Timeline: African American History in King County

Black Panthers demonstrating at federal courthouse, Seattle, 1969
Photo by Tom Barlet, Courtesy MOHAI (1986.5.52268.2)

1858 – Manuel Lopes, the first African American resident of King County, arrives in Seattle and soon afterwards opens a restaurant and becomes one of the first barbers in the city.

1883 – John Conna, a Civil War veteran, and Mary Conna arrive and settle on 157 acres in Federal Way.

1886 – The earliest African American church in the territory (eventually called First AfricanMethodist Episcopal or AME) is established by black Seattle residents.

1889 – John Conna becomes the first black political appointee in the Washington Territory when Republican Party leaders appoint him Assistant Sergeant at Arms of the 1889 Washington Territorial House of Representatives.

Robert O. Lee arrives in Seattle and becomes the first practicing African American lawyer in Washington

1890 – Isaac W. Austin becomes the first black Seattle police officer.

1891 – First black coal miners arrive in Newcastle and Franklin in south King County.

1892 – Seaborn Collins defeats John A. Coleman, the first black Democrat nominated for office in King County, in a general election for the position of wreckmaster to become the first African American elected official in King County.

1894 – Horace Cayton establishes the Seattle Republican, the largest and most influential newspaper owned by African Americans in the state’s history.

1895 – John Edward Hawkins becomes the first locally trained black lawyer admitted to the King County Bar.

1900 – The first buffalo soldiers, men of the 9th Cavalry and 24thInfantry, are stationed at Fort Lawton in Seattle.

1904 – An integrated local, District 10, is successfully established by the United Mine Workers in Newcastle.

1908 (est) – James I. Smith becomes the first African American to live in Renton.

1913 – The first National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) branch in the state is established by twenty-two Seattleites led by Letitia Graves.

1930 – The Seattle Urban League is established in Seattle by a group led by Lottie Biggs. The first executive director is Joseph S. Jackson.

1934 – Led by Harry Bridges’ Longshoremen’s union, black and white workers merge into integrated unions on Seattle’s waterfront.

1942 – Dorothy West Williams becomes the first African American production worker hired by the Boeing Airplane Company.

1944 – After several dozen black soldiers riot at Fort Lawton, the body of an Italian POW is found hanging from a tree. Twenty-eight soldiers are convicted of various charges, including two for manslaughter. Sixty years later, all convictions are overturned.

1946 – June 1 – The Seattle Steelheads play their first game against the San Diego Tigers at Sick’s Stadium in Seattle as part of the West Coast Negro Baseball League.

1948 – Ray Charles moves to Seattle from Tampa, Florida. Although he remains in the city only two years, he acknowledges he got his start in Seattle.

Quincy Jones sees Ray Charles play at the Elks Lodge and is inspired to pursue a musical career.

1950 – Seattle attorney Charles Stokes becomes the first African American elected to the state legislature from the 37th District.

1961 – In October Seattle civil rights protestors begin various protests of employment discrimination in downtown stores including selective buying campaigns.

November 8, Martin Luther King arrives in Seattle for his only visit.

1962 – Harold Booker becomes active in the Federal Way civil rights movement.

1963 – After suffering racist incidents trying to buy a home and at a swimming pool, Harold Booker starts the Federal Way Human Rights Committee.

July 1. Thirty-five demonstrators stage Seattle’s first sit-in when they occupy City Hall for 24 hours.

August 28, the same day as the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the Seattle Public School District becomes the first major school system in the country to initiate a voluntary desegregation plan.

Donald Phelps becomes Bellevue’s first black school principal.

November 27. The Seattle City Council approves an open housing ordinance subject to ratification at the general election on March 10, 1964.

1964 – On March 10, Seattle voters by a margin of 115,626 to 54,448 defeat the open-housing ordinance enacted by the City Council.

In the summer the Seattle Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) initiates the Drive for Equal Employment in Downtown Stores, the largest protest campaign involving racial discrimination ever undertaken in the state of Washington. Its most significant victory is Nordstrom’s agreement to develop one of the first voluntary affirmative action plans in the nation.

1967 – April 9 Stokely Carmichael speaks to an audience of 4,000 at Garfield High School

On November 7, Sam Smith is elected Seattle’s first black city councilman.

1968 – March 29, High school and college students stage sit-in at Franklin High School.

