African American Research & Archival Collections in the Pacific Northwest Collection: Oral Histories
This guide highlights archival and printed materials, photographs, and moving image collections available in Special Collections that relate to Black communities, political groups, and civil rights movements in the Pacific Northwest.
The Afro-American project grew in scope between 1968 and 1970 as student field workers Larry Gossett and S. Leonard Bell taped interviews with residents of the African American community, primarily with Seattle residents.
Aaron Dixon - 1970 InterviewCo-founder of the Black Panther Party of Seattle. Aaron Floyd Dixon was born ca. 1951 and moved to Seattle from Chicago in 1958. He attended Seattle public schools, graduating from Garfield High School. He also attended the University of Washington for two years. In 1968, Dixon and his younger brother Elmer founded the Black Panther Party of Seattle, and he served as its first Captain. He was recruited to work at the national level of the Party in 1970. Dixon discusses the history and philosophy of the National Black Panther Party, founded in 1966 and the Seattle branch of the Party, founded in 1968. He outlines the Party's programs and tactics, and comments on the 1969 purge of members which harmed the Party's image. He refers briefly to several international, national, and local public figures, including Curtis Harris, who unsuccessfully campaigned for local political office in 1968. Tape concludes with a statement of Dixon's views about the Black Panther Party and the future for Blacks in the United States.
Calvin Armstrong - 1968 InterviewCalvin Armstrong left Platt City, Missouri in 1906, at the age of 17, and joined his sister in Seattle in 1909. Mr. Armstrong speaks about his experiences at various jobs in western Washington, including street-paver, hauler and transfer agent, construction worker on the city reservoir system, railroad porter, and dockworker. He speaks about the treatment of African Americans in Washington State and describes his experience of being attacked on a streetcar during a strike in Seattle.
Charles Russell - 1968 InterviewMr. Russell was born in Seattle in 1917. His father was a chef on Great Northern Railroad for 44 years. Mr. Russell talks about his attendance at Garfield High School and the University of Washington where he was noted as a star football player. He speaks about his experiences with discrimination and leaving the UW. He describes his jobs in the railroad and airline industries. Mr. Russell mentions the influx of African Americans to the Northwest in the early 1940s due to the industrialist Edgar Kaiser and increased job opportunities with better pay. He also mentions the role of Stokely Carmichael in creating racial pride in Seattle and the beginnings and development of Seattle's Central area in 1955.
Cornelia Saunders - 1968 InterviewMiss Saunders discusses the life of African American miners around 1889 and farming life in Yakima Valley where there were African American homesteaders. She describes how her grandfather went to work as a strike breaker and how there were gun battles, especially in Renton because white settlers didn't want the African Americans in their community. Saunders' mother and father came to Seattle in the very early 1900s after a mining explosion. Her father was a laborer for the city and then worked at the Seattle Gas Company for 37 years. The family lived on 26th and E. Madison Street from 1914 on. Cornelia talks about discrimination at the Pantages Theater where African Americans could not sit downstairs and would often not be seated or served at restaurants. She also talks about African American students at Franklin High School in the 1920s and the University of Washington in the 1940s and felt that they were not given the same consideration as other students. Miss Saunders wanted to become a nurse but experienced difficulties with the Nursing program at the University of Washington. She made an attempt at a nursing career, but could not complete the training as a nurse as an African American in Washington State. She explains that she could only get a job as a maid or with the National Youth Administration program. African Americans could also work as strikebreakers. She stressed that African Americans were free to get an education or learn a trade but couldn't get jobs at their trades. She mentions the African American influx during World War II especially to work in the defense plants and as laborers and how they lived in housing projects. She explains that there were very few African Americans working in Boeing before the war; they were hired because the available labor was very poor during the war. There was little discrimination during the war because there was less competition from white workers. She talks about African Americans moving into the Central District. Before the war there were 3,200 blacks in Seattle, and now (1960s) there are 50,000.
Dorothy Mae Turner - 1983 InterviewDorothy Mae Turner describes family life in black sharecropping family in Mississippi, her migration to Missouri, Michigan, and Seattle, and life and work in those places.
Edward Smith - 1968 InterviewMr. Smith discusses his life in Roslyn from 1907 to 1949. He worked as a mining horse engineer until 1928 and then owned his own plumbing store. He discusses black-white relationships in Roslyn in the churches, lodges, and schools. Smith discusses the opportunities for African Americans in mining including possibilities for promotion and ownership of property, etc. He discusses the pre-1907 attitude of the mining union towards jobs for African Americans and towards African American officials in the union.
