Freddie Mae Gautier, civil rights activist, political advisor, businesswoman, and mentor was arguably the most politically influential black woman in Seattle in the latter half of the twentieth century. Born at the Seattle General Hospital on July 15, 1930, Gautier never knew her birth parents. When she was eight months old, Fred G. Hurd, a bakery owner, and his wife, Minnie Purnell Hurd, adopted her. Although Gautier’s birth certificate listed her as white, Gautier identified herself as a “Negro” woman.
Gautier attended the Seattle Junior Academy and after high school, she studied at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, before obtaining a B.A. in education from UCLA. She married Raymond J. Gautier on July 15, 1961. They had one daughter, Yvonne, and a son, Pierre.
Gautier first worked as a matron in the King County Sheriff’s office from 1953 to 1967. During this period however, she befriended countless black migrants pouring into the city. She also became a central political player in the civil rights movement, marching alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the South. Then in 1963, she co-founded the local chapter of SCLC and later became the Western Vice President of the regional branch of the organization.
In 1963, Gautier gathered eleven black women to found the Benefit Guild, a charitable organization designed to promote unity and improve racial, social, and economic conditions in the community. The Guild sponsored community programs for SCLC, participated in civil rights activities, and clothed and educated low-income families. Between 1963 and 1983, the Guild raised more than $500,000 to support voter registration drives, a children’s clinic, and scholarships for black high school and college students in the Seattle area.
In 1964, Gautier, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully for one of the two 37th District Legislative seats. She was defeated by Democrat Sam Smith, who later became the first African American elected to the Seattle City Council. Gautier realized her political affiliation would hurt her chances in this heavily Democratic district but she honored her adopted grandmother’s wishes and refused to abandon the party of Abraham Lincoln.
In 1971, Gautier became secretary of the newly formed non-partisan political group, Black Action for Democracy (BAD) that registered black voters, sought qualified black candidates, and provided them support and resources. She also worked as a community organizer for the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) and became director of the Model Cities Group Home Program that provided homes for delinquent youth. Using her growing political influence, she helped to ensure the creation of the city’s Martin Luther King Memorial in 1981.
By the early 1980s she had earned a reputation as a powerful local and national political advisor. The Seattle Times reported that she counseled Jesse Jackson on his business ventures after his two presidential bids. In 1989 she worked for the election of Norm Rice, Seattle’s first black mayor. Partly in gratitude, Mayor Rice named September 11, 1990 “Freddie Mae Gautier Day” in Seattle.
Ironically despite her political influence, Gautier never held political office or a position in either of the major political parties. She co-owned a local candy and gift shop in the Sea-Tac Airport and managed the records section for the Seattle Municipal Court until her retirement in 1997.
On December 14, 2001, Gautier died in Seattle from Alzheimer’s complications. She was 71.