February is Black History Month, making it the perfect time to highlight African American culture and the black experience in Seattle. A calendar of local events celebrating black history is listed below. This is also the perfect occasion to learn more about the civil rights movement in Seattle.
Civil rights movement in Seattle
Seattle’s unique civil rights history challenges the way Pacific Northwesterners think about race, civil rights, and the Puget Sound region. For most of its history, Seattle was a segregated city, as committed to white supremacy as any location in America. People of color were excluded from most jobs, most neighborhoods, and many stores, restaurants, and other commercial establishments. As in other western states, the system of severe racial discrimination in Seattle targeted not just African Americans but also Native Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, people of Mexican ancestry, and also, at times, Jews.
The civil rights movement in Seattle started well before the celebrated struggles in the South in the 1950s and 1960s. They relied not only on African American activists, but also Filipino Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Jewish Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. They also depended on support from the labor movement in the Puget Sound region. From the 1910s through the 1970s, Seattle’s labor and civil rights were linked in complicated ways, with some unions and radical organizations providing critical support to struggles for racial justice, while others stood in the way.
The following resources provide more information about the civil rights movement in Seattle.
- The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project at the University of Washington brings to life the vital history of Seattle’s civil rights movements. You can view this unique collection that includes video histories, personal biographies, rare photographs, personal biographies, documents, and historical data. The project is a collaboration between community groups, UW faculty, and students.
- This Civil Rights Timeline from the Seattle Municipal Archives lists significant events in the U.S. civil rights movement from May 1948 through April 1968 and includes concurrent events in Seattle.
Videos document Seattle African American culture
Seattle Channel is the award winning local TV station with programs on cable television (Channel 21 on Comcast and Wave) and the Internet. Programming includes series and special features highlighting the diverse civic and cultural landscape of the city. The Seattle Channel is a Government Access Channel granted to the City of Seattle per Federal law for the purpose of cablecasting government television programs. It is administered by the City of Seattle’s Department of Information Technology. Programming decisions are based solely on content, and are made independent of the Mayor and the City Council.
The following Seattle Channel videos are just a few highlighting Seattle African American culture and experiences. Find other videos by going to http://www.seattlechannel.org/community and filtering on “African American” or related terms.
- Video Bebop with twin hosts Eva and Cedric Walker! (2020). Video Bebop is hosted by Eva and Cedric Walker, twins and founders of the illustrious Seattle rock band, The Black Tones! From womb mates to band mates, this dynamic duo showcases music videos, old and new, by bands in and around the Pacific Northwest. From rock to blues to hip-hop to the theatrical, Video Bebop is THE place to enjoy the best of what this region has to offer, served up by Eva and Cedric, two of the region’s brightest musical stars! Featured in this episode are Caela Bailey, Tres Leches, Vannah Oh!, Dark Smith, and The Black Tones!
- The Black Tones perform “Ghetto Spaceship” (2019). With a sound they describe as “a mixture of Kurt Cobain and cornbread,” twin siblings and The Black Tones founders Eva Walker and Cedric David, with bass player Ezekiel Lords, perform “Ghetto Spaceship” from their debut record Cobain & Cornbread.
- Dolls & Gents Drill Team and Drumline (2019). The Dolls & Gents Drill Team and Drumline march in parades, dazzling crowds everywhere they go with eye-catching routines and clever cheers. Each member has a passion to perform, but they’re also taught lessons that’ll stick with them for life. That’s important to the two women who started the team. They drilled together as young girls and now their daughters carry on the tradition. Diane Duthweiler reports on the adventures of the Dolls & Gents.
- Preserving Seattle’s African American history (2017). The African American story in Seattle dates back more than a century, as families left the oppression of the South to more welcoming surroundings in the Northwest. Along the way, their contributions and influence formed a rich history – filled with stories that enlighten and inspire. Meet those who’ve made it their life’s work to document, preserve and share the heritage of Seattle’s African American community.
- An Elegant Utility – Building Across Generations (2017) by Inye Wokoma delves into his past exhibition, “An Elegant Utility,” at Northwest African American Museum. Wokoma captured the enduring legacy of an African-American family’s daily life in Seattle’s gentrifying Central District.
- Pecha Kucha Seattle: #BlackLivesMatter (2015). The Northwest African American Museum and the Seattle People of Color Salon present #BlackLivesMatter – Examining American Identity in the 21st Century.
- Front Row: Say it Loud! (2014) SAY IT LOUD is a chance to hear African American music by three talented Seattle artists. Singing a`capella, Josephine Howell, Jimmie Herrod, and Felicia V. Loud perform classic Gospel and their own new works.
- Celebrating Black History (2013). Stories about the Central Area, historic hub of African American culture in Seattle.
- Black Heritage Society Salutes Pioneers in Media (2012). In partnership with MOHAI and the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, the Black Heritage Society pays tribute to Northwest Pioneers in Media.
Question Bridge art project explores Black male identity
Question Bridge: Black Males is a transmedia art project that explores critically challenging issues within the African American male community. Created by Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayeté Ross-Smith, and Kamal Sinclair, the project seeks to represent and redefine Black male identity in America. While some Black males have been able to transcend racial, cultural and economic boundaries, others have found themselves increasingly confined to the margins of society. Through video mediated question and answer exchange, diverse members of this community bridge the economic, political, geographic, and generational divisions. An official selection at 2012 Sundance, Question Bridge provides a safe setting for necessary, honest expression, and healing dialogue on themes that divide, unite, and puzzle black males today in the United States.
The Question Bridge project was seen in Seattle in 2014 at the Photographic Center Northwest. One of the Executive Producers, Deborah Willis, also curated the traveling exhibition “Posing Beauty in African American Culture,” which exhibited in 2016 at Northwest African American Museum.
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Events celebrating Black History Month in Seattle
(If no events are listed below, there are no upcoming Black History Month events in our calendar. We usually update this list in January.)