Skip to Main Content

Tacoma Community History Projects: 1993

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

Project Descriptions

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Helen Cecile Beck Stafford - Call # 1993#03

In exploring Helen Stafford's life, I found it significant that dichotomous events were happening in Washington, Kansas, and Tennessee. These events are reflected in the character of Helen Stafford and seen in the efforts of her family members. Helen is the thread that links the events of those three states. The life of Leonidas Beck, her father, began in slavery in Tennessee. Her mother, Georgeanne High was a free black woman. What is known about the Becks is from Helen's childhood memories of growing up in Wamego, Kansas City, and Topeka, Kansas. Of the eight surviving Beck children, the four girls earned college degrees, while the boys did whatever they could to support their families. Helen's oldest brother, James, was the first to move to Washington, soon to be followed by Helen. When Helen Beck met Wendall Phillips Stafford, the histories of two pioneering families were combined. Helen and W.P. Stafford's legacy continues through their daughter, Betty Busch. Betty has four grown children and four grandchildren. Helen Stafford represents the unknown educated and employed African American middle class who have spent their lives raising children, participating in Church and community while trying to achieve well deserved equality and respect afforded white Americans. While quietly pursuing justice, Helen Stafford has lived through overwhelming change from the life in the small farm based towns of Kansas to the computer age and industrial technology of the last decade of the twentieth century. She moved to Washington to escape restrictions placed on African Americans in the Jim Crow days only to find similar restrictions in the young state of Washington. While middle class African Americans have been able to acquire many of the material possessions of white Americans, there is still no escape for being discriminated against due to the mere shade of one's skin. Hopefully, the collective efforts of people like Helen Stafford will one day free all Americans from the bondage of racism. -Helen Gilmore

American Lake Veterans Affairs Medical Center - Call # 1993#04

"The Veterans Administration's slogan, "To care for him who shall have borne the battle," is carried out in its provision of health and medical care for the veteran population. Perhaps no other veteran's benefit is so important as the comprehensive and long-term care delivered by the VA hospital system. My oral history interviews are with four women representing World War II and the Korean War, Vietnam (in country), Vietnam Era (not in country), and concluding with a post-Vietnam era veteran. Each of them feels strongly about their years of military service and its' impact on their lives today. Mrs. Nordstrom enlisted in the WAAC in 1943 primarily for because of her patriotism and the chance to travel. She was de-mobilized upon her return to the U.S. in 1945, but joined the reserve forces and was recalled to active service during the Korean War. She currently (1993) volunteers at the VAMC American Lake once a week and is very active in the American Legion. Mrs. Gregory was commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps through a tuition reimbursement program which required her to pay the government back with two years active service for her nursing certificate. She is a Vietnam-era veteran and discusses some of her experiences in her interview. She is current ly (1993) employed at the VAMC as Nurse Manager of the Post Traumatic Stress Treatment Program. Ms. Wilhelm was in the Navy from 1970 to 1978 as an enlisted sailor, and discusses some ofthe entitlement changes women received during that period. She separated from the Navy for a variety of reasons, but primarily because she is a lesbian and was tired of the harassment she was receiving from the authorities. She has been living in the Domiciliary for homeless veterans at American Lake, but has now found employment and is out on her own again. Ms. Wilson was commissioned in the Army through the ROTC in 1979 and separated in 1982 for religious and personal reasons. She then joined the Peace Corps and spent a year in South America and upon returning to the United States had trouble settling down. When I interviewed her, she was also living in the Domiciliary at American Lake, but does work as the program supervisor for the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project, an arm ofthe Martin Luther King Ecumenical Center. -Crystal Graham

Blue-Collar Town, A: The Tacoma Labor Movement - Call # 1993#02

Recently unions have begun developing training programs for shop stewards, programs for social studies teachers, and educational experiences for summer school students, demonstrating a commitment to educating their own members. In 1993, Labor Historian Ottilie Markholt sees the challenge in this way: "The people who struggled and built these unions are gone. They're retired. They're out. These people, going to work, have never been involved in any of that struggle. It's handed to them. When they join, they get this good union contract. But it's such a terrible job, then, to convince them they've got to fight for that, they've got to defend it, they've got to be loyal to it or it's going to disappear." Some don't remember but Ottilie Markholt does, and she has accepted the challenge. Ms. Markholt has dedicated her life to see that the unions' histories and the Tacoma labor movement struggles are remembered for the gains they have made for the laboring men and women ofthis city. In the interview that follows, Ms. Markholt shares her life story, her experiences in the Tacoma labor movement and her continued dedication to labor education projects. -Kendra Fitzpatrick

