Hip Hop History, Creativity, and Diversity Celebrated at Washington Hall

November 28, 2014 ~ The timing was perfect as earlier this month Governor Jay Inslee proclaimed November as Washington State Hip Hop History Month; following the lead of Mayor McGinn and the Seattle City Council who in 2010 proclaimed November Hip Hop History Month in Seattle.

Washington Hall celebrated Hip Hop History with an all-star performance line-up of Seattle’s biggest names in rap music; along with some of the nation’s top break-dancers sharing the stage. Musical artists participating in a freestyle open-mic “cypher” included platinum selling artist E-Dawg, along with city favorites Suntonio Bandanaz, B-Ragg, Sammy Tekle, Ernesto Iraheta, and more!

David Toledo Studio Narvaez Clayton Bragg
B-Ragg on the mic with David Toledo and Pablo D in back.


On stage were DJ’s Able Fader, Cues, Sureal, and A.C. who kept the place rocking from start to finish.

DJ Sureal
Tamao George Yasutake aka DJ Sureal

There was a delicious potluck buffet and a toy drive to help the B.U.I.L.D. Seattle Christmas giving-tree.

The event was sponsored by 206 Zulu, Seattle City Breakers, Unified Outreach, and Studio Narvaez, in partnership with 4Culture and Rane. It was organized by Nathan (SireOne) Hivick and hosted by the North City Rockers Ernesto Iraheta and Pele’ Ross, along with the fabled Specs Wizard.

The event will be the last break-dance celebration at Washington Hall for the next nine months as the facility begins to undergo renovations to restore the historic building and the install a new elevator; allowing special needs and wheel-chair bound visitors to enjoy the facility without limitations.

The elevator installation will be a blessing to special-needs artists with limited mobility, such as 206 Zulu founder and President Danny (King Khazm) Kogita who has been in a wheelchair since childhood. Also other artists such as Clayton (B-Ragg aka C-Dogg) Bragg who has limited mobility due to cerebral-palsy.

Clayton Bragg and E Dawg
Edawg and Clayton (B-Ragg) Bragg

Clayton is a rapper from Lynwood, Washington who as has a video channel on YouTube which provides regular album reviews for NW CD releases. Clayton has been spending time in the studio and is expecting his album out in early 2015. It was after reviewing the E-Dawg CD “How Long” that Clayton was contacted with a special invitation to attend the November 28th performance as E-Dawg was headlining the event.

David Toledo (Unified Outreach) made all arrangements and acted as Clayton’s personal assistant throughout the evening; physically carrying the artist up 3 flights of steps to the performance hall and making sure that Clayton had full access to E-Dawg and the other artists as well as great seating for all performances.

“It was great having B-Ragg attend the event. He’s doing a lot with his video blog and he’s hard at work in the studio. The crowd really enjoyed hearing him rap tonight; and with his own album coming out we believe that one day he’ll be headlining one of the shows.” David Toledo said.

Clayton Bragg David Toledo E Dawg
E-Dawg, B-Ragg, and David Toledo

Clayton said he really enjoyed the show and is especially excited about the people he was able to meet in person including E-Dawg, Seattle City Breaker’s founder Carolos (Slam) Barrientes, King Khazm, and most importantly DJ Sire One and Pablo D who occasionally act as guest hosts on Boom Box Radio; a Everett-based rap program that broadcasts on Friday nights at 10pm on station KSER 90.7 Fm. Clayton is looking forward to having his new album break on the show.

The event was also attended by a bevy of local celebrities including Georgio Brown from Coolout Tv and Dave (Pablo D) from Studio Narvaez; the two partnered in October for a Hip Hop Celebration at the Experience Music Project (EMP). Also attending were TYRONE “the Working Class Hero” Dumas, members of the North City Rockers, the Vicious Puppies, Massive Monkees, Seattle City Breakers, Circle of Fire, and other famous groups.

Sammy Tekle Vicious Puppies
Breakdancer and MC Sammy Tekle

Highlights of the night were an all-girl breakdance cypher which saw the return of Seattle’s old school b-girls Amber Jamieson and Jojo Tabora-Dyckhoff to the dance floor; as well as a “Seniors Classic” which featured “Seattle’s first b-boy” Junior Alefaio.

Judges for the night included the incredible Rigo Jones, Seattle City Breakers founding father Carlos “Slam” Barrientes, and consummate b-boy Rafael Contreras.

Donte Almenzor Junior Alefaio David Toledo Carlos Barrientes Raphael Contreras Robert Farrell
Old School Icon’s: (L-R) David Toledo, Donte Almenzor, Carlos Barrientes, Junior Alefaio, Raphael Contreras, Robert Farrell

Wrapping up the evenings events Sam “Preach” Dumas, founder of the (Masters of the Prep aka Party People in Action dance crew) issued a challenge to 1980’s dance rivals “the Ducky Boys” to meet at the same time next year for a “prep only” dance off; reviving a rivalry that goes back to 1985 and the Seattle Bandstand television show.   Will the Ducky Boys accept the challenge? We’ll know in exactly 12 months!

With construction estimated to take 9 months the event organizers hope that everything will be ready in time for the 2015 Hip Hop History Month celebration. Next year’s event promises to be on for the ages!

2015 JP Scratches

Story and photos may be reprinted in their entirety.

From Memphis and Mogadishu: The History of African Americans in Martin Luther King County, Washington, 1858-2014

by Daudi Abi

First published at: http://www.blackpast.org

In the extended article that appears below historians Daudi Abe and Quintard Taylor explore the history of African Americans in Martin Luther King County from 1858 to 2014. They analyze the forces which encouraged people of African ancestry to settle in the county and discuss the rapid political, social, and economic changes that its black residents have faced since the first arrival, Manuel Lopes, came to the county in 1858.

With 119,801 people of African ancestry in a total population of 1,931,249 people, Martin Luther King, Jr. County is the most populous county in the state of Washington and is home to 29% of the state’s inhabitants and half of Washington’s black population. It is also the only county in the United States named after the 20th Century civil rights icon.

Martin Luther King County, which is twice the size of Rhode Island, extends roughly 66 miles west from the Cascade Mountains to Puget Sound and 46 miles from its northern to southern limits. It was created on December 22, 1852, by the Oregon Territorial Assembly and thirty-six years later it was part of the state of Washington which entered the Union as the 42nd state on November 11, 1889.

The history of African Americans in King County began with the arrival of Manuel Lopes in Seattle in 1858. Lopes became the first barber in a town of 182 non-Indian inhabitants. He was followed by William Grose (Gross), in 1861. Grose also opened a restaurant and hotel, called “Our House,” located on the Seattle waterfront. Eventually he added a barbershop as well. Grose’s hotel was destroyed in the Seattle Fire of 1889 but during the same period he settled on a piece of land near what is now 23rd Avenue and Union Street in Northeast Seattle, which became the center of settlement for the county’s earliest black middle class residents.

The handful of African American settlers like Lopes and Grose who first came to King County in the second half of the 19th Century were drawn by the region’s “free air,” meaning the absence of the most blatant policies and practices of racial discrimination that were a part of everyday life for blacks in the South. African American men, for example, routinely participated in civic life of the county at a time when voting prohibitions and terrorist tactics drove post-Reconstruction-era African Americans away from the polls in other regions of the country. Washington’s African American men voted throughout the Territorial period and the Washington Territorial Suffrage Act of 1883 briefly made it possible for black women to cast ballots until women’s suffrage was struck down by the Territorial Supreme Court in 1887.

By 1880 King County’s black population reached 34 individuals. Male pioneers were lured to the area by opportunities in construction, farming, and coal mining while women frequently worked as domestic servants or owned small boarding houses or stores.

In 1883, John and Mary Conna, formerly of Kansas City, Missouri, settled on 157 acres near what is now Federal Way, Washington in the southwestern part of the county. Conna, a Civil War veteran, became the first black political appointee in the Washington Territory when Republican Party leaders made him Assistant Sergeant at Arms of the 1889 Washington Territorial House of Representatives.

In 1886 black residents of Seattle established the earliest African American church in the territory, First African Methodist Episcopal or First AME Church. The second major black church, Mount Zion Baptist, was founded in 1894. Early area residents included Robert O. Lee who arrived in Seattle in 1889 and became the first practicing African American lawyer in King County. In 1895 John Edward Hawkins, who worked as a barber in Seattle while studying law at night, became the first locally trained black lawyer admitted to the King County Bar. In 1890 Isaac W. Austin, a former police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, became the first black officer appointed to the Seattle police force.

Political history was made in 1892 when Seaborn Collins faced John A. Coleman in a public election for the position of wreckmaster, the person responsible for the removal of accumulated timber on the waterfront. Coleman was the first black Democrat nominated for office in King County, and Collins held the similar position with the Republican Party.In the election Collins easily defeated Coleman to become Seattle’s first black elected official.The contest was also Seattle’s first city election that pitted two African American candidates from opposing political parties against each other for the same post.

Although Seattle already had the largest black population in King County, a smaller concentration of African Americans formed in the coal mining towns of Newcastle, Franklin, and Black Diamond in the 1890s. African Americans were introduced into the Cascade Foothill Coal Mines as strikebreakers in 1891, a development that led to tension with the striking white miners and their families. By 1904 however these miners, recognizing their common interests, came together with white miners to form United Mine Workers (UMW), District 10, one of the first racially integrated local unions in the United States.

Some of the African Americans who first lived and worked in Newcastle, Black Diamond, and Franklin began to move into Renton, a small community about half way between the coal mining towns and Seattle. Sometime before 1910, James I. Smith settled in what is now the Hilltop area of Renton.He built a house and eventually added a smoke house, chicken house, and a garage.The ability of blacks to buy property in Renton and the apparently hospitable surrounding environment was enough for Smith’s brother, Dougherty, to purchase five acres in the same area a short time later.

Renton soon became a popular residential area for African American miners who worked in Newcastle. Considered the country by some, this area also represented an escape from what a few black Seattleites saw as the urban ills of the rapidly growing city on Elliott Bay. Other black miners and their families in other central Washington coal towns, such as Powell Barnett of Roslyn or their descendants, eventually migrated directly to Seattle as coal mining in the state declined in the 1920s.

Horace Cayton and his wife, Susie Revels Cayton, would become the most successful of the early 20th Century African Americans in King County. Horace Cayton, born the mixed-race son of a slave woman and white man in Mississippi, came to Seattle in 1889. Cayton married Susie Revels, the daughter of Mississippi Senator Hiram Revels, the first African American to serve in the United States Senate. Horace Cayton worked for a time as a political reporter at the city’s largest newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before founding in 1894 the Seattle Republican, which became one of the most successful black-owned newspapers in the state’s history. Horace and Susie Cayton managed the Republican until its demise in 1913.

While the Caytons were by far the most prominent African American family in Seattle at the beginning of the 20th Century, by 1900 other pioneer black families had established themselves in King County including John T. Gayton of Mississippi who arrived in 1888, Lloyd and Emma Ray from Kansas, and Thomas and Margaret Collins from Georgia who all arrived in 1889. After retiring from the United States Army, Dr. Samuel Burdett, a veterinarian, and his family arrived in 1890. In 1891 John and Mary Cragwell came from Washington, D.C., followed later that year by former Arkansas state legislator Conrad Rideout and his family.

After losing his barbershop in the Seattle fire of 1889 William Scott and his wife Pauline moved southeast and became the first black residents of Kent.From their property the Scotts sold timber, leased roads that crossed their land to lumber companies, and operated a successful truck farm which sold to commission houses in Seattle.

King County’s small African American community of 603 people in 1900 also included members of the U.S. Army’s 9th Cavalry, popularly known as the Buffalo Soldiers. These black soldiers were stationed at Fort Lawton in what is now Discovery Park in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood. From there they were sent to the Philippines to suppress the insurgents who first fought the Spanish and then challenged the Americans who now occupied the Islands. One soldier, Frank Jenkins, married a Filipina, Rufina Clemente, and settled in Seattle prompting the Filipino community to trace its history to their descendants.

Between 1900 and 1910 the number of blacks in King County grew from 603 to 2,487, a 312% increase. The vast majority of them settled in Seattle and a stable community was beginning to emerge. The growing numbers of black women were a major reason for that stability. Black women now played central roles in the two oldest churches, First AME and Mt. Zion Baptist. In 1906 Letitia Graves, wife of a Kansas stonemason who came with her husband to Seattle in 1884, created the Dorcus Charity Club along with Susie Revels Cayton, Alice S. Presto, and Hester Ray. The Club emerged as one of the top pre-World War II African American philanthropic organizations in Seattle. Graves was also the founder and first president of the Seattle branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was created in 1913.

Lodie Biggs, a bacteriologist, was one of the few professional black women in King County at that time. She was also a political activist who along with local attorney Clarence Anderson and newspaper editor William Wilson, reactivated the Seattle NAACP in 1928. Two years later Biggs founded the Seattle Urban League and served on its first Board of Directors.

Despite the integration of the United Mine Workers in 1904, most African American workers remained excluded from King County labor unions for the first three decades in the 20th Century. An important breakthrough came in 1934 when, following a bitter maritime strike that shut down the Seattle waterfront, members of the Colored Marine Employees Benevolent Association (CMEBA) and the all-white Marine Cooks and Stewards Association of the Pacific (MCSAP) merged into a single union. The same strike resulted in the integration of the International Longshoreman’s and Warehouseman’s Union (ILWU) as well. The 83-day strike created for the first time an interracial, all-union Seattle waterfront. Labor union discrimination against African Americans would continue through the late 1960s but the strike of 1934 clearly shifted the momentum toward interracial unionism.

By the 1930s King County blacks created a leisure culture centered on music and sports. Black musicians and performers, dating back to Bertram Philander Ross Hendrix and Zenora Moore, the grandparents of Jimi Hendrix, ushered in a musical scene that in the 1920s included local acts like the Edythe Turnham Orchestra, Oscar Holden, and the Black and Tan Jazz Orchestra. These musicians mostly played on Jackson Street and the south end of downtown at venues like the 908 Club and the Black and Tan nightclub. As one observer recalled, “you could see almost as many people at 12th and Jackson at midnight as you’d see on 3rd and Union (the center of downtown Seattle) in midday.” While the statement was an exaggeration, it also signaled the popularity of jazz music among whites as well as blacks. In fact Seattle’s mostly black jazz musicians often played in Asian American-owned clubs which in turn introduced them to a trans-Pacific jazz circuit that eventually included Shanghai, China and Manila, The Philippines.

King County blacks also supported semi-professional football teams such as the Ubangi Blackhawks and baseball teams like the Seattle Royal (American) Giants. In 1937 the Blackhawks won the City Football Championship, and in 1938 the Giants won the comparable baseball title. In addition the Owls, Seattle’s black women’s softball team, won the state championship. These games became community events at Garfield Park, drawing crowds as large as 3,500 people. Much like their counterparts across the Northern states, these teams were often owned or financially backed by nightclub owners such as Russell “Noodles” Smith. Unlike the jazz musicians, they rarely played beyond the Pacific Northwest but they did entertain hundreds of black Seattleites on Sunday afternoons.

All of King County underwent a dramatic change during World War II. Seattle ranked third in the nation behind Detroit, Michigan and Los Angeles, California in the value of defense contracts from the Federal government between 1941 and 1945 and thus became a major defense production center. For African Americans this designation meant a time of unprecedented migration and opportunity. The population figures reflect that enormous change. In 1940 King County had 4,038 African Americans. Ten years later the black population reached 16,733, a 314% increase.

Most of these migrants came because of newly created work opportunities. Those opportunities evolved from two parallel developments: worker shortages and President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802, which banned racial discrimination in defense plants with government contracts.That meant the Boeing Airplane Company and other local firms such as Pacific Car and Foundry in Renton began to hire black workers for the first time.

As the largest employer in the Pacific Northwest, Boeing was the focal point for hiring. Under pressure from some within Local 751 of the Aero Mechanics Union, an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), and black-led organizations outside the aircraft maker such as the Committee for the Defense of Negro Labor’s Right to Work at Boeing Airplane Company, Boeing agreed to take on black workers to help it meet its contract to supply thousands of bombers and other aircraft for the war effort. First hired was Florise Spearman, a stenographer who became an office worker in January 1942. Four months later Dorothy West Williams, a sheet metal worker, became both the first African American production worker at Boeing and the first black member of Local 751. By the end of the war in 1945, Boeing had hired 1,600 black workers, the vast majority of them women.

World War II also brought more complex racial dynamics to King County. African Americans still faced housing discrimination and in fact the influx of black newcomers intensified the concentration of African Americans in Seattle’s Central District, already by 1940 the home of the vast majority of blacks in the county. Racial friction intensified on city streets as Southern-born blacks often clashed with both white southerners who had also moved to Seattle in search of defense work, and local whites who were not accustomed to seeing large numbers of African Americans in the city. Tensions also emerged within the local black community between “old timers,” as the pre-World War II black residents were called, and the migrants. Eventually the local black churches set up the Committee for Tolerance which reduced some of the tension. The Christian Friends for Racial Equality, a Seattle-based multi-racial organization, also helped reduce interracial tensions and promoted civil rights for African Americans.