On April 7, three days after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, nearly 10,000 people march in memory of his life and legacy.

April 13 – Aaron Dixon forms the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party.

On April 19, the Seattle City Council enacts a fair housing ordinance introduced by Councilman Sam Smith.

1969 – Edwin Pratt, executive Director of the Seattle Urban League is assassinated in the door of his home on January 1.The assassins are never apprehended.

1970 – In February U.S. District Judge William Lindberg institutes the “Seattle Plan” to integrate the city’s formerly all-white construction unions.The Seattle Plan becomes a national model for affirmative action in the construction industry.

September 18 – Jimi Hendrix dies in London, England.

In November three African Americans, State Senator George Fleming and State Representatives Peggy Maxie and Michael Ross, represent Seattle’s 37th District in the state legislature. This is the only time in the 20th Century that three black legislators are elected from the district.

1973 – Bill Russell, eleven-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and civil rights icon, takes over as coach and general manager of the Seattle Supersonics, leading the franchise to its first ever playoff berth during the 1974-75 season.

1978 – Seattle becomes the largest city in the United States to desegregate its schools without a court order. Nearly 25% of the district’s students are bused as part of the “Seattle Plan.”

1979 – The Seattle Supersonics, coached by Lenny Wilkins, win the NBA Championship by defeating the Washington Bullets in six games. The victory represents Seattle’s first major professional sports championship, and Wilkins becomes the second African American head coach to win an NBA title.

Margaret Proctor became the black elected official in Renton.

1982 – Zion Preparatory Academy is founded by Pastor Eugene Drayton at the Zion United House of Prayer.

1985 – Claude Harris becomes Seattle’s first African American Fire Chief.

In November the Citizens Support Committee for the African American Heritage Museum/Cultural Center occupied the vacant Coleman School demanding the space be used to house a black history museum and community center.  When the occupation ended in 1993, the eight year protest became the longest continuoulsy running act of civil disobedience in U.S. history.

1986 – Ron Sims is the first African American elected to the King County Council.Soon afterwards he initiates a campaign to rename King County, the most populous county in the state, for Dr. Martin Luther King.

1989 – Norman Rice is elected the first African American mayor of Seattle.

1990 – Seattle playwright August Wilson wins a Pulitzer Prize for the play, The Piano Lesson.

1991 – The Seattle School Board authorizes the creation of the African American Academy.

1993 – Sir Mix-A-Lot’s song “Baby Got Back” wins the Grammy Award for Best Solo Rap Performance.

1994 – Ishmael Butler’s group Digable Planets wins the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the song “Cool Like That (Rebirth of Slick).”

1995 – July 1. Former U.S. Army General John Stanford becomes the first African American Superintendent of the Seattle Public Schools.

1996 – Ron Sims is appointed King County Executive when then Executive Gary Locke is elected Governor. Sims wins the post outright in 1997.

1997 – Seattle ends its busing program.

2001 – Eric Faison became the first black elected official in Federal Way.

2004 – Tyrone Willingham becomes the first black head football coach at the University of Washington.

Guard Betty Lennox is named Finals MVP as the Seattle Storm defeat the Connecticut Sun 2 games to 1 in a best of 3 series to claim the franchise’s first WNBA Championship.

2005 – On April 19, Governor Christine Gregoire signs into law State Senate Bill 5332 which officially renames King County, Martin Luther King Junior County.

2007 – On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark ruling involving Seattle public schools prohibits the use of race as the sole factor in pupil assignments and says racial balance is not a compelling state interest.

2008 – Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) opens.

By this date an estimated 23,000 Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Somali reside in King County.

2009 – The Seattle School Board and Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson approve a plan to close 5 schools, including the African American Academy.

2010 – All-Star forward Swin Cash and the Seattle Storm win a second WNBA championship, defeating the Atlanta Dream 3 games to none in a best of 5 series.

2014 – Russell Wilson leads the Seattle Seahawks to a victory in Superbowl XLVIII at Rutherford New Jersey, making them the second major professional sports team from Seattle to win a world championship. Wilson becomes the second starting black quarterback to lead a team to victory in the Superbowl.

O’Dea High School graduate and Seattle Sounders FC defender Deandre Yedlin is named to the United States men’s national team and plays in the World Cup in Brazil.