Bil Moss (1932- )

Bil Moss
Bil Moss
Courtesy of Bil Moss

Bil Moss, in 1975, was the first woman of color to win a Tacoma councilmanic primary election. Although she lost in the November general election, she ran again 24 years later for the same third district council seat and prevailed.  Thus, she became the second woman of color elected to the City Council, following Dr. Dolores Silas. Moss was also appointed as the first Executive director of the newly organized Planned Parenthood of Pierce County in 1972, serving in that capacity for over a decade.

Moss was born in Detroit, Michigan on August 20, 1932, the first of seven children in the family of John and Murl Stringer. The Stringers moved from Alabama and the segregated south to Detroit, as part of the great African American migration to seek work in the industrial north. Given the name Williebelle at birth, Moss has used the name, Bil, professionally her entire adult life.

Moss graduated in 1950 from Detroit’s High School of Commerce, primarily a white girl’s school with few Black students. She was then employed by the Michigan Department of Health in Lansing, Michigan. While there, she met and married Harold Gene Moss, the brother of high school twin sister classmates.

In 1950, when Harold Moss was drafted in the Michigan Army National Guard, activated, and assigned to Fort Lewis, close to Tacoma, Washington, the couple moved to the Pacific Northwest. Upon completion of Harold’s two years of duty in 1952, the Mosses remained in Tacoma, where they attempted to purchase a home. Discriminated at every turn through redlining, the two managed to eventually purchase property and build their dream house in the city’s West End. They were the only Black couple in the neighborhood where they raised their three children, Richard Dean, Michael Glen, and Terri Catherine.

Harold and Bil divorced in 1972, and three years later, in 1975, Bil ran for the City Council in the newly created third councilmanic district. She won the district primary with ease against second-place finisher Harold “Hal” Nielsen, who also became her city-wide general election opponent. Nielsen’s campaign was marked with racist and sexist attacks and a focus on Moss’s employment with Planned Parenthood. Despite the support of numerous community leaders, including Booth Gardner, a future Washington governor, she lost the November election, 19,076 to 13,962. Twenty-four years later, when the city converted to direct district elections, she was elected to the City Council, defeating Amy Hoglund 3,276 to 2,909 in November 1999.

Known for her calm and steady influence on the City Council, Moss was selected by her colleagues to serve as Deputy Mayor and was active in the National League of Cities.  Prior to her council election, she served on the Tacoma Utility Board, earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Puget Sound, and was a special assistant to Pierce County Executive Doug Sutherland. In 2003, the Tacoma Municipal League awarded Bil with its “Distinguished Service Award” for her many years of service to the Tacoma community.