Soul Of America




Mt. Zion Baptist Church


    Although Black explorers to the Washington state date as far back as York, who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition in the Pacific Northwest region from 1803-1806, Blacks began settling in Seattle in 1858. William and Sarah Grose, Black settlers who came to the region in the 1860s, founded a hotel in 1882 on a twelve-ace tract of land.  While the hotel was destroyed in 1889, they built a huge house that is now a monument. It was also during the 1890s that the First AME Church and the Mount Zion Baptist Church set up sites that would eventually be home to their respective churches.

    By 1900, only 400 African Americans were estimated to live in the city, constituting less than 4% of the population. Since the Black population was small, African Americans were not perceived as an economic, social or political threat. They were allowed to vote and there was little outward hostility towards them at a time when most other African Americans faced severe life challenges. Consequently, they developed a small vibrant community, even as the landscape of Seattle's Denny Hill was sluiced, leaving a flat terrain for more housing development.

    The Central Area/South Seattle neighborhoods have been the heart of the city's African American community since the late 1800's, and in the 1930s the area began establishing its national reputation for Jazz and Blues. By the start of World War II Black population in the region reached only 4,000. But as the war effort attracted more Black migration to the area, the number quickly increased to 16,000. Like other groups, African Americans were lured here by Boeing Aircraft Company to work. Tremendous job expansion by Boeing and national pressure by Asa Phillip Randolph and others to “open” defense industry jobs to people of color, creating overcrowding and residential segregation in Seattle’s Central district. In the cyclical aircraft industry, job expansion is often followed by job layoffs, with "last hired, first fired" African Americans often baring a disproportionate burden.

    Immigration from all parts of the country, including the South, eventually led to forms of racism in this wonderful region as well. Though smaller less violent than other metro areas, racial injustices here lead some to create a Civil Rights Movement in the Seattle area. In one violent act highly uncharacteristic of the region, the head of the Seattle Urban League was killed by a white supremacist in the late 1960s. Seattle showed its racially tolerant side in the 1960s when it nurtured Jimi Hendrix to stardom as the most influential rock guitarist of our time.

    As the region grew between 1970-2001, due primarily to Boeing and Microsoft, more African Americans moved to Seattle and Tacoma. In 1989, Norman Rice was elected Seattle’s first black mayor, and other African Americans won public office in both Seattle and Tacoma. Today Seattle/Tacoma metro area is generally considered a racially tolerant metro area that includes 157,000 African Americans.
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