March 21, 2023
Anyone who loves Seattle or wants to know its history has been given a great gift—Tributes: Black People Whose Names Grace Seattle Sites by Mary T. Henry. This new treasure is an expanded version of the 1997 volume Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People by the retired Seattle public school librarian. Instead of 23 entries, readers can now learn about the namesakes of 53 sites! The slender book of fewer than one hundred pages is crammed with information. Mrs. Henry wrote the first book because students would come to the library seeking information on persons for whom sites in Seattle had been named. Usually, there was no information on persons of color. She decided to remedy this void. Many of us are grateful. Now anyone can quickly access the names gracing many Seattle sites.
Yes, we know Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Some of us know Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. But many of the names mean nothing to most of us, and too many of us do not recognize that the person named is indeed a person of color. Mrs. Henry “was constantly amazed at the contributions these people made to the life and culture of Seattle, the nation, and the world.” All are not from the Seattle area. The oldest person listed is Sojourner Truth, 1797-1883, and the youngest is Peppi Braxton, 1963 – 1971, for whom a park is named. Almost a third of these individuals are women. Three were assassinated. Professions include as expected doctors, lawyers, musicians, and athletes. The names of an architect, scientists, politicians, social workers, and educators are also here. Some honorees are alive. The ninety-nine-year-old Mrs. Henry has the privilege of identifying some of these persons as friends and acquaintances.
Although subjects are arranged alphabetically, you will most likely want to look up names you recognize or have seen.
Thanks to the Civil Rights Movement, Seattle leaders—with help from concerned citizens—made good use of Forward Thrust funds by creating more than a dozen parks named for African Americans. At least seven housing sites bear the names of African Americans. There are centers for mental health, multiservice, fine arts, and community and economic assistance. Both a Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) and a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) exist. Several streets and ways can be found. Other sites include a library, justice center, playfield, theater, service area, and schools. You can visit a viewpoint and an overlook, swim in a pool, or sit in a resource and reading rooms. The Odessa Brown Clinic and Carolyn Downs Medical Center provide service for thousands.
How many names can you correctly place on the above sites?
With the book in a passenger’s hand, make a point of including these sites when you plan your routes about town.
The pride spreads over many of us, most of whom had nothing to do with the process. By collecting this information, Mrs. Henry has joined those whose legacies provide something for those of us today and those to come tomorrow, forever, and ever. Anyone who reads the book will most likely agree. To have so much history about African Americans in one place is a joy; to have this history written by an African American in our midst is more than a joy. Good reading!
You should know some sites are not included because these persons were honored after Tributes went to press. The 12th Street home of Bertha Pitts Campbell, an early civil rights worker in Seattle, a suffragette, and founder of the Delta Sigma Gamma sorority is yet another site. The remodeled Northgate school was renamed the James Baldwin School after the well-known author. D'Von Pickett Way on East Union is named for the young businessman recently murdered on MLK and Union. South Oregon Street became Bill Burton Way because of Burton’s work with Boys and Girls Club. Friends of Det. Cookie Chess named a park to honor police officer Denise Bouldin who has devoted much time to the community, especially the youth.
The Gideon Tower is at the Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Georgia S. McDade