Mayor William F. Devin praises Seattle's Civic Unity Committee on July 24, 1944.

  • By Heather MacIntosh
  • Posted 1/01/1900
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 2114

On July 24, 1944, Seattle Mayor William F. Devin (1898-1982), who was Seattle's mayor from 1942-1952, delivers a speech praising Seattle's newly appointed Civic Unity Committee. The committee, called together for the first time on February 14, 1944, is put in place to quell rising concerns about potential racial violence in Seattle. Two weeks later, a race riot breaks out in Seattle's Fort Lawton, due to the inequitable treatment of black soldiers.

The Speech

Remarks of the Honorable William F. Devin, mayor of Seattle, on "Civic Unity in Seattle," in Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Institute of Government, University of Washington, July 24-28, 1944:

In Praise of Civic Unity

"I am very well satisfied and pleased with the work that is being done and feel that the results to-date justify my action. I had this problem under consideration for several months as to whether or not I should appoint a committee of this type in the city. There are a great many intelligent people in this city, thinking people, who believe that a committee of this kind is not necessary.

"They argue, 'Why appoint a committee to work on the problem of racial tensions when there is no problem?' This argument did not appeal to me, but there are still a great number who feel that the committee should not have been appointed. However, some have changed their opinion, and now feel that it was the right thing to do. I believe that the reason is the excellence of the personnel of the committee which to me, is an all-important factor. The appointment of a committee without careful consideration to the personnel might have caused more harm than good.

Prejudice in the Abstract?

"It was also my theory in appointing this committee that a great bulk of the people in this city haven't any definite prejudices for or against the Negro people or anyone else. We are a northern city which means that we did not grow up with a prejudice against the Negro race. However, we are all ordinary citizens and we are apt to be influenced very easily and swayed from one side to the other by unthinking people and leaders who bring to us misinformation that causes prejudices against not only the Negro, the Jew, the Catholic but against all groups.

"Such misinformation, if allowed to go unchecked by factual statements increases disunity of our leading citizens -- men and women in whom we all have confidence and to let them examine these problems and questions and then make a decision as to what they believed to be the real factors. I was sure that the people of our city would have confidence in the decision made by such a group.

No Easy Solution

"The real problem of racial tensions is one which is fraught with a great deal of dynamite because it deals with deeply rooted fears that have brought about prejudices. And it is going to affect us as a city not only during the War, but also after the War, and it is our duty as citizens to face the problem together. If we do not do that, we shall not exist very long as a civilized city or as a nation.

"I do not feel that I am able to solve these questions alone. No man can govern and direct the affairs of a city this size without the help of civic leaders and indeed of all the citizens. Already the Committee has helped to lesson the burdens placed upon me, and I am grateful for the work which it already has done under the excellent chairmanship of Mr. Greenwood. I am confident that it will play an important role in the future development of Seattle."


Sources:

Civic Unity Committee Collection, No. 479, University of Washington Libraries, Department of Special Collections, Archives, and University Manuscripts; Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle's Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994), 167.


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