Civil Rights and Civic Pride: The Story of Harlod Moss and the City of Tacoma - Call # 1993#09

In 1950 a young black soldier came across the mountains to Fort Lewis. Coming from the East, he was struck by the beauty of the area and "how clean and new everything was." He loved the area from that first sight. His love was not dimmed by later discovery of the shadows of racism and intolerance that darkened the area. His reaction was and remains whenever he faces discrimination in any form, "I must stand up and be counted." That young soldier was Harold G. Moss and this is his story. From his arrival here through the emergent fifties, the tumultuous sixties, the hopeful seventies, the disappointing eighties and into the nineties, Moss has continued to fight for equal rights and equal opportunity for all Tacomans. As a public official, he has ably represented the interests of all citizens. Moss was the first African-American elected to the Tacoma City Council (in 1971, and again in 1987) and as Mayor of Tacoma in 1994. He has consistently acted on his stated belief that "once you realize you are a...part of the whole fabric, you can never go back." He also has said that "you must not step on other people's rights when you are asserting your own." Moss' involvement in civic affairs has benefited all of Tacoma as well as the African-American community. -Allison H. Sonntag

Community of Day Island, The - Call # 1993#06

Day Island residents Gerry Gerrison, Marylou Hanford, and Marion Van Winkle are questioned about their experiences as long-time residents of Day Island. On the surface it seems that about the only time this community acts like a community is when they have an enemy from the outside to get them involved. While that may be true, it is also true that the majority of residents of this island do involve themselves in social activities, yet they are resistant to involve themselves in the private affairs of the other residents. The Constitution's guarantee of the right to protect and own property is held in the highest esteem by the residents of Day Island. The island has no racial diversity whatsoever. The fear of their neighborhood taking a real dive in value, based upon racial prejudice, prevents some residents from thinking otherwise. As one of the oldest living residents, Marion Van Winkle stated that Day Island has always been an upper class neighborhood; apparently in her view, that means whites only. Perhaps more than any other group, it is the island women who pull the island together in community projects and activities. As Gerry Gerrison and Marylou Hanford recalled, the entire island looks forward to these events which are helpful in bringing the neighborhood together. The lifestyle and pace of the island is much slower than that ofthe City of Tacoma and Pierce County, where friends and neighbors stop to greet each other in the middle of the street, or share trips into town. -Audie Mangold

History of Kitsap County Young Women's Christian Association, The - Call # 1993#05

"The YWCA of the United States of America is a women's membership movement nourished by and sustained by the richness of many beliefs and values. Strengthened by diversity, the Association draws together members who strive to create opportunities for growth, leadership and power in order to attain a common vision: Peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people." (YWCA Constitution) The Kitsap County YWCA has always relied on it's volunteers to keep it running. Mrs. Lillian Walker and Ms. Carolyn Hershberger were selected not only for their contributions but because they have much to tell us about certain periods in the YW's history. One of the reasons that Mrs. Walker worked so hard for the YW was because it was one of the few places in Bremerton in the early nineteen forties where people of all colors could socialize. Mrs. Walker also helped to start the NAACP in Bremerton, and she worked with this group to help pass a state wide anti-discrimination law with teeth in it. Later both she and her husband helped to desegregate Bremerton. The first real disagreement Mrs. Walker had with the YWCA was over the ALIVE (Alternative to Living in a Violent Environment) program. While she was all for helping the victims of domestic violence she saw the YWCA as a place that should be open to the community for anything that was needed. Ms. Carolyn Hershberger is an out-spoken, intelligent, hard-working Jewish lady. Her volunteer work for the YWCA lasted from 1977 until the mid-nineteen eighties. For years Ms. Hershberger has been a union negotiator and is also active in other associations and in various groups at Olympic College. Ms. Hershberger got involved with the YWCA through a program from the college discussing violent crimes against women including domestic violence. She was also one of the founders of the ALIVE program. When the YWCA approached her and offered to take ALIVE under their umbrella she was most willing. The Kitsap County YWCA has changed much over the years to keep up with what the women of Kitsap County want and need. -Theresa Harmon

