Saturday, November 13, 2010

Noteworthy website: Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project

We at the Northwest History Network recently featured historians Trevor Griffey and Felicia Williams and union leader Keith Edwards at our quarterly public event. The event provided some comparisons-&-contrasts between Portland's and Seattle's labor and civil rights history in the second half of the twentieth century.

Trevor is a Seattle-based historian, finishing his PhD at the University of Washington. He co-edited a recently-published book, Black Power at Work, and he serves as the Project Coordinator of a highly informative website, the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project (SCRLHP).

The SCRLHP contributes to our knowledge in the following ways:

    Seattle has a unique civil rights history that challenges the way we think about race, civil rights, and the Pacific Northwest. Civil rights movements in Seattle started well before the celebrated struggles in the South in the 1950s and 1960s, and they relied not just on African American activists but also on Filipino Americans, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, Jews, Latinos, and Native Americans. They also depended upon the support of some elements of the region's labor movement.
This broad historical overview of Seattle's civil rights history is echoed to some degree in Portland, as we learned at the NHN event and in Trevor's Black Bag presentation the day before.

Important elements in common include the fact that segregation was much more of a de facto reality for peoples of color in the Pacific Northwest rather than de jure, as it tended to be in the American South; however, this didn't make the effects any less pernicious. Another common element was the fact that African Americans, Japanese Americans, and other peoples of color in both Seattle and Portland were involved in individual and group-centered bottom-up advocacy and agitation against racism and segregation that the dominant white society perpetuated; in other words, the civil rights movement in the Pacific Northwest didn't begin in the 1950s, or with the work of the Urban League or NAACP, nor even with influx of African Americans as part of the Second Great Migration during World War II. As with the roots of white racism in the Pacific Northwest, the history of resistance to racism extends well before the 1950s and 1960s (here and here and here and here).

The SCRLHP shares much in common with a fascinating mapping project that I recently wrote about, "Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the American City." The SCRLHP map pages aren't presented quite as dynamically as the St. Louis project, but they both relay similar information: race-restrictive real estate covenants, white flight, urban segregation, etc.


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