Civil Rights in the 1940s: When Seattle began to grow up

photo used with permission, Museum of History & Industry, Post-Intelligencer CollectionThe 1940’s were times of change for Seattle, as the world war and social pressures associated with it brought the beginnings of maturity to the city. Seattle’s African American citizens experienced much of this change directly. Populations from the south, and elsewhere in the country, were drawn to better-paying war work in Seattle and brought cultural conflict. Discriminatory housing practices meant crowded living conditions in often substandard housing. Continue reading “Civil Rights in the 1940s: When Seattle began to grow up”

Summer reading: Reviews from readers at our Northeast Branch

Cakes and Ale by Somerset W. Maugham
An old book with language used at the time in Britain. Smooth writing with an easy beat to follow. Interesting descriptions of people and places. ~ Carol

Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America by Jonathan Gill
A fascinating history of the growth and change of this region of Manhattan – the people, the cultures, the politics. You may want to a good map to accompany your reading! ~ Kathleen

Basic by Jack Jacobs
Humorous, anecdote-filled book ion bootcamp/basic military training from the 1940s to the present. It was interesting to read about the psychology behind some of the hardships as well as integration in the services over the years. ~ Joanne 

The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey 
Funny and clever mystery aboard the Mauretania in 1921. Written in 1982 but spot on for period. With nearly everyone has a con or a secret, this one will keep you on your toes. ~ Josie

What are you reading this summer? Sign up online for our summer reading program for adults — or drop by a branch and fill out a quick review form. For each three books you read and review, we’ll enter you in a drawing for a Kindle. We have 20 Kindles to give away to teen and adult readers this summer!

When Langston Came to Town

It is always interesting to think of famous people walking the streets of our city.  That is the idea behind the Douglass-Truth Branch’s exhibit ‘When Langston Came to Town’. It memorializes the day in May, 1932, when Langston Hughes drove into Seattle for an author program at the First AME Church. Langston Hughes with necktie 1939 The Seattle Times called the program, ‘an evening of poetry and its relation to the background and life of the Negro peoples.’ Hughes writes about being refused a room in Oregon, but his reception in Portland and Seattle was very positive. What kind of town was Seattle in 1932?

The African American population was very small and clustered into three of the new census tracts due to historical settlement patterns and restrictive housing covenants. Seattle was poor—not as poor, yet, as other cities, but suffering due to the growing Depression. Homeless and unemployed men had just constructed the first Hooverville. Seattle’s mayor, John Dore, ordered the destruction of the shantytowns, but they were just rebuilt. Washington’s governor, Roland Hartley, cut the state budget and refused relief services to cities. Washington State was heading for 33% unemployment, and conditions were worse in the cities.

How did people live? Betty MacDonald’s memoir of the 1930’s, Anybody Can Do Anything cover imageAnybody Can do Anything, offers clues—frequent periods of unemployment, no visits to the doctor or dentist, clothing makeovers, cutting firewood in the city parks, and months of meatloaf dinners (but at least she had regular meals.) For African American families, life was much harder still. Howard and Susie Cayton, with whom Langston stayed while in Seattle, lost a business and could find no steady employment. The Cayton adult children lived at home with their parents. Horace Cayton, once editor of the Seattle Republican, did janitorial work and Susie Cayton, an educated journalist and teacher, did housecleaning. In Long Old Road, Horace Cayton Jr., talks about how poverty and race discrimination tore the family apart.

Washington was slow to feel the effects of the depression, and slow to recover. Activists on the left and right emerged with solutions to the state’s economic problems—but the economy did not really improve until the Second World War brought business to the state’s manufacturing, shipbuilding, and airplane companies. Seattle’s population changed drastically, and by the time of Langston Hughes’s second visit (in 1945), the city must have seemed totally different.

Sotero Photograph Collection

The Seattle Public Library has a number of interesting visual collections. One example is the Sotero photograph collection, which offers a window into the world of African Americans in uniform during the World War II era. Marjorie Sotero collected these photographs during her time as a director of the African American Servicemen’s Clubs at Seattle’s Fort Lawton and Camp George Jordan.

Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 80-G-23326
"Pin-up girls at NAS Seattle, Spring Formal Dance" Courtesy National Archives, photo no. 80-G-23326. African Americans During World War II # 247

Marjorie described how these local service clubs were used in a 1985 interview: “this was their home away from home, and this was like their living room where they could come after their day’s work was done and sit down and do the things a man liked to do, sit and smoke, and write [a] letter, and listen to music. And maybe in the evening there would be some kind of entertainment that the directors of the club would plan.”

Many of the images in the collection capture military personnel busy enjoying their time off: a group takes a break from bobbing for apples to smile for the camera, fishermen in uniform line up to display their catch of the day, a bride descends a staircase and a group of pie eating contestants smile through whipping cream beards. One intriguing image Continue reading “Sotero Photograph Collection”