Frank Jenkins - 1972 InterviewJenkins discusses his education and early experiences with discrimination in Seattle. He speaks about his employment on the Seattle waterfront and union involvement. Mr. Jenkins details the history of the unions' exclusionary practices in the Puget Sound area and explains the issue of blacks as strikebreakers. He discusses discriminatory hiring policies which limited employment opportunities for black longshoremen in Seattle, the 1921 and 1934 strikes, and the changed employment practices resulting from the latter strike. The structure of the longshoremen's union (ILWU) is discussed, as well as some contract negotiations that occurred during Jenkins' tenure as a union official. Military oversight of the Seattle Port during World War II is mentioned, including the discriminatory recruitment practices used by both the Army and the Navy. Jenkins illustrates the consequences of his union activism during the war and afterwards during the McCarthy era by recounting several episodes in which his port security pass was revoked and subsequently reissued. He chronicles the turbulent post-war history of the longshoremen's union in the Puget Sound area and explains the reason for the union's expulsion from the CIO in 1948.
Robert Saunders - 1968 InterviewRobert Saunders was born in Rosyln, Washington in 1901. His family came to Washington to work in the mines but moved to Seattle after 1903, when his grandfather died in a mining accident. Saunders recounts his childhood in Seattle, during which his father worked as a fireman for the Seattle Gas Company. Saunders describes the different neighborhoods he lived in growing up as well as his experiences at Franklin and Broadway High Schools. He shares stories about his time playing professional baseball in a black league as well as his experiences working as a cook, butcher, baker and steward on ships over the years, which allowed him to travel all over the world. He shares anecdotes of his time in Africa, in Bombay, and in Russia, among other places. He also describes some of his memories of what life was like during the 1940s when a large influx of black and white people from the South came to Seattle and shares his thoughts on the Civil Rights Movement.
Terenz Goodwin - 1968 InterviewLarry Gossett interviews both Mr. Terenz Goodwin and his wife together. Mr. Goodwin speaks briefly about his days as a black, professional baseball player. The Goodwins talk about their lives in Walla Walla, Washington and then discuss the Central District neighborhood in Seattle where they lived for many years. They both speak of their working experiences in the 1920s and beyond. Mrs. Goodwin worked at Bon Marche department store for a time while Mr. Goodwin recounts his experience working on ships, at Dodge Motor Company, at Ben Paris restaurants, and at United Airlines. They discuss the few job opportunities there were for African American men before World War II and the involvement of African American men in pimping. They also discuss the migration of poor whites and African Americans to Seattle during World War II
Vivian Spearman - 1968 InterveiwMrs. Spearman discusses her childhood in Seattle (ca. 1906-1915) where she lived with her parents, sister and two brothers. Mrs. Spearman speaks about her experiences in elementary and high school with predominantly Italian and white student bodies. She also discusses her heavy involvement in church life at Afro-Methodist Church and other volunteer work. She talks about relationships between Jews and African Americans, and Southern African Americans who immigrated to Seattle during the Depression. Her husband discusses stevedore work and unions during World War I. Mrs. Spearman talks about her feelings towards current African American national figures such as Adam Clayton Powell, Joe Lewis, and Martin Luther King.
King County Snapshots - Black Heritage Society Oral Histories
King County Snapshots presents King County, Washington, through more than 12,000 historical images carefully chosen from thirteen organizations collections. These cataloged 19th and 20th century images portray people, places, and events in the county's urban, suburban, and rural communities.
Interviews conducted by Gary Greaves from the late 1980s and early 1990s that relate to post-war Seattle history and cover a diverse array of topics -- such as transportation, race relations, housing, city planning and labor -- narrated by an equally diverse group including well-known politicians, community activists, and other citizens
Tacoma Community History Project - African American Life in Tacoma
The Tacoma Community History Project gathered oral histories created by UW Tacoma students enrolled in courses taught by Professor Michael Honey The projects within this collection span a wide range of topics and contain reminiscences and discussions from a diverse group of citizens. Civic leaders, civil rights activists, government officials, and other prominent residents share their stories regarding the neighborhoods, institutions, and communities that have shaped Tacoma and the South Puget Sound region.
Video and Audio interviews conducted by students of UW professor of history. Topics discussed include race relations, the Great Depression, World War II, work experiences, civil rights, women's rights and African American westward migration.
Tape recorded interview of the Pitter Family. Ms. Thomas discusses her political involvement during her childhood and youth and theater. Edward Pitter discusses his early life in Jamaica, his immigration, and settlement in Seattle.