Local Heroes in Black History (and the Landmarks Named for Them)

Just as Black history is American history, the history of Black people in Seattle is local history. Here are several ways to learn more about the Black historical figures who helped make Seattle what it is today, and to remind ourselves that Black History Month can, and should, be observed every month.

Event Graphic for History Cafe: Paying Tribute to Seattle's Black Landmarks and Their Namesakes, at MOHAI 2/15/2023
Click the image above to register for MOHAI’s free event on February 15th.

A great way to start is to learn more about these landmarks named for local Black heroes. First, register to attend this free History Café event, on February 15th, at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI): Paying Tribute to Seattle’s Black Landmarks and their Namesakes. Next, take a look at the website of MOHAI’s partner for this event, HistoryLink (“The free online encyclopedia of Washington state history”), and their Black History Resources Guide to Influential People, then follow the links to read articles on each one. Visit the newly reopened Northwest African American Museum, and learn about the people involved in its history and founding too. Another wonderful resource for Black history, local and beyond, is BlackPast, founded by renowned local historian, Quintard Taylor.

Book Cover - The Forging of a Black Community by Quintard TaylorWhen you’re ready to dive deeper with books, check out the second edition of Taylor’s classic work, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era, which features a new foreword and afterword. Then, take a walking tour of the Central District with HistoryLink. Explore more books about local Black history, culture, artists and other figures with our booklist, Black History in Seattle. And take a look at the digitized photographs and other artifacts from the Library’s Black Culture and History online special collection.

Stay tuned for additional posts about specific people and the places named in their honor!

Note: If you’re not familiar with the history of the Central District and wonder why so many of the landmarks named for Black historical figures are located there, it’s not a coincidence—Seattle has a deep history of segregation and redlining, which you can learn more about on the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project’s resource, Segregated Seattle.

~ Posted by Emily G.

Introducing Higo! New Central Exhibition

Higo 10 Cents Store, owned by the Murakami family and a social hub in Seattle’s Japantown, has a long and fascinating community and family history. Meet Me at Higo welcomes younger generations to connect with and explore what it means to be Japanese American. Today, Higo 10 Cents Store (or Higo Variety Store) is KOBO at Higo and is still located at 604 South Jackson in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.

The growing Murakami family visits Seattle’s Volunteer Park, 1923. Murakami Family Collection, Wing Luke Museum
The growing Murakami family visits Seattle’s Volunteer Park, 1923. Murakami Family Collection, Wing Luke Museum

From February 1st through March 26th, the Central Library Gallery is hosting Meet Me at Higo, a traveling exhibition by the Wing Luke Museum. Visitors will immerse themselves in archival photographs, journals and letters from the Murakami family—the original proprietors—as well as goods such as ceramics, toys, and textiles sold there through the 20th century until it closed its doors in the early 2000s when Masa, the last surviving member of the Murakami family, retired.

Matsuyo Murakami stands in the doorway of the store on South Weller Street, circa 1912. Murakami Family Collection, Wing Luke Museum
Matsuyo Murakami stands in the doorway of the store on South Weller Street, circa 1912. Murakami Family Collection, Wing Luke Museum

Founded before 1910 (dates are variously given as 1907 and 1909 depending on the source), Higo 10 Cents Store, which was later renamed Higo Variety Store, became a center for Japanese Americans who came to the Pacific Northwest to as migrant works in the railroad, agriculture, and fishing industries. The Japanese population grew into a neighborhood called Nihonmachi (Japantown or J-Town), a hub of culture and community located in the International District-Chinatown, less than a mile from the Central Library. At Nihonmachi’s heart was Higo, a central point of connection for the community, providing imported and local goods that local residents relied on to make their homes feel familiar and comfortable as well as a place for people to meet and connect.

On February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which created an “exclusion zone” based on xenophobic and racist hostility towards Japanese Americans in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The order authorized brutality towards and surveillance and arrests of community members, subsequently escalated to forced relocation of Japanese Americans within the exclusion zone by April of 1942. An estimated 126,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and incarcerated in concentration camps. The Murakami family was interned at Minidoka concentration camp.

The Higo 10 Cents Store sells a wide variety of goods, circa 1907. Murakami Family Collection, Wing Luke Museum
The Higo 10 Cents Store sells a wide variety of goods, circa 1907. Murakami Family Collection, Wing Luke Museum

Once the Murakami Family was able to return to Seattle and their store, they found it untouched, in large part thanks to concerned neighbors, and were eventually able to reopen. As more people were released from incarceration, Higo became a meeting place for a shattered community to come find news of lost or missing family members, refurnish or reclaim lost items, and reconnect with community.

