Lydia Teresa Sims (1920–2012)

James and Lydia Sims
“Image Courtesy of Ron Sims”

Lydia Teresa Sims, civic and civil rights leader in Spokane, Washington, was born November 18, 1920, in Penn’s Grove, New Jersey, to Clifton and Helen Elvira Williams. Lydia’s family, including her five sisters, lived most of their childhood in Summit, New Jersey. Lydia graduated from Summit High School in 1938. On August 2, 1941, she married James McCormick Sims and relocated to Newark, New Jersey.  Soon thereafter, James joined the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II.

During the war, Lydia moved to Spokane because her husband was stationed at Geiger Airfield.  When her husband left the Air Force in 1947, the Sims family decided to remain in Spokane where they raised their sons, James McCormick, and twins Ron and Donald. James Sims became an ordained minister serving as assistant pastor at Cavalry Baptist Church for ten years and pastor of New Hope Baptist Church for more than twenty-five years.

Lydia Sims’s political activism began in the 1960s while a member of the Spokane National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a student at Eastern Washington University when she participated in a successful movement to desegregate public schools in Cheney, Washington. She graduated from Eastern Washington University in 1977.
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In 1975 Sims became Spokane’s affirmative action specialist. She was eventually appointed human resources director for the city of Spokane, the first African American department manager in that city’s history. In this position, Sims helped African Americans, women, and other marginalized groups find opportunities in Spokane’s job market.

Two years later, Sims was elected the first African American female president of the 113-member branch of the Spokane’s NAACP. She established an NAACP annual job fair in 1978 and invited area businesses to recruit potential employees. She opened the fair to all ethnic minorities but focused primarily on attracting black high school and college students. She was instrumental in recruiting juniors and seniors from Spokane high schools as well as nearby Medical Lake and from Eastern Washington State University.

Despite these efforts, as NAACP president, she constantly reprimanded businesses in the media for failing to comply with affirmative action hiring laws. She publicly revealed, for example, contractors in Spokane who refused to adhere to the federal government’s affirmative action hiring policies. She also challenged the city’s police and fire departments to hire African Americans.

During her public service career, Sims also served as a member of the Washington State Human Rights Coalition, the Washington State Human Relations Council, the League of Women Voters, and the Washington State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission

After James Sims’s death on September 23, 1996, Lydia Sims retired to Edmonds, Washington, and continued her advocacy.  In 2000 with her son, King County Executive Ron Sims, she co-launched the Healthy Aging Partnership, an information and assistance line for the elderly at the Central Area Senior Center in King County. Lydia Sims died in Edmonds on June 23, 2012.  She was ninety-one.