Partly because of these organizations the single worst incident of racial conflict during the World War II era happened not among civilians but at Fort Lawton in Northwest Seattle. On the night of August 14, 1944, several dozen black soldiers rioted at the military facility. During the confrontation an Italian prisoner of war, Guglielmo Olivotto, was lynched.Newspaper reports blamed the uprising on African American soldiers’ anger over the perception that Italian prisoners of war received better treatment than they did.In fact, the Italian POWs were allowed to visit local taverns that did not admit black military personnel.

The Fort Lawton Riot made national headlines, as did the subsequent court martial that brought up 44 African American soldiers on various charges from riot to murder. Eventually 28 soldiers were convicted, including two for manslaughter. Thirteen soldiers received acquittals, and two had all charges dropped. Following the end of the war several of the soldiers who received longer sentences were granted clemency, but still there were some who wound up serving as many as 25 years. Jack Hamann’s 2005 book On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of World War II led to a reopening of the case by Army investigators.In 2008, with only two of the 28 soldiers still living, all the convictions were overturned, formal apologies and honorable discharges were offered, and families of the soldiers were awarded lost back pay.

Unlike many other areas around the United States that had boomed during the war only to see massive job losses and population declines, the emerging Cold War and the growth of air travel kept Boeing busy making both military and commercial planes into the late 1940s and early 1950s. In fact by 1951 national black news publications such the Chicago Defender called Seattle a “race relations frontier” and ranked it as one of the best cities in the nation for African Americans.It urged eastern blacks to move there.

The larger numbers of African Americans in King County in the 1940s now supported more venues for leisure. On June 1, 1946, the Seattle Steelheads, an all-black professional baseball team played its first game at Sick’s Stadium, located at the corner of McClellan Street and Rainier Avenue. The Steelheads were a part of the West Coast Negro Baseball League owned by Abe Saperstein, who also owned the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.Made up of teams from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Portland, the league had planned to play over 100 games but folded after only two months.

The expanded music scene proved far more enduring. Pre-World War II Seattle had already developed a reputation for its jazz played primarily along Jackson Street. World War II introduced Seattle jazz to a wider audience. It also drew 18-year-old Ray Charles from Tampa, Florida to Seattle in 1948. Charles, who began playing music at age three, lost his sight at age seven to glaucoma. He learned to read and compose music in Braille and mastered several instruments, including the piano, clarinet, and saxophone. In Seattle, Charles made a name for himself playing gigs for diverse audiences at the black Elks Club on Jackson Street, the all-white Seattle Tennis Club, and after-hours establishments such as the Black and Tan Club and the Rocking Chair, where he was eventually discovered and offered a recording contract.Ray Charles would ultimately record more than 60 albums, win 12 Grammy Awards, earn induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and be awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts in 1993.

Quincy Jones, who with his parents had moved from Chicago, Illinois first to Bremerton, Washington and then Seattle in 1943, gained his first musical experience doing gigs and writing arrangements while still at Garfield High School. As a teenager he played backup for some of the biggest names in music, including Louis Jordan, Billie Holliday, and Nat King Cole when they performed in Seattle during the post-war years. Jones’ big break came in 1950, shortly after he graduated from Garfield. With jazz great Lionel Hampton in town for a show, Jones was able to pass along one of his musical compositions to the famous bandleader. After his show, Hampton tracked him down and asked Jones to join his band. Jones accepted and over the next four decades he received 27 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and an Emmy Award. He also produced Michael Jackson’s album Thriller (1982), which is acknowledged as the highest selling album of all time.

It was also during the World War II years that one of black King County’s most incredible musical talents came into the world. Born in Seattle in 1942, Jimi Hendrix came of musical age in the city. In 1957, for example, at the age of 15 he was already playing guitar in a jazz combo led by Robert “Bumps” Blackwell which also featured a slightly older Quincy Jones. Hendrix left Seattle in 1961 after enlisting in the United States Army. Following an honorable discharge he lived briefly in Clarksville, Tennessee before moving to London, England, where his career took off. After scoring hits in the United Kingdom, Hendrix reached number one in the U.S. with his album Electric Ladyland (1968).

As the world’s highest paid performer at the time, Hendrix headlined the Woodstock Festival in upstate New York in August 1969 where he debuted his ground-breaking electric guitar rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Already known among rock musicians and their fans, Woodstock introduced Hendrix to a world-wide audience. Widely acknowledged as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Jimi Hendrix died in London of a drug overdose on September 17, 1970 at age 27, just over a year after his performance at Woodstock.His body was flown back to Seattle, where the Hendrix family still resided, and buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Renton.

The large numbers of black women who arrived in King County during and after World War II found a number of new opportunities with Boeing and other wartime manufacturers although many of them continued to work as cooks, nursing aides, or laundresses. Following the war King County’s relatively tolerant climate allowed for a growing number of businesses owned by black women, which included restaurants, night clubs, and more often beauty salons.

Two areas, nursing and education, offered early professional alternatives for post-war black King County women. By 1949 13 black female nurses worked in Seattle with most of them at Harborview Hospital. Most were members of the Mary Mahoney Registered Nurses’ Club (MMRNC) in Seattle. Named after the first African American female registered nurse in United States history, the organization provided scholarships to young women pursuing careers in nursing.

Seattle Public Schools were another place that offered professional options for black women. In 1947 Thelma Dewitty was the first black teacher hired to teach in Seattle’s public schools.One year later six black teachers, all women, worked at a number of elementary schools including Cooper, Horace Mann, Hawthorne, Summit, and Gatewood.

The post-1945 period in King County saw a number of other African American firsts. John Prim, a 1941 graduate of the University of Washington Law School, was appointed the first judge pro tem in King County in 1954, and Charles Stokes became the first African American elected to the Washington state legislature from King County.

Born in 1903 in Pratt, Kansas, Charles Stokes graduated from University of Kansas School of Law in 1931. When he moved his law practice to King County in 1943 there were fewer than five black lawyers in the entire state of Washington. In 1950 Stokes ran for the Washington State Legislature representing the 37th District in Seattle.When he won he became the first African American from King County elected to serve in Olympia, and only the third in Washington state history.He was re-elected twice, in 1952 and 1956. A lifelong Republican, Stokes spoke at the 1952 Republican National Convention in Chicago that nominated World War II hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower for President.

After he lost his seat to black Democrat Sam Smith in 1958, Stokes remained active in the community, helping to form Seattle’s first black owned radio station, KZAM, as well as the state’s first black owned bank, Liberty Bank.Stokes also continued a successful law practice and in 1968 he became the first African American judge appointed to the King County District Court.

During the post-World War II period and into the 1950s black civil rights organizations in King County became increasingly active in the struggle for racial equality. The Urban League of Seattle took a conservative approach which entailed negotiating with white business leaders to employ individual black workers. It was able to get jobs for African Americans in local retail stores, banks, and breweries for the first time. The Seattle branch of the NAACP was more confrontational; it initiated legal challenges to public accommodation discrimination and took on prisoner’s rights cases. In addition several members of the Washington State Board Against Discrimination (WSBAD) such as Ola Browning, Roberta Byrd, and Calvin Johnson, were active in both the Urban League and NAACP during the 1950s.

Unlike other west coast cities such as Portland, San Francisco, or Oakland which saw their post-war black populations stabilize or (in the case of Portland) decline, King County’s African American communities continued to grow rapidly, helped by the expanding economy in the region. With so many black newcomers arriving, fair housing and public accommodations became increasingly contentious issues in King County. In fact anti-discrimination legislation, enacted by the state legislature, was challenged in King County Court. In 1957 housing discrimination was declared illegal when the state legislature passed the Omnibus Civil Rights Act. This law, unusually progressive for its time, was undercut two years later by King County Superior Court Judge James Hodson in the case of O’Meara v. Washington State Board Against Discrimination. Hodson stated that while he recognized the “evils” of racial discrimination, the rights of owners of private property to deal with whomever they chose came first.Hodson’s ruling was subsequently upheld in both the Washington State Supreme Court as well as the United States Supreme Court.

Civil rights issues in the 1950s were a prelude to the explosion in activity among King County blacks and their supporters in the 1960s. However distant King County may have appeared from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, it would quickly become part of that movement. As Rev. John Adams remarked, by 1963, “the Civil Rights Movement had finally leaped the Cascade Mountains.” Although blacks had been voters in Washington for almost a century and thus did not have to struggle for the ballot as did their counterparts in the Deep South, African Americans in King County faced three interrelated issues: job discrimination, housing discrimination, and de facto school segregation which collectively held back their educational and economic progress.Knowing this, King County blacks used the tools of direct action already employed in the South to challenge each issue.

At the beginning of the 1960s, the two major civil rights organizations in King County were the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (founded in 1913) and the National Urban League (founded in 1930). These local branches of their respective national organizations had engaged in limited and sporadic challenges to the various types of discrimination faced by King County blacks in the first five decades of the 20th Century.

As the Civil Rights movement began to gain momentum both nationally and locally, more groups began to appear that could capitalize on this momentum. One of these was the Seattle chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) which was originally founded in 1942 in Chicago, Illinois.Ken Rose, Ray Cooper, Norman Johnson, and Ed and Joan Singler were instrumental in establishing CORE’s presence in Seattle in 1961.Ray Williams was the group’s first chair, with Ed Singler serving as vice-chair.

Multiracial in membership and nonviolent in its approach, CORE’s Seattle chapter developed a reputation as one of the most effective in the country.Beginning in October of 1961, CORE targeted supermarkets around the city and retail establishments in downtown Seattle that were known for engaging in racist employment policies.The group selected supermarkets like Safeway and A & P for what were known as selective buying campaigns, which encouraged black patrons and their allies to boycott stores that refused to hire African Americans.One particularly contentious tactic was the “shop-in,” where activists filled shopping carts full of goods, went through checkout lines, and then abandoned the carts without paying.

After CORE’s successful efforts against grocery stores, downtown businesses such as Nordstrom and J.C. Penney now faced protests and picket lines over discriminatory hiring practices, including a march on the Bon Marché (now Macy’s) that attracted over 1,000 people in 1963. Eventually known as the Drive for Equal Employment in Downtown Seattle (DEEDS), CORE led a four month boycott of downtown stores when business leaders ignored a DEEDS report that highlighted discriminatory hiring practices and outlined solutions. These direct action protests were credited with helping to create hundreds of job opportunities for African Americans in Seattle’s downtown retail core throughout the 1960s. As a consequence of this campaign, Nordstrom, became the first major retailer in the nation to create a voluntary affirmative action program.

The Civil Rights movement in King County was powerful enough to attract a visit from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who arrived on November 8, 1961. King was invited to participate in a lecture series sponsored by Mount Zion Baptist Church and its pastor, the Reverend Samuel B. McKinney who was a classmate and friend of King from their days together at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. On his only visit to the Seattle area, King gave four speeches in two days. On Thursday, November 9th he spoke at the University of Washington and Temple De Hirsch Sinai, and on Friday, November 10th at Garfield High School and the Eagles Auditorium, now the ACT Theater.

Throughout the 1960s the focus of many King County civil rights organizations was fighting housing discrimination. Like their counterparts across the nation, housing activists took on a process that involved individual discrimination, restrictive covenants maintained by neighborhood associations, and “redlining.” With redlining, the Federal government itself through policies of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), actively encouraged disinvestment in black or mixed-race neighborhoods by discouraging loans in those areas by banks, savings and loan associations, and other financial institutions.

While local organizations may not have recognized the relationship between all three forms of discrimination, they understood that African Americans throughout King County could not live in neighborhoods of their choice regardless of their financial resources. They vowed to bring that exclusion to a halt. Their goal was the enactment of anti-discrimination laws or ordinances across the county that would create what they called open housing, or the right of individuals to live where they wished regardless of their race.

After a citizen’s advisory committee, appointed by Seattle Mayor Gordon Clinton, recommended a citywide open housing ordinance for Seattle in 1962, the Mayor and the City Council refused to act on the measure for over a year. In response Reverend Samuel McKinney and Reverend Mance Jackson led 400 marchers from Mount Zion Baptist Church to City Hall on July 1, 1963.

Embracing the civil disobedience tactics that were already occurring across the nation, 35 members of an interracial organization called the Central District Youth Club broke off from the march and staged Seattle’s first sit-in when they occupied the mayor’s office for 24 hours. This was followed up on July 20th by a 300 person sit-in at the chambers of the City Council, which resulted in the arrest of 23 protesters.Coinciding with the 250,000 person March on Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963, over 1,000 people marched from the First AME Church to the Federal Courthouse in downtown Seattle to protest a number of grievances including housing discrimination.

The pressure brought by these demonstrations continued to mount until the City Council enacted Seattle’s first open housing ordinance at its meeting on October 25, 1963, which made housing discrimination a misdemeanor and a finable offense.Open housing opponents, however, drafted a petition and were able to gather enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot for a citywide referendum in March of 1964, where it was rejected by a more than two to one margin.

Open housing advocates refused to give up. They continued to stage protests and over time gathered increasing support for their cause. Meanwhile the efforts of individuals such as Sidney Gerber, a builder who insisted that the housing he constructed in the city and its suburbs be open to all, and efforts like the Seattle Urban League’s Operation Equity, opened housing to African Americans throughout the county.

Over time their efforts persuaded others to support residential integration. By early 1968, 30,000 King County residents mostly outside the city of Seattle signed open housing petitions indicating that they would welcome black neighbors. Those petitions, as much as any action taken by local governments, signaled an increasing acceptance of African American neighbors in many areas of the county. On April 19, 1968, 15 days after the Dr. Martin Luther King assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, the Seattle City Council passed an open housing ordinance sponsored by City Councilman Sam Smith but now endorsed by a broad range of organizations across the city.

The growing call for open housing touched areas of King County outside Seattle. In 1962 a Boeing chemist named Harold Booker attempted to purchase a home for his growing family in Federal Way.Most Federal Way real estate agents refused to do business with African Americans, and Booker was able to build his own home only when a white colleague at Boeing deeded him a piece of land.Following a racist experience when his family visited a local swimming pool, Booker started the Federal Way Human Rights Committee (FWHRC), a mostly white group, in 1963 that focused on eliminating racist housing policies.The FWHRC called for action on the issue from the King County Council and actively recruited African Americans to come and live in Federal Way.

De facto school desegregation (racial isolation despite the absence of formal segregation laws or public officials who openly supported racial separation), proved the most difficult issue facing King County blacks and the only one that lasted long after the end of the 1960s. The roots of the conflict could be traced to World War II. Although Washington had been one of the few states in the nation to enter the Union in 1889 with a constitution that barred racial segregation in public schools, the overwhelming concentration of African Americans in Seattle’s Central District beginning in World War II and continuing through the 1950s ensured that schools would be racially segregated. In 1950 none of Seattle’s elementary and secondary schools were predominantly black. The first enrollment census of Seattle public schools in 1957, however, showed that while only 5% of the city’s 91,782 students were black, nine elementary schools, eight of which were in the Central District, contained 81% of all elementary age black students in the city. By 1962 Garfield had become the first predominantly black high school in the state’s history.

Seattle’s educational establishment at the time refused to take responsibility for the growing isolation of black children in the city’s public schools. School leaders argued with some justification that housing patterns over which they had no control created this de facto segregation. Henry B. Owen, Seattle School Board President in 1954, the year of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, spoke for the board and much of Seattle when he said, “Our feeling at the time was that it was not our fault that the schools were segregated.”

For King County civil rights leaders such an answer was unacceptable. Quality education, which they equated with racially integrated education, became their exclusive goal. They and civil rights leaders across the nation, as well as most African Americans at the time, believed that while it was important to challenge all forms of discrimination, improving education for black children was the key to economic and social advancement for individual and group progress. Thus it is no surprise that they invested heavily in the campaign to end de facto school segregation. CORE chairman Walter Hundley expressed the fear of many black King County leaders when he said, “We know the consequences when Negroes are forced to go to school together in their penned up sections of the city. They learn to hate.”

In the early 1960s at least, Seattle civil rights leaders seemed to have allies on the Seattle School Board. On August 28, 1963, the day of the March on Washington, D.C, where 250,000 people gathered at the nation’s capital to demand Congress pass the stalled Civil Rights bill, and where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would deliver his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, the Seattle Public School District became the first major school system in the nation to voluntarily adopt a citywide school desegregation program.

Over time, questions around integrating schools in Seattle and other King County cities became layered and complex as the issue evolved. The initial narrative that school integration was the best way to ensure equal educational opportunities for all children would eventually be challenged within the local African American community. In 1963, however, the civil rights establishment and most people who considered themselves racial progressives, regardless of their race, embraced the idea that Seattle schools must be racially integrated as that process would be the only way to assure quality education for black students.

That civil rights establishment was in place by 1963 and represented one of the few examples in the nation of a unified movement committed to a single set of tactics and goals. In 1963 a group of high profile leaders from the major civil rights organizations formed the Central Area Civil Rights Committee (CACRC). Its membership included Edwin Pratt of the Urban League, Walter Hundley of CORE, Seattle NAACP branch president E. June Smith, and former branch president Charles Johnson as well as ministers such as Reverends Mance Jackson of Cherry Hill Baptist Church, Samuel McKinney of Mount Zion Baptist Church, and John H. Adams of First AME Church. These leaders, all middle-class reformers committed to racial integration not only in the Seattle schools but in every aspect of community life, spoke with a single voice on local civil rights issues.

