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Wing Luke is elected to Seattle City Council on March 13, 1962.

HistoryLink.org Essay 716 : Printer-Friendly Format

On March 13, 1962, Wing Luke (1925-1965) is elected to the Seattle City Council. He becomes the council's first non-white member and the first Chinese American elected to a major post in the continental United States.

Wing Luke attended the University of Washington, entered the army where he served in The Philippines, then returned and earned a law degree from the University of Washington School of Law. He served as an assistant attorney general from 1957 to 1962. 

He resigned this position to take his seat on the city council. At a luncheon of assistant attorneys general on March 17, held at the University of Washington's student union building, Luke was honored and bid farewell. He wore a bright green shamrock in his lapel to honor St. Patrick's Day, and commented:

"This is the American story ... that a councilman of Chinese ancestry is wearing the shamrock, made in Japan, imported by a person of Jewish ancestry, and given to me by a Scandinavian to celebrate a holiday of Irish origin" (The Seattle Times, March 18, 1962).

During his brief tenure on the Seattle City Council, Luke quickly distinguished himself as a champion of civil rights, progressive reform, and urban conservation. Victor Steinbrueck (1911-1985) credited Luke with sparking the movement that saved the Pike Place Market.

Luke disappeared on May 17, 1965, while flying over the Cascades in a small plane with philanthropist Sidney Gerber and Gerber's assistant, Kate Ladue. The wreckage was found many years later. His memory is now honored by the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience.

Walt Crowley, Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 207, 222; "About Wing Luke," Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience website accessed March 21, 2012 (http://wingluke.org/about.htm); "Younger Men Win 2 Council Posts; Old Hands Re-elected," The Seattle Times, March 14, 1962, p. 2; "Collier, Luke Are Honored by Colleagues," The Seattle Times, March 18, 1962, p. 21; David A. Takami, Shared Dreams: A History of Asian and Pacific Americans in Washington State (Seattle: International Examiner, 1989).
Note: The date of Wing Luke's election was corrected on March 21, 2012.

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Related Topics: Firsts | Government & Politics | Asian & Pacific Islander Americans |

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Wing Luke (1925-1965), 1963
Courtesy Wing Luke Asian Museum

Wing Luke campaign sign for Seattle City Council, Seattle, 1961
Courtesy UW Special Collections and Wing Luke Asian Museum (Image No. 1992.034.001)

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