Squaxin Island Lives - Call # 1993#01

The Treaty of Medicine Creek exchanged the ancestral lands that the Indians had for centuries wandered freely to smaller parcels of land, here after known as the reservations. Squaxin Island, in Southwest Washington, this rocky little Island, five vi!lages would be conglomerated. They would now to be forever known as the Squaxin Island Indians. Only a small group of these people followed Leschi into the Indian war of 1855-1856. Nonetheless during the Indian Wars of 1855-1856, the Island was used as a POW camp. According to the whites, the Indians were interned; according to the Indians they were POWs. In the 1970s the tribe originated the lawsuit that led to the Bolt decision on fishing rights. On October 20, 1882, John Slocum died and was resurrected in a few days; this led to the creation of the Indian Shaker Church. In the words of his grandson James Krise, John Slocum sat up from his death bed and said. "Fix me a bath, I have work to do. I have talked with the angel of the Lord." He was sent to save them from themselves, and the white vices of alcohol and lose morality. The white society did not understand this new religion, and frequently jailed the members. According to James Krise, the shakers were much like the Pentecostals, nurturing the power of God inside a person. Mr. Krise was in school in the 1920's. He was expected to speak and learn English exclusively. Calvin Peters speaks of the disadvantages of not living in a village setting as a child. He is not able to pass on the language of his tribe to his children, but he is able to pass on the tradition of fishing and shellfishing to his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. I also spoke to Mark Peters on March 11, 1993 regarding to his life as an Indian Fisherman and his life in white society. Mark's feelings echoed those of his father Calvin, his grandmother Josephine, and those of James Krise in many ways. Mark has more than once been shot at on the water, and for no other reason than that of being an Indian. The lingering effects of the Bolt decision are still being felt every fishing season. The Squaxin Indians, as I have stated before, are a politically important and progressive tribe. The tribe has it's own fish hatchery, it has cleaned polluted streams and rivers to help the fish runs return. A new court case has been started by the Squaxin tribe. It is concerning the shellfish rights of the tribe and as of yet has not made it to the first court. I would expect that if necessary, it will go to the Supreme Court for a decision, just as the fishing rights did in the early 1970's. -Carrie Bratlie

Tacoma's Nihon Go Gakko: Japanese Language School - Call # 1993#08

Each weekday after completing their studies at public day schools, Japanese students in Tacoma made their way to the Language School for studies in Japanese calligraphy, grammar, art and history. Students and family members celebrated special holidays in traditional Japanese fashion, complete with elaborate costume and makeup. The Japanese community considered the cultural education provided at the School absolutely essential for their children. Like the Japanese churches, Japanese Language School provided a binding force in the Japanese community, and a haven in which to share and celebrate their ethnicity, and evade the prejudice that persisted elsewhere. Government officials chose the Japanese Language School over the various Japanese churches as the location most central to the community for processing during the World War II interment. The newspaper's article directed Japanese to "Register at School," and specified a "civil control station, the Tacoma Japanese School at 1715 South Tacoma Avenue" as the registration location for the heads of Japanese families. Like much of the central district of Tacoma, the area surrounding the former Japanese Language School was, over time, largely abandoned. Upon discovering the building had once functioned as the Language School, it was nominated to the National Historic Registry. The Kawasaki's (the original owners) once again owed the property, and were thus responsible for the restrictions imposed by the School's landmark designation. In February, 1993, after lengthy negotiations, the property was purchased by the University of Washington as an addition to the permanent Tacoma campus site. While many believe the history of the school compels its protection, no one in the Japanese American community has taken such a stance. Fearing that important history of this area will be destroyed along with it, many Tacomans steadfastly champion the School's preservation, and propose some blending of private and public resources to accomplish its retention as a future community/cultural center. The history and current fate of the Japanese Language School and its surrounding community are the main topic covered by interviewees Sadako Hirose, Yashido Sugiyama, and Tadaze (Teddy) Fugimoto Kawasaki. -Brenda Sonnier