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Tacoma Community History Projects: Featured Project: Thomas Dixon

A guide to oral history projects compiled by students in Professor Mike Honey's "Doing Community History" course. Projects date from 1991.

About

Thomas Dixon

Thomas Dixon was named chair of the organizing committee for the establishment of an Urban League in the City of Tacoma in 1966. He went on to become the founding President when the Tacoma Urban League (TUL) opened its doors to the African-American community in 1968. After dedicating more than 30 years as President he now serves as President Emeritus. Many servicemen returning from wars and terms of duty in the United States Armed Forces now call Pierce County home because of Dixon's tireless work for open housing, job development and training to inspire, empower, and provide employment. His effective attention to education led to his award of an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Puget Sound in 1988. In this excerpt Dixon discusses the Urban League's role in diffusing a potentially violent race riot in Tacoma during May of 1969.

 

Note: For the complete version of this project, see call # 1991#05

Section of Thomas Dixon Interview

I would say over the years the most notable accomplishment of the Tacoma Urban League would be its ability to work with others in the community. These others include the NAACP, the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance (which now has about forty African-American Churches within its organization), the Masons, the sororities, fraternities and many other organizations.

In 1970, a group of us organized what we called the Black Collective. That is what we call it now. Initially we called it the Concerned Black Citizens Group. That was really organized in May of 1969 when we had an abbreviated riot in Tacoma. Some kids got upset over an arrest in the K Street area, right where the Evergreen State College is as I recall. On 11th and K Streets where Harold Myers Drugs use to be, two police officers made a bench arrest of a person who had some tickets. Some kind of scuffle broke out. Later that evening, some of the kids went down to the County City Building and kind of threw bottles and set some fires. So, the next day the Mayor was going to call a curfew. We in the community saw that as not the right kind of response from the city leadership. So, at that point we came together as the Concerned Black Citizens: ministers, the Urban League President/Director (my title at that time), the NAACP president, etcetera. We said to the Mayor and the City Council, "No, don't do this; there is a better way." So, we were able to convince them not to implement a curfew. We are sure, I am because I was there, that had it not been for us there would have been bloodshed and death in Tacoma. The reason I say that is because the kids were very adamant and were not going to get off the streets. But once we were able to convince the Mayor and City Council to get the police out of the K Street area, we were able to talk to the kids and get them to disperse. We were thereby able to avert confrontation. Since then, we have said to ourselves that we need to meet on an ongoing basis.