Harold Moss (1929-2020)

Harold Gene Moss
Harold Gene Moss
Courtesy of Genie Moss

Harold G. Moss, leader and a founder of the Tacoma Urban League and past president of the Tacoma branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), was the first African American to serve as mayor of Tacoma, Washington. He was also the first to serve on the Tacoma City Council and the Pierce County Council.

Moss was born on October 1, 1929, in Gilmer, Texas to John Harris Moss and Ida Belle Wright-Moss. Moss, his twin sisters, Dorothy and Martha, and parents moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1935 as a part of the great migration of African Americans from the South to the industrial North. In Detroit, John Moss established a successful auto-body shop while after high school Harold trained to be a dental technician and later a ceramist and licensed denturist.

In 1950, Moss joined the Michigan Army National Guard which was activated during the Korean conflict. His unit was assigned to Fort Lewis. During this time, his sisters introduced him to high school classmate Williebelle “Bil” Stringer. They married in Detroit in September 1951, and she then joined him in Tacoma where they raised a family. They later divorced.

Moss’s political career began in 1969 when he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Tacoma City Council losing on November 4th to prominent local sportscaster John Jarstad by a vote of 23,440 to 19,893. Moss was later appointed to a vacant council seat on October 13, 1970, after the recall of five council members in September. Moss then ran for a full term in 1971 and defeated Jack Gamble 17,947 to 14,073. Moss resigned from the City Council before completing his term because of a potential conflict of interest involving his position with the Urban League.

Harold Moss ran again for the City Council in 1983 after leaving the League and lost, then later was reappointed to another vacant seat. He ran for the seat and was elected on November 5th, 1991, defeating Jerry Thorpe 19,561 to 16,226. On January 25, 1994, Moss, who was serving as deputy mayor, was appointed by the council as Mayor of Tacoma after the unexpected death of incumbent Jack Hyde. He stepped down from the council because of term limits at the end of 1995. Moss was known on the council for his commitment to social justice. He and council colleague, Jack Warnick were among the first elected officials in the state to call for anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQ people.

Moss was elected as a Democrat to the fourth district of the Pierce County Council on November 5, 1996, defeating Republican Richard Nivens 17,042 to 8,042. He served two terms running unopposed for reelection. While on the Council he chaired it for three consecutive years from 2002-2004. Moss also was a five-year board member of the Washington State Association of Counties and was elected president of the Association in 2003.

Harold G. Moss died on September 21, 2020, leaving his wife Genie Jefferson, two sons from a prior marriage, Dean and Michael, sisters Dorothy Toliver and Martha Brown, and numerous nieces and nephews. He was 90.