With the exception of E. June Smith, the civil rights leadership in King County was all male. That apparent fact, however, obscures the crucial role of hundreds of black women in other roles including as front-line demonstrators. Bettylou Valentine, for example, was a member of CORE and responsible for the organization’s public relations and advertising. Seattle native Freddie Mae Gautier marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the South but also played a supporting role in the local challenge to discrimination. Later she became a political activist who organized black voters while helping a growing number of African American politicians win elective office. Her work helped ensure that the civil rights gains of the 1960s would be permanently ensconced in legislation.

In 1964 CACRC seized an opportunity to push the issue of de facto segregation by focusing on Horace Mann School in the Central District.The school, which was 97% black at the time, was housed in a crumbling building scheduled for demolition.For CACRC, this seemed the perfect opportunity to push for closure of Horace Mann so that its black students could be distributed to other schools around the city, thus encouraging racial integration.The NAACP went even further, calling not only for the closure of Horace Mann, but Washington Middle School, and Garfield High School as well since all were predominantly African American.

By 1965 neighborhood activists like Isaiah Edwards and Gertrude Dupree, as well as many working class African Americans, began to push back as they realized actual implementation of this type of school integration would put a disproportionate burden on African American children who would be bussed far from home. Those in favor of integrated education held the view that every segregated school represented a substandard educational experience. Edwards, Dupree and others who supported them, saw value in places like Horace Mann and Garfield High School. The opposing views of African Americans in this debate encapsulated the “integrationist” vs. “black power” approach that would eventually play out both in King County and on a national stage.

In the spring of 1966 the integrationists garnered their last major victory in the evolving conflict. In the face of CACRC demands for the closing of black neighborhood schools and the mandatory busing of African American students to predominantly white schools in distant neighborhoods, the Seattle School Board hesitated. CACRC responded by calling for a school boycott to demonstrate African American unhappiness with what it saw as delay tactics on the part of the school board. CACRC member E. June Smith was the driving force behind the student boycott.

The boycott took place on Thursday, March 31 and Friday, April 1, 1966 and included some 3,000 black students mostly from Central District schools as well as 1,000 white and Asian children from schools all over the city. Instead of attending their regular schools on those days, participating students reported to “Freedom” schools, which had been set up at various churches and community centers in the Central District to support the boycott. Over 500 children showed up at Mount Zion Baptist Church. At the Freedom schools most students sat in an integrated classroom for the first time while they studied African American history, arts, music and crafts, Native American culture, and the reasons for and meaning of the boycott.The scale of participation surprised even the boycott’s organizers, and revealed impressive levels of white and Asian support for school desegregation.

Despite this support, there was growing distance between those who believed in integration and those who supported what was now called “black power.” While there had always been some opposition to CACRC leadership over school integration and other civil rights issues coming from a variety of voices ranging from Edwards and Dupree to the Nation of Islam which first appeared in Seattle in 1961, that opposition now galvanized behind the slogan and quickly evolving ideology of black power which was first articulated publicly by Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) chair Stokely Carmichael.

During the March Against Fear which was hastily organized in Mississippi following the attempted assassination of James Meredith, who in 1962 had become the first African American student to attend the University of Mississippi, Carmichael openly feuded with Dr. Martin Luther King as they led civil rights protestors down the route Meredith had vowed to follow.On June 16, 1966 in Greenwood, Mississippi Carmichael gave a speech which stated his organization’s intent to move from racial integration as a goal toward instead organizing the latent economic and political power of working class African Americans.He ended his speech with the question, “What do we want?” which was followed by the crowd’s response, “Black Power!”That speech forever changed the discussion about the goals of the civil rights movement and brought into question whether such a movement should continue to exist.Its impact reverberated across the United States and soon enveloped the King County black community.

In this highly charged atmosphere Stokely Carmichael came to speak in Seattle on April 19, 1967. He gave speeches at the University of Washington and Garfield High School where an estimated 4,000 people heard his address. Those speeches resonated with younger African Americans including University of Washington student-activists Larry Gossett and Aaron Dixon (as well many white and Asian high school and college students). Carmichael was bold and unapologetic as he attacked integrationists, institutionalized racism, and the white press while encouraging Seattle blacks to “take control” of their community and their destiny.

Supporters of racial integration seemed dismayed and isolated as Carmichael’s sentiments were quickly embraced by the vast majority of young people, the very group that had supplied the support troops for civil rights protests in King County over the past seven years. In King County as elsewhere the term “negro” was suddenly replaced by “black,” not only in speech but in thought as well. Meanwhile CACRC no longer served as the undisputed leadership voice for black King County after Carmichael’s visit. The issue that had promoted the local split between integrationists and black power advocates, how to ensure quality education for African American students, would continue to be one of the most contentious in King County, and the nation, for decades to come.

As the civil rights movement unfolded across King County, African American political influence expanded dramatically.Much of this expansion reflects both local and national trends evolving from direct action challenges to racial discrimination.Black voters became more politically active because of these challenges and in King County at least, white and Asian voters were increasingly willing to cast ballots for black candidates for political office.That change was first evident in the city-wide election of Sam Smith in 1967 to the Seattle City Council where he became the first African American to serve on that body.

Sam Smith was a state legislator who lost to and then defeated the incumbent Republican Charles Stokes, in successive elections in 1956 and 1958. Born in Louisiana, Smith first came to Seattle in 1942 while serving in World War II. After the war he returned to the city, got married, and earned a degree in Economics from the University of Washington. Smith served nine years in Olympia representing the 37th District as the Civil Rights Movement unfolded, and then left the legislature in 1967 to run for the Seattle City Council.Although Smith ran twice for mayor, losing both times in 1969 and 1981, he also served as President of the City Council for eight years.Sam Smith helped lay a foundation for numerous future politicians of color in King County who would follow in his footsteps.

The year 1970 proved a milestone in terms of the number of African Americans winning public office in King County. In addition to Sam Smith, who was already a member of the Seattle City Council, former UW football star George Fleming, a Democrat, became the first black politician elected to the State Senate to represent the 37th District. Also representing the District in the State House of Representatives were Democrat Peggy Maxie and Republican Michael Ross. This was the only time in the history of the 37th District that African Americans occupied all three legislative positions.

Peggy Maxie was the first of a wave of black female officeholders who addressed particular concerns among women. She promoted a legislative agenda which supported childcare, education, tenants’ rights, and greater assistance to welfare mothers. In 1973 she successfully sponsored Washington’s no-fault divorce law, a reform that changed the impact of divorce on all women (and men) in the state of Washington.

The clash between the dominant culture of the era and the new black racial consciousness symbolized by the term black power played out across the nation, and King County was no exception.Numerous episodes reflected that clash but two incidents in 1968 at Franklin High School and the University of Washington stand out both for the attention they received then and for their long term consequences.

The Franklin incident began on March 29, 1968 when word spread that two black female students had been sent home for wearing their hair in an “Afro” style. University of Washington Black Student Union (BSU) members Larry Gossett and Aaron Dixon along with Seattle SNCC chairman Carl Miller arrived at Franklin and led nearly 200 students into the principal’s office with a list of demands. The demands included the addition of black history to the curriculum, the hiring of a black teacher and administrator, and the students’ right to wear hair as they pleased.

While district superintendent Forbes Bottomly quickly agreed to the demands, Gossett, Dixon, and Miller were later arrested and convicted on charges of unlawful assembly.Their sentence of six months in jail spawned an uprising at Garfield High School, where several hundred students had gathered in protest.Six people were arrested following several hours of unrest.

After the charge of unlawful assembly was overturned on appeal, the Washington State Supreme Court reinstated it. However, King County Prosecuting Attorney Charles Carroll decided not to retry the case. The Franklin episode was seen as a victory for the protesting students and their leaders and would usher in numerous other challenges as many black youth rebelled against both the black civil rights establishment and the white “power structure.” The protest at Franklin would be long remembered as the beginning of a new wave of black power activism in King County.

Unknown to school administrators or police, the Black Student Union (BSU) had been founded at the University of Washington in March 1968, only weeks before Gossett, Dixon, and Miller came to the Franklin campus. The three were part of a larger group of black (and a handful of Latino and Native American students) who organized themselves as the BSU to demand changes at the University. Shortly after the BSU formed, they delivered a list of demands to University President Charles Odegaard. The students wanted more aggressive minority recruitment of students, faculty, administrators, and counselors as well as a cultural center on campus. They also called for “adequate” financial support for minority students, a revision of admissions requirements to allow more non-traditional students, e.g., minorities and impoverished whites, and a Black Studies Program. University administration initially rejected these demands.In response 40 BSU members, some of whom ascended by rope up the side of the UW Administration Building, initiated a sit-in at the President’s Office on May 20, 1968.After four hours, the President and Faculty Senate leaders agreed to most of the students’ demands.

Certainly the national situation was one reason for the quick response by University officials, many of whom were sympathetic to their goals.In the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. less than two months before on April 4, 1968, University President Odegaard himself spoke of the need to purge racism from the campus and the society and urged white students to make an extra effort to compensate for past years of unequal treatment.

The assassination of Dr. King in Memphis, Tennessee sent shockwaves across Seattle and the entire nation. While King County was spared the days of rioting that occurred in more than one hundred cities across the country in the wake of King’s death, many county residents were moved by his untimely passing. Only days after the assassination, a crowd of over 8,000 people walked from the Central District to the Seattle Center for a memorial service. Washington Governor Dan Evans participated in that march. Originally slated to take place in the Seattle Center Arena, the venue was changed to Memorial Stadium to accommodate the crowd. Seattle Mayor Dorm Braman set aside April 8th as a day of mourning and remembrance in the city.

While most in King County mourned King’s death, others saw the assassination as the catalyst for a new stage of protest and direct confrontation. No group symbolized this change more than the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party. By the time of King’s assassination, a number of “black power” groups already existed in Seattle including SNCC, the Central Area Committee for Peace and Improvement (CAPI), and the United Black Front (UBF).None of these groups however resonated with a small core of UW student activists.Aaron Dixon, Larry Gossett, and Carl Miller, who led the Franklin High protests, traveled to San Francisco, California soon afterward to attend the Western Black Youth Conference in March 1968.While there Dixon attended the funeral of 17 year-old Bobby Hutton, the first Black Panther killed by the Oakland Police.

The Panthers were formed in Oakland in October 1966 and by 1967 had emerged as the most recognized black militants in the country after they walked into the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento with loaded shotguns and rifles. The Panthers represented the new black militant attitude; they were stern and unflinching in demeanor and in their critique of the Oakland police and the Federal government, they wore black leather jackets and berets, and promoted socialism.

Aaron Dixon met briefly with Panther co-founder Bobby Seale during his trip and invited the Panther leader to Seattle.Events moved quickly.Seale visited Seattle on April 13, nine days after the King assassination, and while there appointed nineteen-year-old Dixon as Captain of the Seattle chapter of Black Panther Party.

Dixon quickly made the Panthers locally prominent. Monitoring the Seattle Police in the Central District was one of their first acts, a move that won them supporters among those who had long felt victimized by law enforcement but in doing so they also became the target for intense police surveillance and harassment.On July 29, 1968, Seattle police raided the Panther headquarters, arresting Dixon and Panther co-captain Curtis Harris on suspicion of possession of stolen property: a typewriter. The raid triggered the first race riots in the Central District. Seven police officers and two civilians were injured and 69 people were arrested despite a plea for calm by Dixon and Harris from jail. The two were later acquitted on charges related to the typewriter.

After reports of several interracial fights at Rainier Beach High School, a group of 15 armed Panthers, led by Dixon, went to the school and confronted Principal Donald Means on September 6, 1968. At the time Rainier Beach High School had around 2,000 total students, 100 of whom were black. After receiving assurances of the safety of black students, the group left before the police arrived. In February 1969 armed Panthers, mirroring what had happened in Sacramento in 1967, joined with members of CORE and the UBF to deliver a list of Central District demands to the Senate Ways and Means Committee at the State Capitol in Olympia.

Although actions like these marked the Panthers as thugs and terrorists by many people in Seattle, including a number of African Americans, they also launched a free health care service which eventually evolved into today’s Odessa Brown Clinic, set up prison visitation programs, initiated a sickle-cell anemia testing program, and ran a free breakfast program for children in need. They also placed candidates for the 37th District State Legislative seat on the ballot for election in the fall of 1968.

While the story of the Black Panther Party continues to be dominated by male actors both locally and nationally, Seattle women Panthers, like their counterparts across the nation, participated in a variety of party activities. Joan (Dixon) Harris, the sister of Seattle Black Panther Party Captain Aaron Dixon, for example, was a founding member of the local chapter. Maude Helen Allen was captain of women, Kathleen M. Halley was deputy minister of finance and treasurer, and Alice Spencer was communications secretary. Years later Panther Michael Dixon, younger brother of Aaron Dixon, pointed out that female members often challenged male chauvinism within the party.

Assassinations marked the 1960s throughout the United States. The murders of President John Kennedy and Mississippi NAACP official Medgar Evers (1963), Malcolm X (1965), Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy (1968) as well as a host of other leaders and activists who met their death at the hands of assassins, marked the decade as particularly violent. Seattle, it seemed, had escaped that type of violence. That changed on the night of January 26, 1969 when Edwin Pratt, a Bahamas native, Atlanta University graduate, and Executive Director of the Seattle Urban League, was shot on the front porch of his Shoreline home.

Considered the “Dean” of local civil rights leaders, Pratt had led the Urban League since 1961. Despite finding a shell casing at the scene, witnesses who claimed to have seen two men running from the Pratt home to a waiting car after the shooting, and FBI involvement in the investigation, the killers were never found. Pratt, who was 38 years old when he died, left behind a wife and two young children. His funeral at St. Mark’s Cathedral was attended by more than 2,000 people including Seattle Mayor Floyd Miller and Washington Governor Daniel Evans. Today there are two lasting tributes to the Urban League leader: Edwin Pratt Park, located at the corner of 20th Avenue South and East Yesler Way in Seattle, and the Edwin Pratt Art Institute across the street from the park.

As the 1970s began, the struggle for black access to jobs shifted to the lucrative construction industry and the building trades unions that determined employment at the worksites. Those unions were the last major labor organizations in King County to openly practice racial discrimination. The five largest unions in November 1969 had nearly 15,000 members but only 29 were African American and 23 of them were in the Operating Engineers union. Of the 2,600 members of the plumbers union, only one was African American. The 850-member Iron Workers union also had only one African American member. When union members worked on major construction projects in the Central District at a time when unemployed blacks could only watch through construction fences, many in the community felt this last blatant example of Jim Crow unionism in King County had to be challenged.

In August of 1969 Tyree Scott, a black Seattle contractor, joined the Central Contractors Association (CCA) to draw attention to the exclusionary practices of these labor unions. Beginning on August 28, 1969 Scott led demonstrations that shut down construction sites at the Garfield High School swimming pool, the King County Courthouse, and Harborview Hospital to protest the fact that all the workers at these job sites were white.In September CCA members clashed with police during a protest at a construction site at the University of Washington.

While the protests provided a visible public response to the continuing discrimination, the lawsuit filed by the CCA which named five Seattle unions as defendants ultimately proved more successful. Scott and his supporters got a surprise boost when the Nixon Administration’s Department of Justice joined the case and sided with the CCA. Ultimately in 1970 Federal Judge William Lindberg cleared only one union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46, of wrongdoing. Four others, Iron Workers Local 86, Sheet Metal Workers Local 99, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 32, and Operating Engineers Local 502 were all found to be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The judge cited various underhanded tactics by the unions, including artificially inflated standards for blacks on aptitude tests, as evidence that major structural changes were needed.

Judge Lindberg devised what would be called “The Seattle Plan” which forced these unions to open their membership to black workers and provide them their own apprenticeship program. The plan adjusted admission requirements to reach journeyman level, and ordered that 45 black journeymen be admitted immediately.The Seattle Plan became a national model for affirmative action in the construction industry.

The 1970s represented another major turning point in the history of black King County. During the decade the African American population grew from 40,397 to 55,950, a 38% increase, proving that Seattle was still an attractive place for newcomers.The 1970s were also the first decade where the gains of the civil rights movement both locally and nationally were being consolidated.Although busing remained contentious throughout that decade and beyond, many black children now received an education outside the Central District.A small but growing number of blacks entered colleges and universities across the state as affirmative action programs and other compensatory measures encouraged their enrollment.Not surprisingly a significant black middle class began to emerge in the 1970s brought about by educational gains and an influx of African American professionals from across the nation to staff positions in educational institutions, government agencies, and private corporations such as Boeing.

The Boeing recession of the early 1970s hurt the entire regional economy, especially when the airplane giant cut its workforce from over 100,000 to less than 38,000 employees between 1969 and 1973. Those reductions forced business and political leaders to recognize the need to diversify the local economy and they began to promote other industries. It is no surprise then that by the mid-to late 1970s, new corporations representing new brands and new opportunities began to emerge in King County. Starbucks was the first but it was followed by Costco later in the decade, Microsoft in the 1980s, and Amazon in the 1990s. This new corporate presence in King County helped lure black professionals including women, who would change the face of power and influence in the region.

The rise of these new corporations had a variety of intended and unintended consequences for African Americans in King County. The corporations, especially by the 1980s, brought out or promoted a small cadre of African Americans and particularly black women such as Trish Millines Dziko at Microsoft and later founder of Technology Access Foundation (TAF) and the TAF Academy, Wanda Herndon at Starbucks, and Mary Pugh at Washington Mutual into significant leadership roles.

