Book Review:
Seattle in Black and White: The Congress of Racial Equality and the Fight for Equal Opportunity

  • Posted 7/23/2011
  • Essay 9884

By Joan Singler, Jean Durning, Betty Lou Valentine, and Maid Adams
Paperback, 296 pages, 57 illus., 2 maps, notes, bibliog., index
ISBN 978-0-29599-0-842
University of Washington Press
Seattle, 2011      

Seattle in Black and White fills a gap in the history of Seattle’s civil rights movement.  Written by four founding members of the Seattle Chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality, it captures the enthusiasm and staunch determinism of the interracial organization during its seven years working to break down racial barriers.  The four women, three white and one black, were determined to write the history before memories faded about this extraordinary time.

The map of Seattle that accompanies the introduction to the book shows the solid concentration of black people in the Central Area and highlights what the book is about. In 1960 black people were more or less confined to housing in this one area, which created de facto segregated schools.  Employment discrimination was flagrant.  Seattle became fertile ground for an interracial civil rights organization. The authors, from their own personal experiences, tell the story of how CORE started in Seattle and of its accomplishments.

Seattle founded a chapter in 1961 and became a member of the national organization in 1962.  By 1965 it was CORE's most outstanding West Coast chapter.  Its membership was dedicated to the principles of nonviolence set down by the national organization.  All members were to follow the Rules of Conduct which emphasized dignity and respectability and that before any action there had to be an investigation to determine if there was racial injustice.  Only then would there be an attempt at negotiations, which would be followed by nonviolent demonstrations if they failed.  The book devotes three chapters to how employment barriers, segregated housing and segregated schools were dealt with using these principles to guide them. 

Grocery stores were targeted first because of their flagrant discriminatory practices.  Safeway, Tradewell, and A&P stores, although located in the Central Area, hired no black employees.  After negotiations with the managers failed, boycotts and picketing were employed.  The book details with vivid descriptions of their efforts.  Especially engrossing are the shop-ins at A&P where members quietly went in and filled their grocery carts with non-perishable items.  When they got to the checker they decided not to buy the items because of the store’s discriminatory practices.  Within months black people had become employees of these stores. 

A planned Freedom March to downtown was to increase employment of blacks in the department stores. The Bon Marche (now Macy’s), hearing about it, quickly added 21 black people to their payroll.  Naively exuberant about their success, CORE undertook a new employment project to include all of downtown. Called Drive for Equal Employment in Downtown Seattle the goal was to increase black employment by 1,200 in a few months.  Only one or two hundred were hired and the project folded.

The housing front was fought vigorously in 1963 with a creative approach to encourage integrated housing. The group advertised Operation Windowshop to encourage minorities to shop for housing outside the Central Area. It was a day set aside for them to visit open houses and real estate offices. So successful was the advertising that real-estate firms closed their offices and open house listings were removed from newspapers. It even attracted the attention of the national media because it was such an unprecedented event.  But CORE pressed on with the mayor’s office and a Human Rights Commission was formed that put forth an open housing ordinance with penalties for discrimination. In 1964 Seattle voters killed it by a margin of two to one.

Segregated schools became another target. After negotiations with the Seattle School District did not produce desired results, another one of CORE’s unique approaches to the problem was designed. In 1966 they organized a school boycott that attracted more than 3,000 students to attend a Freedom School for two days.  Both black and white students skipped school to attend.  The School District responded by paying for transportation in the Voluntary Transfer Program, hiring more black administrators, updating the curriculum, and giving sensitivity training for teachers.

Without bitterness the authors chronicle the emergence of black power and the demise of CORE as an interracial organization. After a national conference in 1967, an amendment was passed which precluded an interracial involvement.  The all-black Seattle chapter dissolved in 1968.

Much credit is given to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Seattle Urban League (Now the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle), black churches, and religious groups including the Unitarian, Lutheran, and Catholic for their cooperation and support. The names of local civil rights leaders are peppered throughout the book because of their common goal. Citizens of the rank and file are also highlighted in the ways they contributed in often unglamorous work.

Interviews with former members and archival material from deceased members James Washington Jr., Don Matson, and Frances White provided primary data.  Noteworthy are the photographs throughout, which graphically portray the tense yet invigorating time of those seven years of racial struggle.

Appendixes include “Seattle’s Freedom Patrol” by Sue Gottfried; “Memories of a Freedom Rider” by Ray Cooper; Biographical Sketches of Selected CORE activists; Seattle CORE Members and Active Supporters.

The four authors deserve credit for their vision and their dedication to documenting an important time in Seattle’s history.   The book makes fine reading for those old enough to remember those times and for younger readers who are not aware of what Seattle was like before the civil rights movement.

--Mary T. Henry, July 23,  2011    

Submitted: 7/23/2011

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