's arts and culture. Our state has been home to a diverse group of black artists, sculptors, painters, photographers, poets, playwrights, historians, singers, jazz musicians, R & B musicians, and rock stars.
So many fascinating individuals, and we've only scratched the surface of the depth and breadth of African American history in Washington. We urge you to visit our Advanced Search page, and click on the topic "Black Americans" to learn more on this subject. And be assured, we will have lots more to add as HistoryLink continues to grow.
News Then, History Now
Forcing Out: This week marks two dark moments in Seattle history, both of which took place on February 7. The first occurred in 1865 when officials of the newly formed town passed its fifth ordinance, calling for the expulsion of Indians. The law became moot when the town government was dissolved two years later, and the ban on Indian residents was not re-enacted. But on February 7, 1886, an attempt was made to remove the city's Chinese residents, this time by mob action.
Walking Out: On February 6, 1919, the wheels and gears in Seattle stopped turning as tens of thousands of workers in all trades and occupations laid down their tools in one of the nation's first general strikes. Inspired by a bitter dispute with the Federal Shipping Board, Socialist school-board member Anna Louise Strong rallied the local proletariat with a fiery editorial in the Seattle Union Record -- then America's only labor-owned daily newspaper -- and events took on a life of their own.
Flying With Ease: On February 8, 1933, the Boeing 247 took its maiden flight from Boeing Field. The plane was fast for its time, but airline companies preferred the new Douglas Aircraft DC-2 instead. Three decades later, Boeing was riding high after the launch of the Boeing 727 trijet on February 9, 1963, and the 747 Jumbo Jet on February 9, 1969. Almost 30 years later, Boeing and Douglas merged, in 1997.
A Walk in the Trees: On February 9, 1947, The Spokesman-Review announced a $250,000 gift from the estate of mining magnate John Aylard Finch to fund the establishment of the Finch Arboretum. The arboretum remains one of the city's many jewels and is home to most of Spokane's champion trees.
Talk of the Town: On February 8, 1952, the Frye Art Museum opened to the public on Seattle's First Hill. Designed by architect Paul Thiry and stocked with the art collection of Charles and Emma Frye, the "jewel on the hill" is one of the few art museums in the country that doesn't charge admission.
Shutting It Down: On February 8, 1972, after years of protest, Seattle citizens endorsed the cancelation of the R. H. Thomson Expressway, which would have cut through the Central Area and gouged out a large part of the Washington Park Arboretum. For years afterward the abandoned project's "ramps to nowhere" remained in place, but they have since been removed as part of the SR 520 bridge-replacement project
Quote of the Week
Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.
--Martin Luther King Jr.
Image of the Week
Roslyn incorporated on February 4, 1889.