John Slaughter (1933- )

John and Mary Slaughter, 2017
John and Mary Slaughter, 2017
Public Domain Image

John Slaughter was the first professional employee hired by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) to work at the Hanford Energy site in the Tri-Cities, Washington. Very little is known about Slaughter’s childhood beyond his birth in 1933. Slaughter and his wife, Mary, were married in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1955, where they had their children, Gregory, Johnetta, Dwane, and Anthony. The Slaughter family moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1960, settling in the Naches Valley near Yakima in Washington. Slaughter was a civil engineer in Naches, living at the Naches Ranger Station. The Slaughter family then moved to Kennewick, Washington, in 1967, where they have lived ever since.

The Slaughters were the first Black family to live in the city of Kennewick. For several years, Blacks were allowed to live only in East Pasco. Richland and Kennewick were racially segregated communities reserved exclusively for whites. The Slaughters were allowed to move in not because of a change in racial policy but because a white Kennewick school teacher rented the house to them as an angry protest of racial exclusion in the city. Yet, once John and Mary Slaughter had moved in, they made fast friends with several of the neighbors surrounding them. Even though their neighbors were friendly and welcoming, the social stigma of living in an “all-white” town remained.

John Slaughter moved to Kennewick to work for the AEC. Although he had been employed as an engineer for the U.S. Forest Service, he applied to work for the commission at Hanford and was immediately employed. With his hire, he became the first Black white-collar worker at the Hanford Energy Site in Tri-Cities, Washington.

John Slaughter worked for the AEC in Hanford until 1998. He is now retired and continues to live in Kennewick, where they attend church on Sundays at Columbia Community Church. The Slaughters remember the segregation and racism they faced when they arrived in 1967 as the first Black residents of Kennewick, Washington, but as they stated in an interview in on February 10, 2017, they believe that racial conditions over the years in their hometown and the Tri-Cities area in general have improved dramatically over the past half-century.