The rich legacy that African American residents have contributed to the growth and development of King County has been felt throughout the region for 150 years. Here are the histories of a few of the many people and events that shaped our heritage from the arrival of the first African American settlers through the early 20th century.
Pioneers on the Puget Sound: When the first non-native settlers arrived in the Puget Sound region in the 1850s, African Americans were among the early pioneers. African-born Manuel Lopes was Seattle’s first African American settler, arriving in the young town in 1852. Lopes became the community’s first barber and had his barber chair shipped by sea from Boston. His shop was just south of what is now known as Pioneer Square Park and Pergola.
William Grose, the city’s second black resident (and eventually its wealthiest during the 19th century) arrived in 1861. Grose opened a restaurant and hotel called Our House near today’s Pioneer Square. But after the fire of 1889, he moved to his 12-acre ranch northeast of downtown (near today’s 24th and Howell streets) and formed the nucleus of one of the city’s most important early African American residential districts.
Although many early black settlers purchased land near modern downtown, African Americans like Grose were pioneer developers of outlying districts, too. In 1869, for example, George Riley purchased 12 acres of timberland on Beacon Hill to help develop an early suburban housing tract.
African Americans were an important part of the early business community. However, discrimination in employment limited job possibilities to such positions as manual laborers, porters and maids. As a result, many Africans Americans began their own businesses.
By the 1890s, these businesses included a number of free-standing enterprises, like Robert and Anna Clark’s dairy, and by 1910 there were commercial districts like the series of black-owned businesses on East Madison Street which included a lodging house, coal business, and restaurant. Other residents found employment in a variety of fields, from railroad porter and steamship cook to carpenter and newspaper editor.
Horace Cayton arrived in 1889 and established the Seattle Republican, which for 19 years was a leading voice for civil rights and, for a time, the city’s second-largest newspaper. As Robert O. Lee, the first African American admitted to the Bar in Washington State, wrote in 1889, some residents chose Seattle because they were seeking a place “where race prejudice would not interfere with his prosperity.”
Building a Community: As the African American community grew, so did local institutions like churches, fraternal lodges, and civic clubs. In fact, two of the oldest churches in the state are houses of worship started by early Seattle African American congregations. The First African Methodist Episcopal Church evolved from a Sunday school that first met in 1886, and Mt. Zion Baptist was founded in members’ homes in 1894. Meanwhile, in 1891, William Grose, Dr. Samuel Burdett, and Conrad Rideout established the Grand Lodge of York Masons in Seattle. In March of the following year, lodge members paraded downtown in full regalia, establishing an annual tradition.
Seattle was also a center of arts and entertainment. Jazz had its local roots in Jackson Street in the 1920s and 30s, where several black-owned clubs hosted such musical luminaries as Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughn, Louis Armstrong, and Lionel Hampton. These stars would join local musicians, often playing Jackson Street after engagements at larger downtown venues. Between the businesses and the entertainment, the neighborhood was sometimes compared to Chicago’s State Street or Memphis’s Beale Street.
Seattle has long been known as a theater town, and one of the most extraordinary theater endeavors was the vibrant Seattle Negro Federal Theatre, a federally funded project established at the University of Washington in 1936. The company of black actors, singers and dancers featured innovative plays that focused on the African American experience.
Black builders were also at work at the turn of the century. For example, builder Charles Harvey arrived in 1887, and builder E. R. James and his architect son Harry were in practice in the early 20th century.
Obstacles and Opportunities: By 1900, as the city’s population grew, various restrictions-both formal and informal-began to hinder opportunities. One example can be seen in the platting of the Mt. Baker residential area in 1900, which included restrictions on people of color. But shortly thereafter, an African American resident, Susie Stone, sued to open the residential tract to all, finally winning in the State Supreme Court in 1911 and building her house in the neighborhood.
Job discrimination, practiced by both unions and employers, was a serious problem. In 1917, in the midst of the wartime boom, the Negro Business Men’s League of Seattle wrote: “There is a disposition to prevent us from participating in this promised prosperity wave (but)...there are many opportunities in and about Seattle awaiting... including corner grocery stores, shoe repair shops, market stalls, truck gardens, and henneries in the suburbs, berry farms and small dairies in the country as well as other small enterprises.” Indeed, African Americans found employment and created businesses in all these areas. And in 1909, the first black military officer in Seattle arrived at Fort Lawton.
African American settlers lived outside Seattle from the earliest years. African Americans especially played an important role in the county’s early mining industry as well as operating truck farms and berry farms. Here are a few examples:
Time: February 24, 2012 from 6:30pm to 9:30pm
Location: New Hope B. C. Reception Hall
Organized By: Lottie Cross
Celebrating Black History Month with the Release of the 21st Edition of the African American Business Directory networking Reception.
Hosted at the New Hope B. C. Reception Hall 124—21st Ave. Seattle, WA 98122
Price is $12.00 each and vendors are $20.00.
To reserve your space call Lottie Cross 206-324-3114 or mail your check to P. O. Box 18376, Seattle, WA 98118
“Plenty of good food”
This year we will be showcasing all small business’s products and services and giving each participate a 2-minute blurb about their business. Instead of having a guest speaker, our focus is to learn about the different products and services of small businesses we can support. Each vendor will get a 5% discount advertisement in the 22nd edition of the directory.
Get ready for the 2012 edition of the African American Business Directory.
Black Dollar Days Task Force has recently partnered with Seattle Publishing Inc., our long time publisher, to handle the advertising sale for the directory. They will be contacting businesses on our behalf to make the 21st edition a success.
Support this great community resource — sign up today for your listing and ad. We offer ads to fit all budgets.
For ad, sponsorship opportunities, and listing information - contact Lottie Cross - 206-324-3114.