Walter Hubbard Jr. was a Seattle-based civil rights and labor union leader, political activist, and national leader in the Roman Catholic Church. He was involved in the promotion of justice and equality in intergroup relations and participated in activities to secure worldwide interracial justice. His vision of a church and world without racism was reflected in his life’s work.
Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, he had little formal education but acquired extensive knowledge through his love of reading. When World War II broke out he was drafted into the Army and was stationed at Fort Lewis in 1943, before going overseas to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.
First Years in Seattle
In 1951, he and his family moved to Seattle. He found employment at 60 cents an hour as a skilled cloth cutter at the Sportcaster Company, a subcontractor for Sears. As a young person in New Orleans he had gained intimate knowledge of the garment industry because his two older brothers worked at a shirt factory there. He learned how to spread, cut, and mark the cloth.
In Seattle he became active in the labor union as a member of the United Garment Workers Union Local 77, serving as president and later as a business representative. Mr. Hubbard also worked for the state liquor board and became an officer in its union.
Civil Rights Activities
As was the case with many black people moving to Seattle during the 1950s and 1960s, housing was an issue. Due to zoning and redlining, African Americans were more or less confined to the Central Area.. Mr. Hubbard was denied the purchase of a home in the Madrona neighborhood and in West Seattle because of racial discrimination. He finally moved his family of four into a duplex with one bedroom. This experience prompted him to begin working for open housing and actively supporting the civil rights movement.
He became a member of the Central Area Civil Rights Committee, a powerful committee made up of civil rights leaders including Edwin T. Pratt (1930-1969) of the Seattle Urban League, E. June Smith and Charles Johnson of the Seattle Chapter of the NAACP, Rev. John Hurst Adams (b. 1927) of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Walter Hundley (1929-2002) of Congress for Racial Equality (CORE). This committee, formed in the early 1960s, determined the local civil rights agenda and presented a unified front.
Walter Hubbard was an important member because as a parishioner of St. Therese Catholic Church, he was able to mobilize the Catholic community. “Whenever boycotts or marches were scheduled, Walt was always counted on to produce a Catholic contingent.” said Judge Charles Johnson. Mr. Hubbard chaired the committee from 1969 until 2002
The Central Area Motivation Project (CAMP), which was the first totally new community action program in the country to receive funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity, received his volunteer efforts. It was CAMP that assisted in the planning of Model Cities. He also worked closely with the Model Cities Program and served as chair of its advisory committee from 1972 to 1974.
A firm believer in integrated education, he worked successfully for the Freedom School boycott of Seattle schools in the spring of 1966. He felt that the boycott was a success because it fostered a dialogue between the community and school leaders, both public and parochial.
In 2001, Mr. Hubbard launched the Institute for Public Service Training believed to be the first of its kind. Curriculum was to be taught over six-to-10-week blocks alternating from the University of Washington campus to Seattle University. The aim of the institute was to inspire black college students to go into public service.
Roman Catholic Leadership in Seattle
Much of Walter Hubbard’s civil rights activism was channeled through Roman Catholic organizations. In 1964, he co-founded the Seattle branch of the Catholic Interracial Council along with Melvina Squires, widow of Bernard Squires, director of the Urban League from 1939-1943. Mr. Hubbard also served as president of the Seattle Black Lay Catholic Caucus.
From 1966, to 1970 he was executive director of CARITAS (Community Action Remedial Instruction, Tutoring, Assistance and Service) directed toward high school and college students in the Central District. This was the spearhead of the Archdiocese of Seattle in its war against poverty.
Mr. Hubbard also served as president or as executive director of the National Office of Black Catholics for the last 37 years of his life. The organization promoted black clerical leadership, supported the development of more innovative and more African-rooted liturgy and ministries and made the Catholic Church more visible in racial justice movements.
He was one of four Seattleites who was present when John Paul II addressed 2,000 black Catholics in New Orleans in 1987. They questioned why so few blacks were in hierarchy or in positions of authority at the chancery level.
In 1993, the National Office of Black Catholics called upon Pope John Paul II to consider a married priesthood. Mr. Hubbard described the “priestless Sundays” where the church could lose the capacity to serve its members and also pointed out that the Apostle Peter was married and that celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church was a human-made rule.
He was a member of the Board of Regents of Seattle University from for more than two decades and served on the Board of Trustees of Matteo Ricci College (part of Seattle University) from 1976 to 1978.
International Interracial Justice
As chair of the National Catholic Conference for Interracial Justice, he went to Northern Ireland in 1972, and spent 14 days with a task force of two sisters, two priests, and three lay Catholics examining the strife and civil rights issues there and to investigate the social, political, economic, and religious dimensions of the country.
During the 1970s he was co-chairman of the Seattle Inter-Religious Committee for the Rights of Soviet Jewry, an interfaith group concerned with the problem of Soviet Jews. In 1976, he traveled as the committee’s emissary to Brussels for the Second World Conference on Soviet Jews.
Mr. Hubbard spent most of the past four decades of his life in public service.
In the 1970s he worked for the Washington State Human Rights Commission as a compliance specialist responsible for enforcing a federal court order opening work in the building trades to blacks and women.
He was appointed to the State Parole Board in 1977, and served until 1986. He was appointed to the State Board of Personnel Appeals and served from 1990 until 2006 .
He was a board member of the Municipal League from 1997-1998.
Walter Hubbard entered several political races but was unable to attract enough support for victory.
In 1973, he was defeated by Ruby Chow in the King County Council race and in 1989, he was among 26 vying for appointment to Norm Rice’s seat on the City Council. In 1990, despite the support and endorsement of Councilmember Sam Smith (1922-1995) and Representative Jesse Wineberry, he failed to win a senatorial seat from the 37th District to succeed George Fleming. In 1996, he was one of 102 applicants to apply for Position 3 on the Seattle City Council to fill the seat of John Manning .
A Voice for Reason
In 1993, despite opposition from the Central Area Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Hubbard supported Mayor Rice’s urban villages proposal for two areas in the Central Area: one at 23rd and East Union and the other at 23rd and South Jackson. He felt that it could be the basis of Central Area renewal and a vision for the future.
In 2004, Mr. Hubbard defended Christine Gregoire when African American leaders denounced her for the role she played more than 30 years ago in a college sorority that barred women who were not white. He stated that she “has opposed discrimination while standing up for civil rights and equal rights throughout her career” and that she spoke out against Initiative 200, which would have rolled back affirmative action laws in the state.
Walter Hubbard died on May 5, 2007 and a memorial mass was celebrated in the Ignatius Loyola Chapel at Seattle University.