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:
After much demand of the African American Business Directory. I am going to up date for the 23rd edition. I need your help to make this the biggest and best directory ever. This year we will include ALL small businesses. Please don't wait until the last minute to get your order in and miss out. It helps me when you send your order and payment in early. I need your support to get the word out. Thanks
For information contact Lottie Cross at 206-324-3114 or 206-2710311 for more information.
The Black Dollar Days Task Force is pleased to announced the return of the AABD Directory.
Work in currently being done to secure sponsors and advertisers as well as update the directory listing information in preparation for and early 2017 distribution.
Should your past listing need to be updated or should you be interested in advertising or sponsoring the book, please contact Lottie Cross at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-324-3114.
116 - 21st Ave.
Seattle, WA 98122
2505 S. 320th St.
Federal Way, WA 98003
116 - 21st Ave.
Seattle, WA 98122