NAACP, Seattle Branch

  • By Mary T. Henry
  • Posted 1/14/1999
  • Essay 695

The Seattle Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded on October 23, 1913, and became the first of the national civil rights organizations to be established in the city. The national NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909, and established its national office in New York in 1910. The Seattle branch was one of the earliest branches formed west of the Mississippi River.

The founding members of the Seattle NAACP were:

  • Dr. E. A Johnson
  • Rev. J. L. Williams
  • Horace Cayton, Vice President
  • Samuel H. Stone
  • G. W. Jones
  • J. I. Reams
  • Zoe Young (Zoe Dusanne)
  • Bonita Wright
  • Mrs. R. J. Allen
  • Andrew Black
  • Mrs. S. H. Stone
  • Rev. W. D. Carter
  • Samuel P. DeBow
  • William Chandler
  • Benjamin F. Tutt
  • Letitia Graves, President
  • Alma Glass
  • J. H. (Henry) Graves
  • Etta Hawkins
  • Beatrice Ball
  • G. W. Thompson
  • L. Austin

In its early years the Seattle NAACP staged protest marches, filed lawsuits against discrimination, and sponsored celebrations of Emancipation Day and Lincoln's birthday. It also protested the showing of the anti-black film, Birth of a Nation.

During the 1920s, Seattle's NAACP mobilized to fight an anti-intermarriage bill under consideration by the state legislature. But, for most of the decade there were few NAACP activities, perhaps due to the Universal Negro Improvement Association which emerged during this period. In 1928, the national office declared the Seattle chapter dormant.

The Great Depression of the 1930s breathed new life into the floundering civil rights organization as it sought to respond to the economic crisis in black Seattle. It took up many cases of employment discrimination and racial harassment.

As Seattle's black population grew during the 1940s, there was increasing segregation and exclusion in restaurants, theaters, motels, and recreational areas. The NAACP filed successful suits against many of the offenders and campaigned against discriminatory policies. The membership grew from 85 to 1,550 in 1946. New leaders Philip Burton and E. June Smith emerged. They initiated suits against discriminatory practices and lobbied for stronger Washington state civil rights laws.

The Seattle branch began to sponsor chapters in other Washington cities that had rapid increases in black population. It also joined with other organizations to lobby in the state capital, Olympia, for a state fair employment practices law, which was enacted in 1949.

The 1950s saw a closer liaison between the NAACP and the black churches. Because of its protests against police brutality and the fact that no black police officers had been promoted, a Mayor's Committee was formed to investigate the situation. The first black police sergeant was appointed in 1964.

The NAACP was instrumental in the passage of a state bill to eliminate the designation of race on drivers' licenses. It protested to the Seattle Park Department regarding discrimination at golf courses. Also on its agenda were segregated housing, employment, and defacto school segregation.

The 1960s and 1970s were rife with movement and change brought on in part by the efforts of the NAACP. In 1961, after a statewide rally in Olympia for an open housing bill, which eventually failed, the association's newsletter suggested that license plates should be made which read "Washington -- State of Segregated Housing and Schools." In 1968, a Seattle City Ordinance for open housing was passed. Washington state finally passed an open housing law in 1969.

The branch assisted African Americans to gain employment in the department stores, Nordstrom, the Bon Marche, and Frederick & Nelson; in grocery stores including Safeway, Albertson's, and Tradewell; and in municipal agencies including the Fire Department.

Seattle Public Schools became the target for change when in 1962 Philip Burton, attorney for the NAACP, threatened the School Board with a suit to force desegregation. This prompted the School Board in 1963 to allow a voluntary transfer program. In March 1966, the NAACP supported a boycott of Seattle's Central Area schools to protest the lack of progress in desegregation. This resulted in the School District establishing a community-based, black controlled approach to education, with a black administrator, Dr. Roland Patterson, hired as assistant superintendent for the Central Area schools. The School Board adopted the Middle School Desegregation Plan on November 11, 1970, in the first phase of a three-phase effort to desegregate the city by 1973.

The plan was never completed. Again in 1976, the NAACP threatened the school district with a law suit. This action prompted the district to adopt the Seattle Plan for mandatory desegregation in 1977.

During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the branch was kept busy in court defending all the people who had been jailed in the marches and had created disturbances on the University of Washington campus and at other sites in the city while protesting discrimination.

For the past 20 years, the branch has concentrated on voter registration, humane law enforcement, and on young people, while monitoring economic development and providing legal redress. Elimination of drugs and prostitution was the focus of one march at Judkins Park. Through its ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) program, the organization encourages and inspires black youth toward excellence in academic and cultural pursuits.

The following are Seattle citizens who have served as president of the local chapter of the NAACP:

  • Attorney Philip Burton
  • Rev. F. Benjamin Davis
  • Thelma Dewitty
  • J. H. Graves
  • Judge Donald D. Haley
  • Judge Charles V. Johnson
  • Odel Lewis
  • Benjamin McAdoo
  • Attorney James McIver
  • Rev. Fountain Penick
  • Rev. Fred Shorter
  • E. June Smith
  • Melvina Squires
  • James Washington
  • Letcher Yarbrough
  • Attorney Andrew Young

Lacy Steele served as president for 26 years, through 1998. In 1999 Oscar Eason was elected president. In 2002 Carl Mack was elected president in the first contested race in 30 years.

In 2004, the Seattle King County Branch of the NAACP received the 2004 Thalheimer Award for its voter mobilization and other community efforts. The award, presented at the organization's annual convention, honors the country's most outstanding branch of the NAACP. This is the first time the Seattle branch has received it.

In January 2005, Carl Mack stepped down as head of the Seattle Chapter in order to accept the position of executive director of the National Society of Black Engineers. Seattle attorney Alfoster Garrett Jr., who had been chapter vice president, took over as president. In 2006 Sheley Secrest completed the unfinished term of Alfoster Garrett, Jr.

James Bible, a Seattle attorney, became the organization's third president in two years in 2007.

In 2008 Bible called for the resignation of Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske because he exonerated two officers who were accused of  roughing up and planting drugs on a black man who was a convicted drug dealer. The association has also been concerned about racial profiling and profiling of the poor by the Seattle police.
Attention was focused on the Seattle School District in 2008 and 2009 in its proposals for closing schools. On January 29, 2009 the Seattle School Board voted to close the programs at five schools: T. T. Minor, African American Academy, Cooper, Meany, and Summit K-12.  Of the nearly 1,800 students who will be directly impacted, most are students of color. The NAACP had pursued dialogues with the school district, held rallies, and held candlelight vigils to prevent closures that would hurt people of color, the poor, and those with learning disabilities.  It urged those who would be hurt by closures to file complaints with the U. S. Department of Education and Office of Civil Rights and offered to provide help to those affected.


University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Manuscripts and University Archives, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Records, 1935-1966, Accession No. 994; Quintard Taylor, The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle's Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Movement. (Seattle: University of Washington Press,1994);The Seattle Times, July 13, 2004; John Iwasaki, "Leadership Change at Local NAACP," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 25, 2005 (; Mary Henry interview with Charles Johnson, February 7, 2009, Seattle; Marc Ramirez, "NAACP Says Suit Possible over Seattle School Closures," The Seattle Times, January 17, 2009; "NAACP to Hold Hearings on Police Conduct," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 26, 2008;  Lornet Turnbull, "NAACP: Racial Profiling on the Rise; Young People Targeted by Police," The Seattle Times, September 9, 2008; Linda Shaw, "Seattle Board Votes to Close 5 Schools," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 30, 2009..
Note: This essay was updated on January 27, 2005, and again on February 8, 2009.

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