Like its counterparts across the nation, black communities in King County became more economically stratified. While some African Americans in the County brought in six-figure incomes, others became more deeply mired in poverty. Most of the reasons are well known: the loss of unskilled or industrial jobs, continuing educational disparities, the dramatic rise in drug use including especially “crack” cocaine and relatedly in crime and incarceration all caused the breakdown of many black working class families. The growing success and prosperity of well-educated blacks stood in sharp relief to the concentrated poverty of one third of the African American population. All of these changes meant that for King County African Americans, the 1980s and 1990s were both the best and the worst of times, sometimes even within the same family.

Major black churches, fraternities and sororities, and civic groups such as the Seattle Links and the Breakfast Group, all devised ways to battle this growing economic and social gap between King County African Americans. All of these groups employed long used strategies such as individual or group mentoring of young people or scholarships to increase college access.They also started computer clubs or sponsored job fairs to build opportunities for young people.Sometimes their programs and projects competed against and at other times blended with various government programs to help the poor and spur economic opportunity.

Not all organizations focused on the poor. Prior to 1970 new arrivals, especially black women, were able to rely on extended family and traditional community networks in the Central District to help ease their adjustment to King County. By the 1980s however, open housing legislation shifted the local black demographics as many of these new, single, professional, African American women transplants moved into Seattle city and suburban neighborhoods where there were few African Americans. Recognizing this change, Constance Rice, wife of future Seattle mayor Norm Rice, founded an organization in 1984 known as 101 Black Women. The goal of 101 Black Women was primarily to provide networking opportunities for women of color who felt increasingly isolated working and living in King County communities that were overwhelmingly white.

Rice was in fact a role model for many of these women. As early as 1985 she was named one of Seattle Weekly’s 25 most powerful women in Seattle. In 1992 she became the vice chancellor for Seattle Central Community College, and in 2013 she was appointed to the University of Washington Board of Regents by Governor Jay Inslee.

Rice’s appointment was the latest in what was now four decades of black involvement in the field of local educational leadership and policy making dating back to 1969. That year Alfred Cowles became the first African American elected to the Seattle School Board. He served until 1973 and was replaced by Carver Gayton who was appointed to complete Cowles’s term early that year and then elected to a full term in 1973. Dorothy Hollingsworth became the first black woman in the state of Washington to serve on a school board when she was elected to the Seattle School Board in 1975. She became the first black board president four years later. In 1981 Thomas J. (T.J.) Vassar, at age 30, became the youngest person ever elected to the Seattle School Board where he served two terms. Vassar was joined that year by Michael Preston, who would become a prominent voice on the Board for the next two decades.

Donald Phelps was never elected to public office. Beginning in 1963, however, he became one of the most high profile black educators in King County, when he, at the age of 34, was hired as principal at Bellevue’s Robinswood Elementary. With that hire he became the first African American principal in a suburban Seattle community and later in 1967 he became the first black secondary school principal in the state of Washington when he took over at Bellevue Junior High School. After leaving in 1968 to become a commentator for KOMO television, Phelps returned to education as interim Superintendent of Lake Washington School District in 1976. Phelps moved into higher education in 1980 when he was hired as president of Seattle Central Community College, and then as chancellor of the Seattle Community College District in 1984.

Charles Mitchell, a Seattle native who starred on the University of Washington football team in the early 1960s, was named the second black president of Seattle Central Community College in 1987. He served until 2003. Under his tenure Seattle Central was named “College of the Year” by Time magazine in 2001-2002. In 2003 Mitchell became Chancellor of the Seattle Community College District and remained in that post until his retirement in 2008.

Professional sports also changed the face of Seattle and King County. Between 1967 and 1977 Seattle acquired new professional basketball (Supersonics, 1967), football (Seahawks, 1976), and baseball (Mariners, 1977) franchises. Given the visibility, influence, and in the case of basketball, dominance of black players, highly paid African American athletes would for the first time place their mark on the entire popular culture of the region. The first of these athletes was basketball great Bill Russell who arrived in the area in 1973.

Russell, a Louisiana native, had established himself as a basketball legend first at the University of San Francisco where his team won consecutive NCAA Championships (1955 & 1956), then at the 1956 Olympics where he was captain of the gold medal winning United States Men’s National Team, and finally in Boston, Massachusetts where he led the city’s Celtics to 11 NBA Championships, including eight in a row, in his 13 year professional career.

In 1966 Russell became the first African American coach in NBA history when he took over as player-coach for the Celtics. The following season he also became the first black coach to win an NBA Championship. Russell was also a leader off the court and active in civil rights, as evidenced by his role in convening a summit of top black athletes to meet with and support Muhammad Ali when the boxer challenged his draft by the U.S. Army in 1967.

After retiring from the Celtics in 1969, Russell agreed to become coach and general manager of the Seattle Supersonics where he led the franchise to it’s first-ever playoff berth in the 1974-75 season. He left the Sonics in 1977 but maintained a residence on Mercer Island, a Seattle suburb, where he still lives today. In 2011 Bill Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.

Russell left an excellent foundation for future franchise success, evidenced when New York native Lenny Wilkens took over as coach and led the Supersonics to an NBA Finals appearance at the end of the 1977-78 season. The next year the Sonics won the NBA Championship, defeating the Washington Bullets in six games. This victory represents King County’s first major professional sports championship, and Wilkins became only the second African American head coach to win an NBA title behind Bill Russell. Other Sonics players, including Gus Williams, Donald “Slick” Watts and “Downtown” Fred Brown, became popular athletes in the city.

In the 1990s Sonics point guard Gary Payton and forward Shawn Kemp formed a dynamic duo that electrified Seattle fans and the entire NBA. That team’s success would culminate with an appearance in the 1996 NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the best player of all time. The Sonics lost the best of seven series four games to two, and Jordan was named Most Valuable Player of the Finals.

The tradition of professional basketball in King County continued with the birth of the Seattle Storm of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in 2000. In 2004 the Storm defeated the Connecticut Sun two games to one in a best of three series to claim the franchise’s first WNBA Championship. Storm guard Betty Lennox was named Finals MVP. Six years later All-Star forward Swin Cash and the Storm won a second WNBA championship, defeating the Atlanta Dream three games to none in a best of five series.

Another athletic pioneer was Warren Moon, the University of Washington football team’s first black quarterback.Moon led the Huskies to the 1978 Rose Bowl.In an era where scouts and coaches refused to believe African Americans had the mental ability to play quarterback, Husky coach Don James gave Moon the opportunity no one else would.The move paid off with Moon leading Washington to a 27-20 victory over the University of Michigan in the Rose Bowl played in Pasadena, California and earning Most Valuable Player honors to finish his Husky career.

Moon eventually won five Canadian Football League Grey Cup Championships before he returned to the United States to play in the National Football League. Moon played quarterback with the Seattle Seahawks from 1997 to 1998. Over his 16 year NFL career Moon was named to the Pro Bowl nine times, was NFL Man of the Year in 1989, NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 1990, and inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

Over the years the team had other African American star athletes including defensive lineman Cortez Kennedy (1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee), running back Shaun Alexander (2005 NFL Most Valuable Player), and offensive lineman Walter Jones (named to nine Pro Bowls, four-time First Team All-Pro, 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductee). On February 2, 2014, Russell Wilson became only the second starting African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl when he led the Seahawks over the Denver (Colorado) Broncos 43-8 for the city’s second major professional sports championship, Superbowl XLVIII, played in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

In 2007 Seattle was awarded a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise, Seattle Sounders FC. Standout players have included Federal Way native Lamar Neagle and Nigerian-born Obafemi Martins. In addition Sounders FC defender Deandre Yedlin, a Seattle native and O’Dea High School graduate, and was named to the United States Men’s National Team and played in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Ken Griffey Jr. thrilled Seattle Mariners baseball fans in the 1990s with his exceptional athleticism and flair for the game. Griffey led the Mariners to some of their best seasons in the mid-1990s including two divisional titles in 1995 and 1997. He won Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game in 1992, the American League MVP in 1997, and in 1999 was named to the Major League Baseball All-Century team. In 1990, years before the team’s success, Ken Griffey, Jr., played with his father, Ken Griffey, Sr., for the Mariners, a rare time when father and son were on the same professional baseball team.

While it would be an exaggeration to claim that professional athletes such as Russell, Wilkins, Moon, Griffey, Payton, Kemp, or Wilson have changed the racial climate of Seattle or generated more opportunity for most African Americans in the county, there is no denying that their presence and remarkable performances have influenced popular culture both in the region and the nation.

Popular culture at the local and national levels has also been influenced by Seattle’s particular version of hip-hop music. Hip-hop began in the streets of the south Bronx, New York City in the late 1970s and arrived in King County with the release of the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in late 1979.By 1981 the Emerald Street Boys, Captain Crunch, Sugar Bear, and Sweet J were among the first groups to earn a reputation as hip-hop performers around the city of Seattle.

Drawing inspiration from the Emerald Street Boys, Anthony “Sir Mix-A-Lot” Ray, a Seattle native born in 1963, began playing weekend nights regularly first at the Rainier Vista Boys and Girls Club in South Seattle and then later at the Rotary Boys and Girls Club in the Central District. It was there that he met “Nasty” Nes Rodriguez, a local Filipino American radio DJ and host of Fresh Tracks, the West Coast’s first rap radio show on Seattle station 1250 AM KKFX (KFOX).

Impressed by what he saw, Rodriguez invited Mix-A-Lot onto his show to air his music, and Mix-A-Lot quickly became the station’s most requested artist. The duo teamed up to start NastyMix Records, and in 1987 released Sir Mix-A-Lot’s first hit single “Posse on Broadway” which introduced black Seattle’s hip-hop culture to the rest of the world. Sir Mix-A-Lot, however, is best known for the single “Baby Got Back” from his 1992 album Mack Daddy. The song and accompanying video, promoting his preference for women with curves, was played on MTV only at night because of its suggestive nature, a controversy that helped make the song more popular. “Baby Got Back” sold over two million copies, was the number one song on the Billboard pop chart for five weeks, and won the 1993 Grammy Award for Best Solo Rap Performance.

Another local rapper, Seattle native Ishmael Butler by 1993 became “Butterfly,” the leader of the group Digable Planets. They are best known for their 1993 song “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” which won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. In 2009 Butler reemerged as “Palaceer Lazaro,” leader of the critically acclaimed experimental hip-hop collective Shabazz Palaces.

As a whole the King County hip-hop scene represents an eclectic group of artists and interests which has developed a reputation for diversity and ingenuity. One example is the Seattle based multiracial breakdance crew Massive Monkees. Born out of the Jefferson Park Community Center on Beacon Hill in 1999, Massive took first place in the 2004 World B-Boy Championships held at Wembley Stadium in London, England. They appeared on season four of the hit MTV show “America’s Best Dance Crew,” and in 2012 Massive Monkees became the first American crew to win the prestigious “R16” World Championships in Seoul, South Korea.

As a white artist raised and mentored by the local scene, Ben “Macklemore” Haggerty represents another example of how hip-hop in King County has transcended racial boundaries. After having two singles, “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us,” reach number one on the Billboard chart in 2013, he won trophies for Best Rap Song, Best New Artist, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammy Awards.

Black King County’s cultural influence extended far beyond sports and hip-hop as a number of leading artists chose to call the county home. They included visual artists Jacob Lawrence and his wife, Gwendolyn Knight. Lawrence’s career spanned the period from the Harlem Renaissance to his death in 2000. The couple relocated from New York to Seattle in 1971 when Lawrence agreed to take a teaching position at the University of Washington. Knight would become known for figure compositions and portraits of humans and animals. Lawrence was an expressionist painter who produced numerous original works, including a series on black pioneer settler George Washington Bush for the State of Washington History Museum. The couple also mentored hundreds students throughout the region.

In moving to the area Lawrence and Knight had joined another prominent King County artistic couple, James and Janie Washington. The Washingtons arrived in Seattle in 1944 from Little Rock, Arkansas and moved into a modest home in the Central District. Janie was a practicing nurse and James produced a series of world renowned sculptures until his death in 2000. The Washington home is now a Seattle landmark and museum as well as a site for production by younger generations of artists.

King County also attracted two literary giants, August Wilson and Octavia Butler. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Wilson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1945 and moved to Seattle in 1990. Butler, a leading science fiction writer, was originally from Pasadena, California. She arrived in Seattle in 1999.

Long before he moved to King County, Wilson became known for his use of the stage to frame discourse about African American history and culture. He won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for his play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 1985. His career accelerated when he won a Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1987 for Fences. While Fences was still playing on Broadway, Wilson produced Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in 1988 and became the first African American to have two plays on Broadway simultaneously.

In 1990 Wilson won another Pulitzer Prize for The Piano Lesson. During his time in Seattle, Wilson developed a relationship with the Seattle Repertory Theater, which has staged most of his plays. He continued writing award winning material through the 1990s and into the 2000s. In August 2005 August Wilson announced he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the liver. He died at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle on October 2, 2005. He was 50.

Octavia Butler built her reputation as a science-fiction writer, a field overwhelmingly white and male. Butler first became known for her 1979 novel Kindred, the story of a black woman who time travels from 1976 Southern California to slavery in the pre-Civil War South. In the late 1980s Butler published her Xenogensis trilogy and in the 1990s introduced the Parable series. In 1995 she became the first and so far only science-fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” and the accompanying $295,000 award. After relocating from California to King County, the normally reclusive Butler remained active in readings and writers’ conferences while also serving on the advisory board of the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle. In 2005 she published her final novel, Fledgling. At age 58 Octavia Butler died from a head injury on February 24, 2006 after falling outside her home in Lake Forest Park.

By the 1980s black civil servants in King County began assuming major positions of leadership. In 1983 Al Lee became the first African American police chief in Washington state when he was appointed to that position in Algona. Six months later he accepted the job of Chief of Police in the town of Pacific. Claude Harris became Seattle’s first African American fire chief in July 1985, a position he held until retiring in December 1996. More recently, Harry Bailey became Seattle’s first black police chief in January 2014 when Mayor Ed Murray installed him on an interim basis while a search was conducted for a permanent replacement.

King County’s African American population continued to experience rapid growth in the last two decades of the 20th Century and into the first decade of the 21st century.The black population rose from 55,950 in 1980 to 93,875 in 2000.That population growth stood in sharp contrast to California where the number of African Americans in the state began to slowly shrink in the late 1980s and 1990s.King County, and heavily populated black counties in California, however, did share one trait: the black population rose dramatically in the suburbs.

As late as 1960 the vast majority of black people in King County lived in Seattle’s Central District. By the early 1970s, thanks in part to open housing legislation at both the local and national levels, African Americans began to reside in previously all-white communities. These newcomers to the suburbs included both former inner city residents and people who moved to King County from across the nation who had no prior ties to the traditional African American community.

That trickle into the suburbs in the early 1970s became a flood by the 1980s. African Americans now resided in virtually every suburban community in King County, from Bothell in the north, to Enumclaw in the south. Two suburban communities, however, symbolized that enormous demographic change: Federal Way and Kent emerged by the end of the 20th Century as the cities with the third and fourth largest black populations in the state respectively, surpassing older established black communities in Spokane and Vancouver.

This demographic shift was reflected earliest in politics with the election of Margaret Proctor to the City Council of Renton in 1979. With that election Proctor became the first black public official elected outside Seattle. In 2001 Eric Faison was elected to the Federal Way City Council. In 2009 Roger Freeman was elected to that post. Three years later in November 2012 Freeman became the first African American elected to represent the 30th District, which includes Federal Way, Milton, Algona, Pacific, and parts of Des Moines and Auburn, in the Washington State House of Representatives. Gentrification of the Central District added another dimension to this process and by 2003, for the first time in county history more African Americans lived in suburban areas outside Seattle than lived inside the city limits.

Almost as quietly as the African American community spread across King County (especially given the opposition to black residents in so many of these areas prior to 1970), another equally important demographic shift was simultaneously taking place, the rise of African-born people in the County’s population. Ironically Manuel Lopes, a native of the Cape Verde Islands off the west coast of Africa, became in 1858, the first “black” resident of King County.Beginning in the mid-1970s new residents began arriving from northeastern Africa.

This migration began because of events half a world away around the Horn of Africa. Political crises, civil wars, ecological disasters such as widespread drought and resulting famine, and even echoes of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union brought waves of refugees and immigrants to the Pacific Northwest seeking the opportunity for a better life. By 2008 an estimated 23,000 Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans now called King County home. To provide perspective, almost as many African immigrants resided in King County in 2008 as the total black population of the county in 1960.

Indications of their presence could be found in the form of mosques, markets, and restaurants primarily in the Central District and the Rainier Valley. Tukwila and Sea-Tac also have high concentrations of Somalis but almost every community in the County has some East Africans or their descendants among their residents. East African children comprise a high percentage of black students in the County’s public schools.Community based support agencies such as the Refugee Federation Service Center and the Refugee Women’s Alliance provide valuable services for people who often experience culture shock when arriving in the United States for the first time.

Of the three major civil rights issues for King County African Americans in the 1960s, only one remained decades later: the struggle to achieve quality education for black students.In the early to mid-1960s, black leaders demanded school desegregation.By the end of the decade as some black parents began to push back against that idea, ironically the courts and Seattle’s political and educational leadership embraced busing to promote school desegregation as the primary strategy to ensure quality education.Large numbers of white, black, and Asian parents, however, opposed busing if for different reasons and by the early 1990s it fell out of favor.