Sanzo Murakami establishes the Higo 10 Cents Store in 1907. Murakami Family Collection, Wing Luke Museum
Sanzo Murakami establishes the Higo 10 Cents Store in 1907. Murakami Family Collection, Wing Luke Museum

Even though Higo Variety Store is closed, you can still visit it today in a new incarnation in the same location. Now called Kobo at Higo, it boasts a gallery space which displays work from artists of Japanese heritage and sells imported and local goods. The owners have lovingly preserved the interior as it was, and curates historical unsold items that were once part of Higo’s inventory. They work closely with the Wing Luke Museum and historians to honor the legacy of Higo as a beloved meeting place for Japanese Americans through the tumultuous 20th Century.

We invite you to come and meet Higo, and discover an intimate slice of Seattle’s 20th century Japanese American history through the eyes a remarkable family by visiting us this February and March in the gallery located on 8th floor of the Central Library.

Further Reading:

     ~ Posted by Billie B.

Poetry, Pictures, Architecture and Orcas: January 2023 Events and Author Readings

Picture of leaves in snow by Rodion Kutsaiev with Unsplash
Courtesy Rodion Kutsaiev with Unsplash

Want something to look forward to after the holidays? The Seattle Public Library’s author programs and community events in January 2023 include a Lunar New Year celebration, the Seattle Times’ annual Pictures of the Year event, and author events highlighting Lynda Mapes’ award-winning book about orcas and a picture book about Pacific Science Center architect Minoru Yamasaki.

Many of these events require registration. Find information and registration through the event links below or at spl.org/Calendar. All Library events are free and open to the public.

Continue reading “Poetry, Pictures, Architecture and Orcas: January 2023 Events and Author Readings”

December 2022 Events: Authors, Art, Holly, a Concert and More

Photo of mittens holding a cup of coffee courtesy of Alex Padurariu, Unsplash
Photo courtesy of Alex Padurariu, Unsplash

Brrr! Get cozy with The Seattle Public Library in December with engaging author programs, an art exhibit, a concert, fun events at the South Park Branch, a monthly movie and more.

Many of these events require registration. Find information and registration at event links or spl.org/Calendar. All Library events are free and open to the public.

Year of Wonder art by Kellie Kawahara-Niimi
Year of Wonder art by Kellie Kawahara-Niimi

Artist Exhibition 2022: First Thursday Artist Reception, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 1, Central Library (Level 8 Gallery). Join us today for a reception celebrating the opening of an exhibition of local artists who collaborated with the Library in 2022 to highlight programs such as the Year of Wonder and Summer of Learning. The exhibition is on view until Jan. 15, 2023.

"Seattle From the Margins," by Megan AsakaMegan Asaka Discusses “Seattle from the Margins.” from 2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, Central Library (Level 1 Microsoft Auditorium). Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka will lead a discussion of Megan Asaka’s new book “Seattle from the Margins: Exclusion, Erasure, and the Making of a Pacific Coast City,” which recognizes the marginalized communities who made Seattle what it is today.

 

Holly workshopHolly Days: Creating holiday décor out of invasive plants. From 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 6, South Park Branch. Join community naturalist Nicolasa Hernandez in creating beautiful wreaths, garlands, and sprays using invasive plants. Basic materials provided. Please bring any special items to add a personal touch. For teens and adults, this workshop will be offered in English and Spanish. Continue reading “December 2022 Events: Authors, Art, Holly, a Concert and More”

Explore Seattle from the Margins with historian Megan Asaka

View Seattle’s history from a new vantage point, that of the migrant workers who built the city with a discussion between Megan Asaka, author of Seattle From the Margins: Migrant labor History in 19th and 20th Centuries, and Seattle Times columnist Naomi Ishisaka, at 2:30pm on December 3rd at the Central Library.

The eagerly anticipated Peak Pick, Seattle from the Margins: Migrant Labor History in 19th & 20th Centuries by Megan Asaka is on library shelves now!

Seattle from the Margins examines the intersection of race and class in historical migrant communities that worked in the Pacific Northwest and built Seattle in the 19th and 20th centuries. Migrant workers are people whose lives are transient as they follow seasonal or temporary work, such as farming, logging, and fishing, all of which were—and still are—major contributors to Western Washington’s economy. Asaka was partially inspired by her own family’s history and weaves together the complex lives of displaced Coast Salish Indigenous peoples and immigrants from Japan and China; and how their communities intermingled. Seattle became a “stopping place” where people would gather as the work shifted up and down the Puget Sound, up into Alaska, and down into Oregon, but also became a place where migrants found solidarity and built communities and families together. Continue reading “Explore Seattle from the Margins with historian Megan Asaka”