The Black Collective, Tacoma, Washington (1970- )

Section of Tacoma's Hilltop District
Image courtesy Stephen Cysewski

Arising out of Tacoma, Washington’s civil rights struggle in the 1960s, the Black Collective is a volunteer leadership organization engaged in addressing issues affecting the black community of Tacoma and Pierce County.  The Black Collective began as the Concerned Black Citizens in the immediate aftermath of the Mother’s Day Disturbance of May 11, 1969.

Inflamed by rancorously divided city politics, violence broke out that night in the Hilltop neighborhood, home to Tacoma’s largest black population.  Several black leaders, including Thomas Dixon, Executive Director of the Tacoma Urban League; Harold Moss, then a leader in the Tacoma chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); James L. Walton, student president of the Obi Society at Tacoma Community College; and pastors Reverend Earnest S. Brazill and Joseph A. Boles, both leaders in the Ministerial Alliance, stepped in to help quell the outbreak.

In the days following, they negotiated successfully with the City Council to win black representation on the police force and some, although limited, improved services to the Hilltop.  These leaders decided to continue meeting and expanded to include others of color, becoming the Minority Concerns Task Force.  By 1970, however, they resumed their focus on issues specific to the black community.  Since then, the Black Collective has met each Saturday morning, 52 weeks a year.

The Black Collective is open to anyone in the black community regardless of position and is a nonhierarchical, democratically run organization.  Anyone who attends a meeting has voting privileges.  Individual members volunteer for specific tasks and events.  The ongoing topics of discussion are education, employment, healthcare, and politics, but the flexibility of the group enables it to address critical current issues as they arise.  The meetings are neither recorded nor photographed, and requests to do so have been declined.

Harold Moss, Tacoma’s first black city council member (1970), mayor (1994) and Pierce County council member (1997), in describing the organization in 2008 said, “The great strength, endurance, and influence of the Black Collective is not its structure or lack thereof, but it is in its autonomy and commitment to the mission of empowering and bettering the conditions of the black community.”