The fate of busing was sealed when Seattle voters in 1989 elected the city’s first African American mayor, Norm Rice, while narrowly defeating the controversial program of cross-town busing by referendum. In turn, it was Seattle’s first African American school superintendent, John Stanford, who oversaw the dismantling of the program in the next decade.

John Stanford was selected by the Seattle School Board as Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools in July 1995. He was chosen in part because his background was not in education. Stanford, who was born on September 14, 1938 in Darby, Pennsylvania, joined the United States Army in 1961, served 30 years and retired as a major general.He then spent time in Fulton County (Atlanta), Georgia as county manager before being recruited by the Seattle School Board.

Despite his becoming the first non-educator appointed to the position, Stanford initiated a variety of educational reforms which he hoped would improve performance among all students but especially among African Americans.He pushed reading programs, gave principals more authority over their schools, and promoted school safety.Stanford, who opposed busing to integrate schools, instead called for magnet and improved neighborhood schools as well as more parental involvement in education.Under his leadership the District’s busing program officially ended in 1997.General Stanford did not live long enough to determine whether his reforms proved effective.He died from leukemia on November 28, 1998 at age 50.

Partly because the Seattle public was always lukewarm to busing, two bold experiments, one private and the other public, were initiated to see if the “achievement gap,” an average difference of 23 and 26 points on standardized math and reading tests respectively between black and Asian or white students, could be reduced.Zion Preparatory Academy was the private experiment.Founded in 1981 by Pastor Eugene Drayton in his church, Zion United House of Prayer in Seattle’s Central District, the school aimed to provide a rich student experience that featured diverse teaching staffs, two teachers in each classroom, small class sizes, an Afro-centric curriculum, and the opportunity for its students to see people of color in positions of leadership.

Zion Prep, as it would become known, began with six students and one teacher and operated in an upstairs room at the church. By 1994 under the leadership of Reverend Doug Wheeler Zion’s growth and ability to attract high profile donors helped the school secure a permanent site in South Seattle. At its peak in the mid-1990s, Zion Prep served nearly 600 students ranging from preschool to 8th grade. The leaders of Zion Prep offered a community-centered, faith based educational model that provided an affordable private school alternative to a public school system in Seattle that had chronically underserved African American students for decades. However, the economic recession of 2007 hit Zion hard and the six-acre campus was sold to developers in 2009 after the school downsized to focus on its infant care and preschool programs. In 2014 Zion Prep returned to the Central District.

The African American Academy, created in 1990 by the Seattle School Board, hoped to reduce the achievement gap in a public school setting. Its advocates envisioned the Academy addressing that gap by increasing black student academic achievement in an enriched but all-black environment of students and teachers. The Academy opened in September 1991 serving kindergarten through 5th grade at Coleman School in the Central District. The following year it moved to the Rainier Valley. In 1993 the Academy was relocated again, this time to the Magnolia neighborhood where it remained until 2000 when it finally moved to its permanent home, a new three story building on the south end of Beacon Hill designed for 650 students.

This new space allowed the school’s grade offerings to expand to K-8.The Academy featured an African-centered curriculum, small class sizes, and student uniforms.However, from its inception the Academy was criticized as a segregated public school because non-blacks were not allowed to enroll.

In 2009 Seattle School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, the second African American to hold the position, persuaded the Seattle School Board to approve a plan to close five schools, including the African American Academy.Goodloe-Johnson cited poor academic performance, declining enrollment, and the need for budget cuts because of a massive school district deficit.Although the Academy had an 18-year history, it was quietly closed partly because neither the Academy or Zion Prep was completely capable of creating a sustainable model which eliminated the continuing achievement gap for many of the county’s black students.

Politics continued to be one of the major areas of success for King County’s African Americans. Although they comprised only 5.4% of the total county population in 2000, a number of late 20th Century and early 21st century African Americans have held offices that helped shape the lives of all of the County’s nearly two million residents. With the exception of the state legislative seats, all of these officials have been elected by an overwhelmingly white electorate.

At the state level George Fleming represented the 37th District in the Washington State Senate from 1969 until he retired in 1991. Peggy Maxie held one of the two 37th District House seats from 1971 to 1983. Ten years later Jesse Wineberry represented the district in the House for a single term (1993-1995) and Eric Pettigrew has held that seat since 2003.

At the municipal level, Sam Smith sat on the Seattle City Council from 1968 until his defeat by Sherry Harris in 1992. With her victory, Harris became the first black lesbian to hold a major municipal office in the nation. John Manning (1996-1997) and Richard McIver (1997-2009) also served on the Council. Norm Rice served on the Council for a decade (1979-1989) before becoming mayor and Bruce Harrell has held a seat on the Council since 2008. Two African Americans, Ron Sims (1985-1995) and Larry Gossett (1993- ) have served on the Metropolitan King County Council. Beginning with Alfred Cowles in 1969, at least ten African Americans have served on the Seattle School Board.

Two of these officeholders merit special attention. In 1985, Ron Sims, a native of Spokane, Washington and a former legislative aide in the Washington State Senate, became the first African American elected to the King County Council. As a Councilmember, Sims introduced legislation that would literally change the identity of King County. In 1986, after less than a year in office, he initiated a campaign to rename King County after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Originally the County was named after Vice-President William Rufus Devane King who served under President Franklin Pierce in 1852 when the Washington Territory was created. William King was an Alabama slaveholder.Sims and his supporters successfully argued that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. more aptly represented the values of the majority of King County residents in 1986.On February 24, 1986 the County Council passed Motion 6461, but the name change was not official until Washington Governor Christine Gregoire signed Senate Bill 5332 into law on April 19, 2005.

Sims later became King County Executive (the highest ranking administrative position in county government) in 1996, and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S Senate in 1994 and for Governor in 2004. He was re-elected King County Executive in 1997, 2001, and 2005, presiding over the government of a county more populous than 14 states. In 2009 Sims was nominated by President Barack Obama and then confirmed to the position of Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. He held that post until July 2011 when he resigned and returned to Seattle.

Norm Rice, the first black mayor of Seattle, was the other major African American office holder. Born in Denver, Colorado in 1943, Norman Rice came to Seattle in 1970 as a college student. After spending time as a reporter for television and radio stations in Seattle, he was appointed Assistant Director for the Urban League. Rice entered politics in 1978 when he was elected to the Seattle City Council. He won reelection in 1979, 1983, and 1987 and served as Council President, but ran unsuccessfully for Seattle mayor in 1985 and for the 7th District seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1988.

Rice publicly stated he did not plan on entering the mayoral race in 1989, but literally changed his mind at the last minute filing his candidacy papers in the final 20 minutes on the last day before the registration deadline. Rice defeated City Attorney Doug Jewett by nearly 25,000 votes to become Seattle’s 49th mayor and the first African American to hold the post. He was reelected in 1993 but left politics after his second term to work as the chief executive at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle from 1999 to 2005. Beginning in July 2009 Rice served as President and CEO of the Seattle Foundation until his retirement in 2014.

The imprint and contributions of African Americans in the region were recognized with the establishment of the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) in Seattle. The idea for the museum was originally proposed to Mayor Charles Royer in 1981 by a multi-racial coalition known as the Community Exchange. After over 20 years of political wrangling and deal-making including the longest civil disobedience episode in U.S. history, Coleman School in the Central District was identified and secured as the museum’s site in 2003. The museum opened its doors as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization on March 8, 2008 and immediately became the largest institution focusing on African American history and culture in the Pacific Northwest.

By the beginning of the 21st Century King County’s African American population faced a number of challenges: successfully incorporating the African immigrant population into the community, addressing the growing income gap within the County’s black population, confronting a criminal justice system that sent disproportionately large numbers of black women and men to county jail or state prison, wrestling with youth violence and disproportionate unemployment and poverty as well as educational underachievement. Yet King County blacks could also point to oppressive conditions that forced so many of them out of the South or East and propelled them to the Northwest corner of the United States.Many who came over the past 156 years and who continue to come here to this day from far more distant nations in Africa, still seek the racial tolerance, cultural richness, and economic opportunity envisioned by the first African American arrivals in the 1860s.They and the thousands of courageous, hard-working and resourceful women and men who followed, succeeded in various fields, and pushed for opportunity and inclusion. In doing so, they have left a mark at nearly every important point in the history of King County and the entire Pacific Northwest region.

Daudi Abe, Seattle Central College

Best Selling Author Saba Tekle: 20 Beautiful Women


Interview: Saba Tekle

Originally published at http://kpbmagazine.knucklepopbrand.com/magazine/saba-tekle-best-selling-author/

There are very special individuals that rise up during a generation with a passion to help the hurting. Saba has demonstrated that she has answered the call, by devoting a large part of her time to encouraging others. Overcoming painful life experiences have equipped Saba with the tools needed to empower people to realize their full potential.

KPB: Who is Saba Tekle? How would you describe yourself to someone who has no idea who you are? What do you think is important that others should know about you?

“Saba Tekle is publisher, bestselling author and mentor.  I am someone who is passionate and purposeful. Here to help people, mostly women, heal, find their passion and purpose. The most important thing people should know about me is that I am very approachable and love to see other people succeed by more than one standard of success.”

What motivates you to do what you do, what gets you up every day to go after your dreams?

“What motivates me is the pain that I once felt, that I have healed and overcame, drives me to help others experience the same.”

What advice would you give someone who’s going through a difficult situation such as abuse, divorce, or relationship problems?

“That going to people outside of God, an expert, or someone positive for help is not a good idea. But also whatever you’re going through may feel like it’s drowning you, it may feel like it’s going to happen forever but it won’t. You will get through and on top if you find the right people to keep you not just afloat but lifted.”

What is the one obstacle that seems to keep coming up to discourage you from reaching your goals? How do you deal with it?

“One obstacle is feeling alone or having to work alone to get the work I need to get done. I deal with it by having faith and holding my dream so close to me that is all I see.”

What are your thoughts on religion?

“I believe everyone should have right and respect to believe in whatever they want to believe.”

What are some upcoming projects that you are excited about?

“I am coming out with, “20 Beautiful Women” Volume 2 and possibly, “20 Beautiful Men” and “20 Beautiful Teens”. I also now assisting other with self-publishing and I am looking for more new authors.”

Saba Tekle

What is something that has really shocked you about today’s society and the direction it is going?

“What is shocking is that there is still racism and sexism.”

Who has been the most influential person in your life? Why?

“My mother. Because she the most hardworking, strong, loving and successful women I know.”

Who is someone famous you would like to collaborate with in the near future on a project? What would be the project?

“Of course Oprah and Life Class.”

What advice would you give the next generation about life?

“Be okay sometimes with walking alone, as an individual in life, if not you will lose yourself in the crowd.

Find what you love, that makes you come alive, make that your career and you never work a day in your life.

Most importantly focus less on looking beautiful and more on being beautiful, because we can change the world that way.”


Connect with Saba:




Books by Saba Tekle:


Deepest Roots: 30 years of Hip Hop in Seattle

roots needle 2

Nearly 40 years ago hip hop was born.  On two coasts it evolved into completely distinct forms of the same base element. Just as both the Diamond and Graphite are both forms of Carbon, the atoms of the base element are simply bonded together in a manner which in the end produce completely different products. By the mid 1980’s both New York and California were both considered hip hop meccas; yet their music, dance style, and fashion bore little resemblance to each other.

It was during these early years that Seattle began to form its own identity within the greater hip hop community. Although there is an argument to be made that there were both California and New York influences it wasn’t too long before Seattle began to stand on its own.

Still, for those of us lucky enough to be around during its conception, the Seattle hip hop scene has evolved in ways that no one could have imagined. In this article I would like to share Seattle hip hop from my perspective. In doing such, I hope that you will forgive me if I saw things differently from you that may have also been there at the time. Please accept this article as a show of love and respect for those that were here from the start.


So around 1982 rap music started getting some air play by legendary DJ Nasty Nes Rodrigues. A Seattle rapper with his own tape (let alone LP) was hard to come by; but K-Fox DJ Nasty Nes did what he could to push the music of local artists such as the Emerald Street Boys and Sir Mixalot. The influence of West Coast “freak-rap” such as Egyptian Lover was very evident in Sir Mixalot’s early recordings, although he alternated from “freak” to “fun” with raps modeled after Brooklyn based rap group Newcleus. Shortly after, groups and individuals such as the Silver Chain Gang, Daddy D, KOC, and Jam Delight begin making names for themselves on the Seattle rap scene.

Of these groups the Emerald Street Boys quickly rose to the top, recognized as a complete performance package, even getting attention from Seattle’s premier music newspaper The Rocket.

Meanwhile… Breakdance is slowly making its way into Seattle with kids popping and locking at the occasional YMCA or Boy’s Club Party. It also begins to make appearances at some of the larger summer parties held in Mt. Baker and Rainier Valley by the Dumas and Wiley families. Iconic breakdancer Junior Alefaio and Carlos (Slamalotte) Barrientes form two legendary groups “the Emerald City Breakers” and “Seattle City Breakers”.

Then came the Motown 25 performance and the Michael Jackson Moonwalk and everyone wanted to learn to breakdance. Undoubtedly 1983 was Seattle’s golden year, as Nathaniel (DJ Paris) Wilson, Jamie Sullivan, and John Meadows lit the fuse and brought down the house with their choreographed dance to the Jonzun Crew’s “Space Cowboy”.   The Floor Rockers led by Eric Lamar Johnson and Devon Anderson rocked the Garfield High School homecoming, the Emerald Street Boys, Silver Chain Gang, and MC Andy Hamlin performed at the Black Festival in Judkins Park, and Sir Mixalot’s song “7-Rainier” hits street-gold status selling over 500 copies from the trunk of the Cadillac. Meanwhile… Danny (Scramblin Feet aka DJ Supreme) and Carter (Short Circuit aka FeverOne) from the Seattle Circuit Breakers begin making names for themselves, even as their group performs on Seattle’s Saturday morning variety show “Flash”.

seattlecircuitbreakers                                                                                                                                                                                                                   ssb zig

Hot clubs for breakdancers included Lateef’s, Stallions, Club Broadway, Spectrum, Buzzy’s, Skoochies, and oddly enough a little AA joint called Club Fremont. Super groups such as the Circuit Breakers, Paradise, Unlimited Force, Seattle City, West Side, Fresh Force, Breaking Mechanism, 1st Degree, and Deroxy featuring Dave (Pablo D) Narvaez all had a chance to shine in these hip hop friendly clubs. Individuals such as the Mighty Spencer Reed, Donald (Ziggy) Zirkle, Gerald Carpio, Flex, Anthony (Mr. Cool) Soriano, Tony Torres, Joe (Dreamer) Baechle, Rubik, Bublz, Chris LaPonsey, Wacky & Packy, Ian (Snowboy) Whitmarsh, Sean Holeman, and Raphael Contreras quickly became known around town as serious competitors.

1984 Seattle saw its first wax rap album as Sir Mixalot left his job at the video game arcade “Lectric Palace” and teaming with DJ Nasty Nes released “Square Dance Rap”. The following year, Sir Mixalot would continue to build on his fame by releasing a extensive catalog of songs on tape including “On the Map” giving props to fellow NW artists such as Phantom of the Scratch (aka DJ Strange), Vitamix, Wicked Angel, Baron Von Scratch, Glen Boyd, Maharaji, and others.

Seattle also sees its first aerosol mural as DC3 and Kuo (Mr. Clean) Yang paint a block long burner on the side of the Downtown Nordstrom; inspiring other artists such as Musician/Rapper and Graffiti artist Michael (Specs Wizard) Hall, David (Image 8000) Toledo, and Sean (Nemo) Casey to pursue the medium.

spaide piece

Meanwhile.. there was something stirring in Rainier Valley as iconic rapper E-Dawg was beginning to write raps and perform locally as MC Electro Shock…

And just in time for Breakdancing to actually start dying out, Komo television squeezes the last bit of life out of it with Summer Break 84’, featuring a painfully stiff Steve Pool.  Despite the decline of breakdancing, dance parties thrown at the YMCA and Boys Club by Sir Mixalot continue to break records with packed attendance.  Town hero’s Duck & Shame, Aaron (Kaze) Dixon, Sean (Stax) Moore, and Chris (KE1) Morris are regular attendees, keeping the crowds hyped and the dance floor packed.

1985 Seattle Bandstand aired, just in time for the new dance craze to take-off. The “Prep” was a dance that combined all of the competition that breakdancers craved with the ability to actually dance with your girlfriend. Prep crews such as the Ducky Boys and PPIA (Party People in Action) quickly gained notoriety and neighborhood fame on the program. This year also saw the 40 foot mural on the Garfield High School track by graffiti artist (and Ducky Boy member) David Toledo and Bobby (Vision) Charles, as well as murals by Tony (Skreen) Fleeks, Sean Savage, Merrill (Shylo) Brown, Dorean (Solo Doe) Dinish, Spraycan, Keep & Shame, Bazerk & Faze, Dadone & Spaide, Danny Molino, and others.

1 Ducky Boys


The following year we saw increases in Seattle rap presence with Demetrius White, KOC, Frostmaster Chill, Robert (MC Le Rap) Spikes, Bill (Mister Bill) Pleasant, and Big Boss Cross all starting to establish themselves; however, it was the 1987 release from former Seattle Circuit Breaker, Danny (DJ Supreme) Clavesilla  that made the nation take notice. Along with Cornel (CMT) Thomas, and Chenelle (Chelly Chell) Marshall they formed Incredicrew. Shortly after Sir Mixalot releases the first full Rap LP from Seattle (SWASS).  Sugar Bear (Emerald Street Boys) spins regularly at Club Encore in Renton and has a capacity crowd every weekend.


