Seattle in Black and White

Seattle has a reputation as a progressive, tolerant city, but as recently as the 1960s, racist laws and practices made Seattle a very unequal place to live. The University of Washington’s Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project has uncovered restrictive covenants—prohibiting the sale or rental of property to members of specified racial or ethnic groups—in nearly every neighborhood of Seattle outside of the Central Area and the International District. For example, the deeds of many properties in Capitol Hill include the clause: “That no part of said premises shall ever be used or occupied by or sold, conveyed, leased, rented, or given to negroes or any person or persons of negro blood.”

CORE-sponsored demonstration at realtor office of Picture Floor Plans, Inc. Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives; item number 63905.

Such language was ruled unenforceable by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948, but realtors and residents exerted strong pressure to keep most neighborhoods of Seattle white through the 1960s. In 1964 Seattle voters rejected an open housing ordinance that would have made racial discrimination in real estate illegal. Not until 1968, with the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act, was housing discrimination outlawed. The effects of racial discrimination are still evident today: just look at this map of 2010 Census data showing distribution of racial and ethnic groups north of the ship canal.

Restrictions on where people were allowed to live were only one of the many ways in which people of color were discriminated against in Seattle. African Americans were barred from nearly all but the most menial jobs. Many restaurants, grocery stores and even hospitals closed their doors to non-white patrons; and schools were sharply segregated because of segregated housing.

Seattle in Black and White, a new book by four activists in Seattle’s 1960s campaigns against discrimination, describes the work of the Seattle Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in demanding an end to racial segregation in employment, housing and education. Through the authors’ personal experience in Seattle’s civil rights movement, the book tells the story of the demonstrations, boycotts and campaigns that led, ultimately, to changes to Seattle’s discriminatory laws and policies. Join the authors for a discussion at the History Café at Roy Street Coffee and Tea on April 21.

~ Bo K., Central Library

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