During the late 1980s the Northwest Black Pioneers (NWBP) was conceived
by participants of the Roots Festival, an annual African American cultural
gathering in Seattle. In the summer of
1987, a steering committee formed in that same city to discuss strategies to
encourage The Bon Marché Department Store, one of the largest mercantile
businesses in the city, to support black history and culture. The meeting resulted in the committee and
store executives founding the NWBP.
Image Courtesy of Quintard Taylor
The newly formed organization and its corporate sponsor The Bon Marché decided
to showcase "A Tribute to the Northwest Black Pioneers." The tribute included sharing the history of
Blacks in Seattle with the city through exhibits of photos and artifacts. On February 17, 1988, the NWBP launched its
first black historical exhibit at The Bon Marché in Seattle. The following year, the NWBP lent exhibits to other Bon Marché stores in the nearby cities of Tacoma, Bellingham, and
Bellevue. Because of its popularity, the
exhibit was displayed at stores as far away as Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and
Although the NWBP initially focused on African Americans in Seattle, it soon broadened
the scope of the black experience to include artifacts and photos from
throughout the Pacific Northwest. In
1988, in an effort to further promote the mission of the NWBP, the
organization’s cofounder Ralph Hayes, with the support of corporate sponsor The
Bon Marché, published the book Northwest
Black Pioneers: A Centennial Tribute.
The book examined the history and contributions of blacks in the entire
Northwest. Because of the success
of the exhibit and book, the NWBP also incorporated other successful chapters
of its organization throughout the region, including those in Portland, Oregon
and Spokane, Washington.
As part of its community outreach projects in Seattle, the NWBP gave college
scholarships to deserving African American high school students. In conjunction
with the scholarships, the NWBP, under the leadership of Dr. Robert Gary, O.L.
Mitchell, and Delores Booker, organized the first annual black college tour in
1996. The tour was designed to introduce
high school seniors to campus communities and the college enrollment process in
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs). To support this endeavor,
the organization forged a partnership with the University of Washington and
The NWBP efforts to promote African American culture contributed to the opening
of the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle in 2008. In 2002, the NWBP donated a bust of the
African American pioneer George Washington Bush to Washington State
University. Today, the NWBP continues to
promote black history and culture in the region by lending its artifacts to
schools, department stores and other public venues.
Ralph Hayes, Northwest Black Pioneers: A Centennial Tribute (1988: Bon Marché Department Store); Jerrelene Williamson, Images of America: African Americans in Spokane (Arcadia Publishing 2010); http://nwbpcollegetour.com/5301.html.