1987 Nasty Nes returned to his true love and local rap on the KCMU station, along with Music Menu record store owner and rap aficionado “Shockmaster” Glen Boyd.   In heavy rotation are Seattle artists Chilly Uptown and Kid Sensation. Local artists Specs Wizard, PD2, Kevin Gardner, Tony O, Redwine, 2Smooth, Dwayne Pitre, Spencer Reed, Nicky F aka MC Ready, Richard & Randy Marley, and Kelly (DJ Zippy K) Peebles are all contributing to a vibrant music scene. A great year for rap, Seattle also saw the emergence of Duracell featuring Derrick (Silver Shadow D) and Bruce (Horton B) Griffith. Barry (DJ B-Mello) Williams also announces he’s arrived with trend setting mix tapes that establish him as a top-shelf DJ.

David (Image 8000) Toledo and Sean (Nemo) Casey complete the seminal aerosol mural “ImageNemo” at Gasworks Park, inspiring the next generation of graffiti writers even as David Toledo himself retires from the art.

Image Standing 1987

By the way, the New York City Breakers came to town and were shut down by the High Performance Breakers, putting a nail in the coffin of breakdancing in the 80’s.

The 1990’s brought some hot new rap acts that not only lit the streets of Seattle on fire but gained nationwide attention. Criminal Nation and High Performance (yes, they rap too!), Brothers Of The Same Mind, and Silly Rabbit featuring Tony Russell all put out quality albums.

Meanwhile…, Tyrone (Cool Rippin’ T aka TYRONE the Working Class Hero) Dumas starts making beats and raps, as his cousin Michael (E-Dawg) Johnson begins mowing Sir Mixalots yard; seeing it as a stepping stone to building a relationship and with future aspirations of a career in the music business.

The nineties also gave us access to our own local video-music station as Public Access Television launched Music Inner City and the Coolout Network featuring Georgio Brown and introducing us to the 206Zulu Queen Kitty Wu, along with Glow Medina and other hosts.

Coolout throwback

1992 the game changed as Sir Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back” (with B-Side “Can’t Slip” featuring E-Dawg) dominates MTV and the charts, pulling in a Grammy and shining a light on the Mixalot Posse aka the Elite featuring Terry “Maharaji” Matthews, Ron “Attitude Adjusta” Brooks, and Steve (Kid Sensation aka Xola) Malik. Glen (Shockmaster) Boyd leaves “Rap Attack” and moves to LA to work for Rick Rubin and Def American Records. Still, local groups such as MurderOne featuring James (King Kels) Kelsey, and PDQ featuring Frankie Wells pushed against the mainstream and produced some of 1992’s best music.

Ps… Did you see how E-Dawg went from mowing the lawn to making platinum albums? Learn from that!

And even as the music scene starts to explode; Seattle graffiti art has also found a new group of heroes including Nathan (SireOne) Hivick, Divine, Hews, Soul Uno, Sneke, Stash, and Rey, while old-school artists Specs and Nemo continue to be major forces in the city.

In 1993 Garfield High basketball star Ishmael (Butterfly) Butler and his group Digable Planets take rap in a whole new direction, E-Dawg and Filthy Rich release “Drop Top” and also appear on the Seattle the Darkside compilation (also featuring Xola, Jay Skee, and 3rd Level), Greg B, Silver Shadow D, Ghetto Children, and Six in the Clip all continue to establish themselves as contenders in the rap game.

The following year Andre Bostic forms Sexy Sounds Management and releases the “Moving Target” album featuring David (Image 8000) Toledo, Dawny (Truck) Toledo and Esera (Easy) Mose (also from the group Nature Boys), with production by DJ Supreme and TYRONE and featuring scratching by DJ B-Mello. Additional artists on the Moving Target album include James (Justice aka Boogie Brow) Stewart and Fred (Just Do It) Stewart.  1994 also saw releases by Greg (Funk Daddy) Buren, DJ Kamikaze, Sinsemilla, DJ Topspin, and Prose And Concepts (formerly Six in the Clip).  1994 also saw the publication and distribution of David Toledo and Michael Owsley’s comic book “Urban” based on their real-life adventures as Seattle graffiti artists.

Moving Target Record 2Urban Cover

1995 we saw the stirrings of a rebirth of break dancing, with groups like Circle of Fire, Massive, and Boss crew holding regular cyphers at a number of clubs. Rap-fusion group Silly Rabbit continues to push the boundaries of Seattle music; releasing the ablum “8ball” accompanied by a full length comic book based on the band, written and drawn by David (Image 8000) Toledo and distributed in both the US and Canada. TYRONE release “Middle Man Mojo” to high acclaim and establishes himself as Seattle’s hottest up and coming musician.  Source of Labor performs at the Phunky Phat 95 festival at Evergreen State College.

1997 Edward Dumas launches Wet City Records with artists such as Twin G aka Twin Gamer, Harrison (Tino T) Allen, Jerome (Price) Riley, and Jerrit (Incomparable) Calloway. Chuckundi (DJ Kun Luv) Salisbury begins establishing himself as one on Seattle’s movers and shakers by hosting some of Seattle’s biggest night-out events; and launches Seattle’s Seaspot Magazine the following year. Seattle B-boy FeverOne becomes an official member of the Rock Steady Crew, and takes under his wing a young break dancer named Jerome (Jerome Skee) Aparis.

Danny (DJ Supreme) Clavesilla has a big year in 1998 as his company Conception Records (featuring producer Jake One) releases the compilation album “Walkman Rotation” and he teams up with Kutfather to host “Street Sounds” on radio station KCMU. 1998 also sees the formation of what would become the Unified Outreach non-profit arts program as David Toledo and Edward Dumas began self-funding free arts programs for youth in homeless shelters and transitional housing.

The following year Seattle’s break dance community sees the formation of its first “super group” (the Massive Monkees) headed by FeverOne protégé Jerome (Jerome Skeee) Aparis.  C.A.V.E.’ is formed by brothers Dumi and Tendai Maraire.

Y2K wreaks havoc as faulty systems and futuristic cyborg assassin’s cause the destruction of both the Rocket newspaper and Music Menu Records store. The bright spot for the year? Sportin’ Life Records is established, and Josh (Joshquest) Purden begins a stellar career as one of Seattle’s hottest club DJ’s.

The new millennium sees a new evolution of rap music in Seattle, as Ben (Macklemore) Haggerty performs live for the first time, D’Maurice and Armageddon launch their weekly music and video program, and Suntonio Bandanaz, C.A.V.E’, and Blue Scholars become the new faces of Seattle rap.

The following year the Stranger Newspaper launches its hip hop column featuring Sam Chesneau, only to be replaced a year later by Larry (Lar) Mizell.

2004 Seattle Hip Hop steps outside the box as Ishmael (Butterfly) Butler stars in the film “Men Without Jobs”, and 206 Zulu is established by Danny (King Khazm) Kogita.

2007 Seattle and the rest of the nation saw Jake One establish himself as an major player by producing music for 50 Cent & Mary J. Blige, Rakim and others, and quickly follows up with his on debut album “White Van Music” featuring Vitamin D.  Dave (Pablo D) Narvaez of Foxy DeRoxy crew establishes “Studio Narvaez Photography” aimed at documenting NW Hip Hop.  Devin Pittman host’s “What’s Good Seattle?  The Shop206″ on Public Access Television, focusing on local music and arts.  DJ B-Mello takes a spot on KUBE radio.

2009 sees more music evolution as former C.A.V.E’ artist Tendai (Oneder Boy) Maraire and Ishmael (Butterfly) Butler form Shabazz Palaces. Massive Monkees take 3rd place on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. MC, DJ, and Graffiti artist Michael (Specs Wizard) Hall releases a new line of comic books (Capstan Media). Rappers Sean Soultheinterrogator Danaher, Gerry Jermaine Borromeo, Sonny Bonoho, and Pierre Petty-p Guinchard gain notoriety.  Johnie Storm, Nitro Fresh, and Julie C begin basements sessions in what would become the “Saturday Morning Cartoon” project.

2010 David Toledo, Carlos Barrientes, and Dave (Pablo D) Narvaez host the 30-year Seattle City Breakers Reunion featuring the return of Ziggy; bringing together 4 generations of Seattle B-boys. The event also serves as a launching point for Pablo D’s multi-generational group “the North City Rockers” featuring Ernesto Iraheta, Rigo Jones, Nathan (SireOne) Hivick, and Ziggy Zig Zag.  2010 is also a breakout year for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis garnering praise for “Can’t Hold Us’, while Shabazz Palaces signs with Subpop. The same year David Toledo also partnered with TYRONE to produce a composite live-action/cartoon animation video for TYRONE’s song “Coolest Bruva”.

In 2011 we saw Anthony Ladao, the son of old school B-boy Michael (Shogun) Ladao make a name for himself as the front man for fan favorite pop group Midnight Red.  2011 also welcomes E’s Way Radio featuring Michael (E-Dawg) Johnson in a thank-then-rank format that gets high praise from listeners.


Seattle breakdance hits a high point in 2012 as the Vicious Puppies Crew headlines the “STG Dance This!” showcase at the Paramount Theater. The same year the Massive Monkees win the R16 World B-Boy Masters Championship in Seoul, South Korea. Additionally, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis release “The Heist” which will go on to achieve platinum status. Billy the Fridge begins gaining notoriety as one of Seattle’s hottest rappers.  Graffiti artist Delton Son also begins to receive major recognition from Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture culminating in a series of art showings.

VP 2

Seattle’s hip hop history is very rich and vibrant; with a community as diverse as the city itself. It continues to grow and evolve, but remains connected to its roots thanks to old school icon’s and historians such as DJ Supreme, FeverOne, Pablo D, and others who have stayed active over the past 30 years (30 years???)

I’m going to stop here it you all don’t mind. I’ve shared 1982 – 2012 giving us 30 years of hip hop history in Seattle.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed Seattle’s history from my perspective.   Without a doubt there are many crews, individuals, events, and items that have had a profound affect on Seattle, and I hope you forgive me if I forgot to mention them.

Please also take time to visit these other sites for even more history.





2014 JP Scratches Mobile DJ

contact: KingCountyNews@Gmail.com

‘The Hood Ain’t the Same:’ Draze Brings Seattle Together on Gentrification

By Lisa Loving

Originally posted at: http://www.theskanner.com/news/northwest/20909-the-hood-ain-t-the-same-draze-brings-seattle-together-on-gentrification


Draze, also known as Dumisani Maraire Jr., has an unequalled lineage in the Pacific Northwest: Born in Seattle, he is the son of Dumisani Maraire (1944-1999), the marimba superstar from Zimbabwe who became a University of Washington ethnomusicologist while igniting a musical movement throughout Oregon, Washington and beyond.

His mother, Lora Lue Chiorah, is a multi-talented educator, musician and dancer. His sister Chiwoniso Maraire (1976-2013) was the celebrated mbira artist and singer-songwriter behind the celebrated “Rebel Woman” and “Ancient Voices” recordings — she was called the “Zimbabwe Mbira Queen.” His brother, Tendai “Baba” Maraire, currently tours the globe as half of the Sub Pop experimental hip hop group Shabazz Palaces. Draze’s 12-year-old daughter Nya-J is already making a name for herself with original hip hop music performances and music videos.

This year Draze’s single describing how gentrification hit Seattle’s South Side grew into a video picked up for Seattle Center’s 50 Next project, inspired a major art show at the Experience Music Project Museum and has now touched off a local movement launching a series of community dialogues on community displacement and gentrification that will soon bring local people together in coffee shops across the city.

The Skanner News spoke with Draze – an emerging modern griot — about displacement, race, art, and what it will take to bring all our communities together.

The Skanner News: How did this project come about?

Draze: I’m a rapper, I’m an artist and musician. I was in the central area of Seattle, and I was getting ready to go to the East Side but it was traffic time, and I said you know what? I don’t want to go to the East Side right now. I’m just going to stay right here in the Central Area for a couple hours until traffic dies down, and then I’ll travel across the bridge.

And then I thought maybe I’ll go get something to eat. And I was in the mood for some soul food. I started looking around and the two or three places that I used to go weren’t there.

I can’t even find any soul food in the heart of the Central Area? And then the next was, I’ll go hang out at my friends’ houses. And I was going through my phone, only look to look up and say wow – nobody’s here.

As an artist, there is a moment when the light goes on and this thought came – man the hood ain’t the same.

And that sparked this song, “It Ain’t The Same.” And that was just the song — the actual movement took longer to get to.

So I ended up with 50 Next, which is an organization in combination with SeattleCenter; they were doing a compilation. The concept behind 50 Next is in the spirit of celebrating the space needle turning 50 years old.

So the idea was, let’s create a hip-hop project looking at 50 or 100 years from now, something people can look back on and say this is what was going on in Seattle. I felt this was a great opportunity, to send in this track, I did that. Steve fell in love with it and everyone at SeattleCenter fell love with it.

As that happened, we created a video for it. And in the music video, my idea was I wanted to capture my community as it’s changing, as it’s transitioning. There’s a restaurant in there called the Silver Fork. We actually sat in front of the Silver Fork the day they were closing, and it was amazing to see this place that was once frequented by African Americans but now it’s going to be gone because I think Safeway is going to be building a gas station or something.

My director said, let’s not just shoot the building, let’s shoot people in front of the building. The idea is, when you change these buildings you don’t just change the buildings – you change the people who frequent the buildings, and thus you end up changing a community. So the video was shot and I had this idea, rather just doing a normal video, let’s create something where we can look at gentrification through the eyes of artists. Music, that’s one form of art. You have painters,  you have photographers, and then you have spoken word. We pitched it to the EMP, Jonathan over at the EMP fell in love with the idea, and I think the rest was history.

TSN: As you’re looking at what’s going on around you, what do you think it is about it that really resonated with people? Because what we see is that even the people who are doing the gentrification are interested in the gentrification.

Draze: I don’t know if there’s ever been a topic that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime that is so multilayered. All ages, all races are now becoming engaged in it. I think it’s because were in the middle of change, we’re seeing so much change right around us. We want answers. Some people are afraid of it.

We were shooting the video for instance, there was a police officer who was giving us a little hassle, what are you guys doing, what’s going on here? And so we said we’re shooting a video about gentrification. And she said, don’t use that word. I asked why? What’s wrong with the word? I’m a black man, my director’s a white guy; we went to high school together. What’s wrong with the word? And she said, it means to black people that white people are coming to take your community away.

Well, that’s not what it means to me. You know what I’m saying? There’s so much more. There are racial implications – but it’s not just about race. There’s class, there’s economics.

I have a friend, he does real estate. He just saw the video, and said, I want to show you something. And so I went out to his office today and he wanted to show me the zoning in Seattle. I’m seeing gentrification come down to a ton of different things, right? So for this guy in real estate, he’s saying, look: Gentrification is all about zoning. The minute they changed the zoning right here in Central Area, he said it was over, because in layman’s terms, real estate guys are going to look at that and see money. On this one 15,000- foot plot I can build so many houses. You know what I mean? Whereas I go out of that zone, as I leave the Central Area, it’s not the same amount of money because I can’t build that much on the property.

This is through his lens. It’s almost like if you put on red glasses, and I put on glasses, we can look at the same thing but we’re going to see it through different lenses.

Where as in this process my event at the EMP was about looking at gentrification through the eyes of art. So we sat down with 10 painters and photographers from the Northwest and we started with a conversation with them about gentrification. And everyone saw it different. So we are all African-Americans from the central area or the south end of Seattle, but we all saw it very differently.

Some thought it was good, some thought it was bad. Some felt like if you cooked art that represents the people that live there in the community, people are more than likely to stay there, because it’s like home. In artists’ eyes it was a completely different issue.

And so I started to see that with gentrification, there was no one person who really had a tie on it, or a handle on it, but collectively we all were able to see different shades of the same picture. And so the event started where people would show up, and for the first hour they would just look at artwork. And it was amazing. I’m standing in the EMP before the event started, they opened the door and there was a fine wrapped around the building. I couldn’t believe it. And as they open the doors, the place just fills up with people. And we got to capacity and had to turn a couple hundred people away. So that’s how much the community wanted to come out and experiences, and I think people just want to place to talk about it.

They’re talking about it in the coffee shops, they’re talking about it at home, but there’s no place to have this conversation about gentrification. So that’s what we were able to create, we were able to start that conversation.

TSN: How do you personally define gentrification?

Draze: For me it’s the shifting of a — what’s the word? I would say it’s the shifting of the community, like a ripple effect. Does that make sense? Behind the scenes, a shift in the class and the status and the values of the community, via financing – it’s done economically — that inevitably drives people out. So I could no longer afford to live here.

And there are other factors that go with it. That, in the simplest form is how I view it personally.

TSN: What I’ve heard people talking about lately is that it’s more than just a force of displacement, it’s something that drives out the best and brightest people from the entire region. So it amounts to a significant brain drain. The Associated Press wrote a story earlier this month that said part of the reason economic inequality dropped in Seattle is essentially because of ethnic cleansing, pushing people of color to the suburbs outside the city. Did you see that?

Draze: In some ways it sounds good, right? If you’re looking at the numbers I hear you. But like you said the lens is important.

For instance in my community, my daughter cannot go to the bakery that I once went to. That matters, because when you’re talking about leaving a legacy, and passing things one generation to the next, it’s important. That’s what community is.

You have a people displaced from Africa, if you will, here they are in America and they still cannot plant roots. That’s huge. How do you leave a legacy?

Wealth in America is passed down from one generation to the next to the next. We can’t pass wealth down from one generation to another, so in Seattle the numbers might reflect one thing, but realistically, we don’t have our own radio station. We have no way to get our information out. There’s no way to get our story out. There’s no way to connect as a community.

And gentrification divides people. Yeah we’re spread out in all the areas in Seattle. The numbers might look good, now we’re out in Kent, some of us, and we might have a home that might be worth a little bit more, but our community is suffering. And if the community continues to suffer and our people continue to suffer, it’s a problem.

And then in Seattle there were a lot of programs that say, “we took kids off the streets.” Well it’s the way you take kids off the street. You pass a law, you’re coming into our community, you’re taking our kids off the streets and putting them in jail. There’s no care in that. Those are our uncles, our brothers, our sisters, sitting in jail.

So the difference is, if you can take that same amount of resources and financial institutions and give us the money and the resources to aid us, we can rehabilitate a lot of those young people. But that’s not what happens. And that’s the difference. What we are saying is these are still human beings that we love and care for, the problem’s not solved because we put them in jail.

The problem is solved when that young boy gets an opportunity to seek his real potential and goes on to become that.

In the 1990s they had a program called Weed and Seed, and I just remember being a young man from Seattle  — and so many people were going to jail. Just out of nowhere, it was like, jail, jail, Joe got locked up, we got a lock this person up. And then you learn about it on the street level, you start hearing about Weed and Seed, what is it?

You have no idea that somebody signed a piece of paper, you know what I’m saying? They passed a law, and they found a way to lock you up so that now, young men are gone. You look at it as a systematic change, right?

If I’m in the army, I might send in the air troops first, and after that I’ll send in the ground troops, right? It’s the same exact thing. We’re going to rezone the area, and then we need to clean it up so that we can actually go in and take it. So when we rezone the area, we’ll pass a law like Weed and Seed, get these kids off of the streets that we don’t think are valuable, get them out of there and slowly change the community.

And then you have things like what’s going on right now in real time. You have these organizations that once served African Americans, and were birthed by African Americans, and were made to serve this community, but we’re not there anymore, so they have this dilemma of how do we serve this community, but we’re not there anymore.

TSN: Do you think are some other hotspots of gentrification right now in Seattle?

Draze: You know to be honest with you I focus so much on the south and the central area. It was mind-blowing for me to sit down with the guy who directed the video, he’s white, we went to high school together at Franklin High School. And we were talking about gentrification, for me I was seeing it through my own lens. And then he just started talking about Green Lake, and Capitol Hill, and I was going hunh? What do you mean?

And he said, gentrification is happening in all our communities. And I said, okay, let me start to look at this through your lens, and if you look at it through mine — I think the journey he and I went on in creating this video was amazing, because I was able to see that, yes, Green Lake and in Capitol Hill, it’s actually being gentrified but maybe not at the same rate, maybe not with the same intensity. But it’s still happening.

TSN: What do you think is the most important thing to get into a story about this amazing project you just did that shook up the whole town of Seattle?

Draze: What I would really like people to take away from this is: Care for one another. I think some people in this country – we tend to be so consumed with what we want that we don’t care who it affects. And so at the end of the day to solve gentrification, were all going to have to sacrifice a little bit.

For example with my music, I have watched people of other cultures – I’m talking about Zimbabwe – I’ve watched people of other cultures want to take it and do whatever they want to do with the music. But it’s hurtful to me, as a person who is from Zimbabwe, to go, hey man, you’re playing “The Little Mermaid” on a marimba. That’s not okay with me. You know what I’m saying?

I love that you love the music, there’s an appreciation there, but there has to be something on this side of the fence where you go, hey man, how do I do this a respectful way?

And I think it’s the same thing with us living together, in community. How do I live in community with you and still be respectful to you? And that comes from conversation. But I’m determined my music is going to make a difference. I’m determined and I’m not going to stop until changes made.

Listen to Draze’s music and find out more about his work at www.Draze206.com.

Guest: Macklemore, Iggy Azalea and the emergence of white hip-hop


Critics of Macklemore’s and Iggy Azalea’s appropriation of hip-hop should remember that cultural transition is fluid and happens all the time, writes guest columnist Daudi Abe.

RAP artists who are not African American, like Macklemore and Iggy Azalea, have drawn recent criticism for appropriating a black art form.

Azalea was called out by Nicki Minaj, who is black, at an awards show. Others criticized Macklemore’s Grammy triumph earlier this year.

It is important to remember that appropriation, which is generally defined as taking something for one’s own use without the owner’s permission, was critical in the birth and subsequent explosive growth of hip-hop.

This type of cultural transition is fluid and it happens all the time.

For example, in a larger historical context, consider the cultural beginnings of the United States. On certain levels, early American culture replicated British culture until U.S. culture matured and stood on its own.

Similarly, white rock ’n’ roll was born from black rock ’n’ roll. Eventually, Elvis Presley became known as “The King” of not only the white rock, but all rock culture.

Hip-hop culture was born from African-American culture in the mid-1970s. Now, more than 40 years in, is Macklemore’s success a signal that white hip-hop has begun to stand on its own? Increasingly, the answer appears to be yes.

There have been four major white acts within mainstream rap music over the last 30 years: the Beastie Boys, Vanilla Ice, Eminem and, now, Macklemore.

In 1986, the Beastie Boys were signed by Russell Simmons to Def Jam,hip-hop’s first great record label, and toured with the likes of Run-DMC. This built-in credibility with African Americans allowed the Beastie Boys to initially push the boundaries of white hip-hop with their style of dress, sound and subject matter.

He has been essentially reduced to a caricature over time, but Vanilla Ice’s significance in the evolution of the white hip-hop is often overlooked.

In 1991, Vanilla Ice became the first white sex-symbol the rap genre had ever seen. Even though he was thoroughly mocked as an artist almost from the beginning, white women wanted to date him and white guys wanted to be him.

Eminem came with more credibility because his rhyme skill was immediately apparent and because African-American producer Dr. Dre signed him and produced his 1999 debut album “The Slim Shady LP.” Questions of appropriation surfaced immediately, and Eminem even addressed them in his 2002 song “Without Me”:

“I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley, to do black music so selfishly / And use it to get myself wealthy (Hey) / There’s a concept that works 20 million other white rappers emerge.”

Macklemore has experienced unprecedented levels of popularity and acceptance by embracing his whiteness in a new way.

Two of the songs that he has ridden to massive prop levels, “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love,” go against two of the most well-established norms within traditional hip-hop culture: bling (flashy jewelry worn to show off wealth) and homophobia.

Being white, no doubt, helped facilitate Macklemore’s success in addressing these topics through the lens of hip-hop. His and Ryan Lewis’ four-trophy night at the Grammy Awards in January was the ultimate symbol of mainstream validation, yet perhaps the real surprise was that he didn’t also win the awards for Song of the Year and Album of the Year.

These kinds of racial dynamics are not just about white kids. In his 2013 song “Nothing Is Stopping You,” rapper Big Sean, who is black, tells the story of giving an impromptu audition to an aspiring young African-American rapper.

In one line the kid describes himself as being “like a young black Eminem,” which reminds us that there are new generations of kids of all colors who experience these types of whiteness in rap music as normal.

This kind of racial identity buffet is hardly new in hip-hop. Widely forgotten are the gimmicky Young Black Teenagers who released their self-titled debut album in 1991.

Backed by Public Enemy, Young Black Teenagers had a song titled “Proud to be Black,” even though all the group members were white.

Recently Iggy Azalea has become a hot topic in the discussion about appropriation within the context of hip-hop. Even though she emigrated from Australia, Azalea has become the first white female rapper to make a serious imprint in the United States.

Again, it’s worth remembering that hip-hop itself developed through young people appropriating what was around them. During hip-hop’s formative years, appropriation could be found in rap songs played by DJs at block parties who sampled records by artists like James Brown and the Tom-Tom Club.

Graffiti artists appropriated walls and entire sides of subway cars, and break dancers created a new genre by taking elements from others such as tap, jazz and lindy-hopping.

In 1979, “Rapper’s Delight,” the first internationally distributed rap record, was a prime example of appropriation. Using a sample from the 1979 disco hit “Good Times” by the group Chic, recording executive Sylvia Robinson and three rappers known as The Sugarhill Gang produced “Rapper’s Delight.” None of the members had any standing or credibility within the early hip-hop culture, which had evolved from the South Bronx beginning in the early 1970s.

An early example of white artists appropriating hip-hop was the 1980 song “Rapture” by the group Blondie.

In the late 1980s, African-American rappers from the West Coast appropriated East Coast hip-hop traditions and used lyrical stories of street life in Los Angeles to create the genre known as gangsta rap.

Macklemore and Azalea are only doing what hip-hop artists have been doing for the past 30 years: using inspiration from others to produce something new. However, this does not invalidate the unease some African Americans feel about what appears to be the emergence of white hip-hop culture.

Perhaps sometime soon we’ll see a rapper of color accused of appropriating white style.

Daudi Abe is the author of “6 ‘N the Morning: West Coast Hip-Hop Music 1987-1992 & the Transformation of Mainstream Culture.” Email: daudi.abe@seattlecolleges.edu

Seattle’s Dancing Dad is Artistic Dynamo!

Dance Point

October 2014 Seattle, WA – Recently a new Facebook challenge has caught fire, the “Daddy Daughter Dance Challenge” posted by David Toledo a few weeks ago has already received over 125K views and seems to be everywhere.  (see the video here: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152736162737440&set=vb.683457439&type=2&theater

Daddy Daughter Challenge

In the video David Toledo and his 7-year old daughter Kiki match dance moves in an attempt to one-up each other and win the dance challenge.

The video is a great example of the love shared between a father and daughter and reminds us all to make time to do fun things with our kids, and as David’s Facebook post says, “Make memories with your children.”

David Toledo is from Seattle, Washington and was raised in North Seattle.  Due to Seattle Public School’s busing program of the 1980’s David attended Garfield High School in Seattle’s Central District his freshman-Junior year ~ to which David says was a blessing as it allowed him to grow artistically in such a arts-rich environment which was also home to Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and most recently Macklemore.

“I loved my time at Garfield.  I made some life-long friends and really grew as a person.  It was while at Garfield that I was introduced to the hip hop culture and most notably for me, the hip hop style of letter and character design.  I returned to the north end my senior year and graduated from Ingraham High School, but I am so thankful that I was able to attend Garfield for those crucial years.” David said.

The style of lettering and character design has played a large part in David’s adult life as he has become well known for his cartoon animation and comic book design classes.  A published artist, writer, and director, David splits his time between his professional career and volunteer services working with low income and at-risk youth through the Unified Outreach youth arts program. (www.UnifiedOutreach.com)

“My mother was a great example of a giving heart.  She actually started a food bank and emergency services hub from our home in North Seattle back in the early 1980’s.  She would prepare and deliver care packages, volunteer at soup kitchens, take in families that needed temporary housing…. She poured her heart into our neighborhood.  She showed us that love is an action word.”

Mom Closes 2   David’s mother (Alice) food bank article 1984.

“I try to live up to that.  God has blessed me with some artistic ability, and I try to use that to the best of my ability to inspire kids.  I came from a single mother household so I know some of the struggles they are going through.  Drawing, painting, music, acting… all of these things help to break down barriers and build self esteem that is so crucial in healthy emotional development.”

David Toledo and Daughter Laughing  David and daughter (Kiki)

David says that he and his daughter have been dancing together (and against each other) for years and that it was actually his daughter’s idea to post the video which is actually a few years old.  When they came across it on an old computer disc they thought it was so funny that they just had to post it.   They never expected that the video would go viral.

“We’re glad that it has touched so many people.  The feedback has been so positive and it’s wonderful to see how it has inspired others to get a little silly with their kids.  The window for making lasting memories is so short, we have to cherish that time with our children.”

Article by Bubi Dumas 11/4/14

BRING THE NOISE! Legendary Seattle artist David Toledo makes the leap from street art to political activism.

Originally published 10/08/14: http://theincrediblecrew.blogspot.com/2014/10/bring-noise-legendary-seattle-artist.html

Image Standing 1987

Seattle is known as both a place of artistic expression and of issue advocacy.  On one hand Seattle is a place where creativity flourishes and bursts forth in the form of game-changing music, technology, and art appreciation centers; while on the other hand advancing the rights of workers, launching innovative youth outreach programs, and addressing race & social justice issues head-on.

It there is one person that exemplifies Seattle’s dual personality it is artist and youth advocate David Toledo.  A published author, illustrator, musician and playwright; 10 years ago David stepped back (slightly) from the limelight in order to focus on youth advocacy; stopping youth violence, and using the arts to give a new direction to many of Seattle’s at-risk teens.

David and team recently wrapping up the Unified Outreach summer classes and highly acclaimed “Work Training in the Arts” program.  And although David currently makes his home in West Seattle, he agreed to sit down with us over a plate of wings and biscuits in Seattle’s Central District.

David:  That’s my high school right there.  They’ve done a lot of renovations but I still like to walk the yard once in a while or slip inside after hours just to breeze through the hallways.

YAC:  Good memories?

David:  Definitely.  I wish I could go back and do it all again… But I’m sure that’s what most people say.

YAC:  Has the neighborhood changed since you attended Garfield?

David:   I think there is truth to the gentrification argument, that families that have lived in the area for generations being driven out.  Families redlined into the area due to discriminating housing practices that found the good and settled here to put down roots, bought houses, and planned on establishing a home for their children and grandchildren.

“City officials have surrendered to developers, and those that are advocating for the community are just too radical.”

And now we are talking about micro housing and more development but no one is talking about how that will affect the quality of life in the area.  What are the pros and cons?   We have to get a handle on affordable housing issues, and do so in a responsible way.  So far it looks like our city officials have surrendered to developers, and those that are advocating for the community are just too radical.  We need honest mediators to bring both sides together.

YAC:  What would you like to see?

David:  Not all development is bad.  I walked these streets in the 80’s and 90’s and I’m not afraid to share both the triumphs and the tragedies of that time period.  New construction is needed, but we need to respect local establishments that have historical significance.  How can the community partner with the developers to honor these locations?

Anyway, I know you didn’t come here to talk about housing issues.  I’m sure you’d rather talk about all the exciting things we’re doing with the arts.

YAC:  August 30th the Unified Outreach program held its annual youth Fashion Expose.  Can you tell us a little about the work training in the arts program?

d4 (Work Training in the Arts)

David:  Of course, but first let me give you some history.  Being artists ourselves, the volunteers have known the importance of networking and career tracks in being successful.  Politicians are quick to use the quote Pastor Greg Boyle “Nothing stops a bullet like a job”, and we believe that.  However, putting a job in a low income area doesn’t mean that the youth in that area will have access to it.  Which, by the way is why I favor tax breaks or other incentives for hiring employees that live in the same district as the business, but that’s another subject.

Like most who are involved with youth programs we continually heard of kids taking art classes or workshops offered throughout the city- but once the student graduated he/she didn’t know what to do with their newfound artistic skills. So in 2010 we began engaging Mayor McGinn regarding the need for career tracks for any arts programs receiving funding from the city.  We suggested that if a group was seeking city funding that one of the requirements be that the facility provide their students with direction beyond the classroom, and offered our Youth Fashion Expose as an example.  Now one thing about Mayor McGinn is he loved and engaged both Seattle’s youth and the arts.  Mayor McGinn didn’t just listen, he acted, and in 2011 launched the City’s “Work Readiness in the Arts” program, connecting the Office of Arts & Culture, Seattle’s Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI), and Non-Profit Arts programs in a partnership to provide job training skills in various artistic mediums.  The program doesn’t have the mandatory “education track or networking” component that we sought, but it is a step in the right direction.

YAC:  Which brings us to the Youth Fashion Expose’?

David:  Exactly!  So what this program offers is work training in event production and management.  We offer the Fashion Expose in partnership with Carlisia Minnis/MAC Fashion House and Lika Love, as well as a Music Industry course featuring Seattle rap artist TYRONE (aka Tyrone Dumas) which is incredible.

“Kids need educational or career direction beyond the initial classroom training.”

In these programs Unified Outreach partners with SYVPI to train 10 at-risk youth (per program) to plan, promote, and deliver an industry level community event.  During a 6-week period students learn facilities management, sound & lighting, promotions, stage set-up, video production, and more.  Then on the final night our instructors step back and allow the students to take full control of the show.  Afterwards we spend a week of programming helping the youth to build resumes, obtain contact information for designers, artists, promoters, and other networking opportunities.  The kids leave the program with the skills to put on any type of large scale event, as well as a strong resume which includes a DVD of the performance and behind the scenes footage.

YAC:  That is an incredible program.  I agree that kids need educational or career direction beyond the initial classroom training.  Your program fills a much needed void in the arts community!  Now let’s talk a little about your personal history.  I think it’s especially appropriate that we talk about your roots in hip hop since we are just steps away from your high school and the spot of one of your most famous works of art?  At one time you were considered one of the best graffiti artist’s in Seattle.  Can you tell me about that?

David:  I suppose I had some neighborhood fame during hip hop’s golden era, back around 1983-1985.  I was pretty well known for doing hip hop art back then.  Unlike today, there weren’t a lot of street artists who did full scale murals, really there were only a handful.  So the minute I put up a 30 foot burner on the Garfield High track field I established myself.  After that if I was at Sir Mixalot jam at the YMCA or Boy’s Club I had a little group of aspiring artists that would congregate around me.

d2 (Image Nemo aerosol 1987)

YAC:  So you were Seattle’s first graffiti muralist?

David:  Oh no! Not at all.  As a matter of fact my first inspiration was the block-long graffiti mural by Kuo (aka Mr. Clean) that changed my life.  I had never seen anything like it.  But by this time there were already other artists establishing themselves with large pieces, such as Spraycan, DadOne, Spaide, Skreen, Nemo, KeepOne, Solo Doe, Faze, Bazerk, and others.  But I had really strong characters, and that helped my pieces to get a little more attention; but all said and done, most of those cats were better with a spray can than me.

YAC:  At what point did you transition from walls to canvas?

David:  I met graffiti artist Sean (Nemo) Casey in 1986.  I had already stopped going out at night and began focusing on my music & dance crew (the Ducky Boys) which had been gaining notoriety at local dance clubs in Seattle and surrounding areas.  I think Nemo and I painted 2 walls together, then Nemo suggested that we really start focusing on canvases. He was into all kinds of artistic mediums, truly gifted.

YAC:  Let’s quickly touch on your dance crew, the Ducky Boys.

David:  So there was a period where kids were growing out of breakdancing, but still looking for something to do at the club (other than dance with girls, go figure).  Enter “the prep” which was a dance battle of sorts.  So kids would have “prep crews” that would go out and dance against each other.  During this brief period (85-87) the most well-known crews (thanks to our appearance on Seattle Bandstand) were the Masters of the Prep (later known as PPIA), the Ballard Boys, and the Ducky Boys.  The dance crew slowly evolved into a musical group with the help of DJ’s Spencer Reed and Kelly Peebles.

d1 (Ducky Boys 1985)

YAC:  That sounds like fun.

David:  It was a great time in my life.  But there were also a couple of times that the guys and I had to fight our way out of the club because the regulars didn’t like to see us win cash prizes in the dance contests.

“He literally had pressed me up over his head and was going to throw me through the storefront window.”

YAC:  Really?  Dance-fight?  Like in West Side Story?

David:  (Laughs) not quite.  Some of these fights were pretty serious, there was one fight where I was literally pressed over this guy’s head and thought he was going to throw me through the storefront window, and honestly, he could have if he wanted to.  Thankfully he decided to simply body slam me to the floor. I’m truly grateful that God never allowed me to go through a window, or to be too severely damaged in a fight, because I put myself in a lot of unnecessary situations trying to represent my crew.

YAC:  I think that a lot of kids are dealing with that same mentality today.  There is a willingness to do some pretty crazy things in order to impress our friends.

David:  It’s true.  The respect and approval of your friends means so much at that age.  It’s funny, because in the situation where I was almost thrown through the window, the guy I got into it with that day probably had more in common with me than anyone else I was hanging with at the time.  He’s gone on to be an author of children’s books, he’s a concert promoter, and he’s really sharp.  If he and I would have sat down with our business hats on we might be running a Fortune 500 company today, man I’d like to have a do-over there.

YAC:  Do you remember what you were fighting about?

David:  Sadly, I don’t.  Which means it was probably something pretty silly.  I can honestly say that most of the altercations I was involved in were due to my trying to protect others.  Do you remember the scene in Forrest Gump, when Forrest sees the hippie boyfriend slap Jenny, and Forrest goes over the table to get him? I guess I was everybody’s Forrest Gump back then.  Even today, it’s hard for me to sit still when I see a person physically or verbally attacking someone who isn’t equipped to fight back.  People can be so mean, and there are some out there that escalate their hostility when they see the person they are attacking is not fighting back.

YAC:  But in this case?

David:  In this case I’m ashamed to say that I think we were fighting about who placed where in a recent dance contest.  It was something really silly, and shamefully embarrassing.

YAC:  Do you feel that having similar experiences helps you to better understand the kids you work with?

David:  I think it helps.  But these kids are also dealing with things that I could never imagine at that age.  Social media brings peer pressure and bullying to a whole new level.  But we just try to lead by example.  I share my stories, successes and failures, in hopes that it helps them to make the right decisions if ever found in similar situations.

David:  Wait a minute.  We’re doing it again.  We’re way off track if this is meant to be a story about the arts program.

YAC:  Well, we’re here to talk about the program but I think your history is also important in understanding what drives you.  But okay, back to the gallery showing.  You artists just can’t seem to stay focused.

David:  (Laughs) Okay, so I met Nemo, who was already doing gallery showings featuring his work with aerosol.  My first pieces were aerosol works as well, featuring hip hop style letters and characters; but I quickly moved from spray-paint to oils and acrylics.  So my early showings were a mixture of both traditional and contemporary works.  One canvas would have a hip hop character and letters, the next canvas would be an oil painting of an old man drinking coffee.  The dramatic leaps of style and mediums impressed some, while leaving others trying to make sense of what, when, and how they were connected.

David Toledo oil paint 1999 (Oils 1999)

YAC:  And from there your next project was what?

David:  I think the early 1990’s were some of my most commercially creative years.  During this time I wrote and acted in various plays, was the lead writer and illustrator for a number of comic books, and performed with Seattle alternative-band “Silly Rabbit” and the rap group Moving Target, along with my brother Dawny and Esera Mose (also releasing and album of the same name).

YAC:  Things were really moving along.  Then what happened?

David:  By 1996 I was working a full time desk job and really focused on a steady white-collar pay check.  I dabbled in various artist mediums, but only sporadically.  But there was also something missing.  I had grown up with a mother who was very involved in helping others.  She took in refugees, let families from church stay with us, and housed foster children.  In the late 1970’s she and a few friends began a soup kitchen at one of the senior housing complexes in Greenwood, and in the early 80’s she started one of the first neighborhood food-banks, from our front porch.  This was a single mother, raising 4 kids on her own, working nights to make ends meet.  But despite her own struggles she was always asking how she could help others; delivering and cooking food, sowing buttons, lending a friendly ear, whatever was needed.

“We operated for nearly a decade with absolutely no funding other than what the volunteers put into the program.”

So here I was, almost 30, and wondering how I could make a difference.  So I started volunteering at a transitional housing shelter in the Central District.  I would go in once a week and draw or paint with the kids, and that’s where my love of youth programming began.

YAC:  Would you say that was the beginning of the Unified Outreach program?

David:  In a way, yes.  So as I began volunteering at other shelters I started to ask other artist friends of mine to help out.  When we would show up to do art classes people would ask what group we were with.  So eventually we thought that we needed to establish a name for the group, and Unified Outreach was born.  That was 1998 when we actually put a name to the program.  We applied for and received 501c3 Charity status in 2004.

YAC:  So you actually celebrated 10 years of charitable status this year?  Congratulations!

David:  Oh yeah, I hadn’t even thought about that.  16 years of programming, with the last 10 years under the 501c3 status.  It’s be a very rewarding, full of ups and downs, but very rewarding.  And during this time I think I really grew as a person.  I spent two years in North Los Angeles/Inglewood volunteering at Christ Gospel Mission as well as the Greater Bethany Food Bank advocating for the homeless, working with at-risk youth, and trying to get a better grasp of issues that affect those around me.  Here in Seattle I’ve worked on affordable housing issues, spoken out against corruption and cronyism in our state government, and called for a return of arts programs to our public schools.

YAC:  What do you see in the future for Unified Outreach?

David:  We really have a lot of programs that are being initiated by former students.  There is a production group that meets weekly at our studios, completely made up of former students and other youth.  I believe the oldest in the group is 20 or 21 years.  They are using the sound booth and video equipment with a goal of producing ready for network commercials and television sitcoms within the next 2 years.

And of course we’re looking at other options for future work training in the arts programs such as cartoon animation, ebook publishing, healthy living programs and other ideas.

YAC:  Any personal arts projects for David Toledo?

David:  I’m working on a cartoon series called the Mascots, and finishing a short script for theater, hopefully both to be completed by the end of 2015.

Mascots w David Toledo  (The Mascots Cartoon)

YAC:  What would you say is Unified Outreach’s biggest accomplishment?

David:  I think just surviving.  We operated for nearly a decade with absolutely no funding other than what the volunteers put into the program.  We didn’t receive our first grant until 2011.  We kept the program alive and running with love, sweat, and tears.

“They continued to spin the story that Unified Outreach had somehow broken the law, calling for arrests and threatening to come down to the art center and confront the kids.”

YAC:  Was there ever a time when you thought about closing the doors?

David:  Yes, sadly there was, and it was tied directly into our first grant, although it was really just about politics.  In 2011 Unified Outreach had received a check from the City for $1000.00 to help with printing of a youth arts newspaper.  My sister was running for office at the time, and supporters of her political opponent attacked our program in an attempt to smear her.  As one would expect the kids writing the articles wrote about what they were doing and seeing at the time, including writing about my sisters run for office since it was something they heard me talking about daily.  Nothing over the top, just some general articles about her run which I still think were very fair and balanced.  Seeing an opportunity to attack my sister, her opponents complained to the city and the elections commission about the paper being political literature.

YAC:  Wow.  What happened?

David:  The city officials called us in a panic, worried about being caught in the middle of a political war.  Before they even asked we offered to give the money back in order to help calm the situation, I wrote them a check that morning.  The elections board looked at the newspaper and agreed with us that there was no wrongdoing, and closed the case.  However, the political partisans continued to spin the story that Unified Outreach had somehow broken the law, calling for arrests and threatening to come down to the art center and confront the kids.

That is the thing that still turns my stomach, how adults can do something so despicable as to harm children (even emotionally) just to gain the political upper hand.  Our kids went from feeling like they had accomplished something major, the production of a complete newspaper – written, drawn, photographed, and published by youth, to feeling like they did something wrong.

(At this point David’s lip quivers, as he seems shaken recounting the events).

Because of those threats we had to think about protecting our students from the mental and potential physical abuse by these political fanatics.  So we closed the doors for a time and cut back on programming until after the race was over.  Once we thought that our students were safe to return we began to schedule classes again.

YAC:  That’s terrible.  I’m glad that you were able to regroup and to continue with your programming.  It’s hard to believe that people can be so wicked, but then again, politics is a dirty game.

I’m not sure if this is a good Segue but over the past few years you have really grown from just and artist into many different areas of advocacy, from curbing youth violence, race & social justice, fair housing, and more.  You seem to have become a real activist.

David:  I think that being active in the community demands that we engage on issues that are important to people.  I always try to approach the dialogue with a humble heart; but we never know where inspiration may come from.  Even if someone has completely different ideas about how things should work, there may be some areas of common ground, and if we listen, there may be some good ideas mixed in with the rhetoric.

YAC:  You’ve recently made attempts to engage Mayor Murray’s office regarding a proposal to establish a department of inner city affairs?

“The proposal received strong opposition from department-heads within the Mayor’s office that feared losing their funding.”

David:  Yes, during the summer of 2014 the Central District and Rainier Valley saw a dramatic increase in youth violence and murders.  Over 10 youth murdered, over 20 overall murders, and over 50 reported gunshots in a 4-month period.  Senior members of the community were crying out for outside the box thinking to engage youth.  Our steering committee put together what we felt was a solid blueprint for the creation of a new department that would cultivate a new partnership between community leaders and public safety officials and access previously unobtainable community resources.

YAC:  And the results of the proposal?

David:  The Mayor’s office refused to meet with us, stating that they already had programs in place to deal with youth violence.  Additionally, I understand the proposal received strong opposition from department-heads within the Mayor’s office that feared losing their funding.

I think the proposal was also just a little too radical.  Our design involved recruiting people from the neighborhood that didn’t have their high school diplomas, and maybe had police records, whose only education was on the streets, but that the kids doing the violence know and look up to.  These cats didn’t fit into the Mayor’s plan for youth engagement.  The city still sees the best course of action to curb the violence as college educated counselors and social workers from Ivy League Schools.

It was also mentioned to us by inside sources that there was a fear that meeting with us would give the proposal and the proposed community leader’s legitimacy and shine a spotlight on areas that our city officials would rather keep in the dark.

YAC:  Like turning on a light in the kitchen and seeing roaches scatter?

David:  The message we got is to not rock the boat. So rather than continue to beat on a closed door we are looking at other ways to bring change on a smaller scale.  We must continuing to engage kids in one-on-one relationships through arts programs, music, mentoring, and just being a part of the community.

And thankfully there are other great programs that are active in the area that we hope to partner with in the future.  Groups like B.U.I.L.D. and programs like Hack the CD that have outstanding leadership and are making a difference where they are needed most.

YAC:  I feel like we could sit and talk about arts programs and community involvement all day, but we have to end the article at some point.  Let me rattle off a few topics and please try to answer in one or two sentences if possible.

“Other than the festivals, Seattle Center is always deserted, but that’s what happens when you have an Arts Commission that is heavily populated with lawyers and real estate developers.”

YAC:  Best thing about growing up in Seattle.

David:  Summertime at Greenlake and at the Seattle Center Fun Forrest.  Two things break my heart, going to Greenlake and seeing “no swimming due to toxic algae” and visiting Seattle Center and seeing a once vibrant community meeting place practically a ghost town.  Other than the festivals, Seattle Center is always deserted, but that’s what happens when you have an Arts Commission that is heavily populated with lawyers and real estate developers.

YAC:  Favorite thing about Seattle today?

David:  Seahawks baby!

YAC:  First thing you would do if you were the Mayor?

David:  Personal camera’s on police officers.  We need that to protect our officers who put their lives on the line every day and need that documentation when they are forced escalate a situation.  And we need it for our communities who may have lost confidence in our public safety offices due to past experiences.

YAC:  If you could talk to the David Toledo of 1990 what would you say?

David:  Find and marry a good woman.  We are created as incomplete beings; having a partner that you can share this journey with is a blessing that I took too long to embrace.

YAC:  Your hero?

David:  My mom, who I love with all my heart.

YAC:  Favorite thing to do?

David:  Dance-off competitions with my daughter, nephews, and nieces.

Dance Point   (Daddy Daughter Dance-Off)

YAC:  Advice for struggling artists?

David:  Find artists with similar drive, ambition, and vision and build together.

YAC:  Advice for political activists?

David:  (laughs) No, no advice.  I’m still figuring it out, and what I do know about politics, I don’t like.

YAC:  Final words?

David:  I’ll just leave you with a favorite scripture, James 2:15 “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.



Urban Hollywood meets Seattle in Youth Organized Runway Extravaganza!



Saturday night August 30th West Seattle residents braved the rain in order to enjoy the annual Unified Outreach Runway Extravaganza! Ask anyone in the audience and they will tell you that it was worth it!

Starting with the always delicious catered buffet and moving into an evening of pure enjoyment; one could easily forget that this is a free event put on entirely by kids.

MAC Double2

Each year Unified Outreach partners with the City of Seattle’s Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative (SYVPI) and local fashion icon Carlisia Minnis/MAC Fashion House in order to provide a work training in the arts program for at-risk youth ages 13 – 18.

This partnership offers a series of 6-week programs that introduce youth ages 13-18 to the art of event management. Students learn promotions, facilities, sound& lighting, photo/video editing, hosting, and other areas necessary to put on an industry level fashion show.


Every year the fashion (and entertainment) program showcases the students own unique personalities; and this year it really did! Last year the show had a very light-hearted approach featuring comedy, acoustic guitar, and romantic-comedy ballads. Whereas this year the theme was “Urban Hollywood Meets Seattle” and it was hip hop hooray from start to finish with local breakdance phenomenon the Vicious Puppies crew and local rap artist Archie Bellz.

“We’re confident they could walk out the door and move directly into a career in event management“

The show was hosted by (students) Connor and Kayla who kept the crowd laughing with their sharp witted dialogue. At one point Connor produced a single ticket to the upcoming Wu Tang concert and proceeded to present it to one person at the show he felt deserved it most; himself. This brought a roar of laughter from the crowd, as did most of the interaction between the two hosts.

The highlight was of course the incredible outfits by Carlisia Minnis and MAC Fashion House; who for over a decade have established themselves as a brand that is as unique as Seattle itself.  The MAC Fashion House Boutique is located off Roxbury in West Seattle/White Center and is available for viewing by appointment at (206) 322-2147.

This year, the show also featured the organizational skills of personal stylist Lika Love who can be found online as well as around West Seattle in the Lika Love mobile boutique.MAC Kiel2

David Toledo, one of the event organizers said, “The entire behind the scenes crew was made up of teens from 13 to 18 years old from the work training in the arts program. They did the sound and lighting, facilities, photo and video show, stage set up, and more. These kids are incredible! We’re confident they could walk out the door and move directly into a career in event management. We’re very blessed to have such a great partnership with the City of Seattle and the people at SYVPI who have such a genuine interest in our youth. When (former) Mayor’s Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn put these programs into place they were really being visionaries.

The event was held at the West Seattle Christian Church Exhibition and Performance Hall at 4400 42nd Ave SW, which is a wonderful facility providing a full stage, runway, sound board, and spotlight; making this a truly industry-level event.