Saturday, February 2, 2013

Douglas Chin, Author, Historian and Activist

Doug Chin is an author and historian and was an Activist in the 1970s. He ultimately became an urban planner, so he's a serious, accomplished man with a winning deadpan sense of humor. His family was one the very first Chinese-American families to settle in the Central Area.

Photo by Madeline Crowley

We didn’t have a whole lot (when I was little). We raided every fruit tree in the neighborhood getting those plums, apples, cherries, man, we’d eat so much fruit we wouldn’t even be hungry.


In the 1940s, when I was around 6 or 7 years old, we’d play kick the can down the road until sometimes midnight. We’d play in the street, me and my brothers and the white kids across the street, and the black kids from next door, we’d play together all the time. Especially summertime, we’d play mostly in the streets but sometimes we’d go to Leschi and stuff.  We didn’t have this elaborate playground equipment in the parks.

We used to make carts, soap box carts when we were about 8 years old, and we’d take our carts all the way to Lake Washington. We’d get wagon wheels and go down the hill. It was nice going down but it was a long way back up that hill. It was fun times.

My family lived on 19th & Fir for a couple of years sharing the house with another family. Then, my parents got a house on 17th between Jefferson and Alder and right across the street was a synagogue. In my early years there were a lot of synagogues in that area, four or five within a few blocks.

Doug & His twin brother Art. Collection: Doug Chin

When I was young I remember Jewish people walking to synagogue on Saturdays. Also, the Sisters of Providence would walk around the neighborhood in their habits so when they appeared everybody had to be polite. The Sisters lived over on 18th and Marion; that house still stands. They were the Sisters of Providence of Providence Hospital. They also taught the Chinese ladies English.

In those days, there was a lot of Jews in a predominantly white neighborhood with a sprinkling of African Americans and a sprinkling of Chinese. Then, after the war, the Japanese came back after internment and resettled in the area. I went to Horace Mann School on Cherry; it’s no longer an elementary school. When I went to elementary school it was pretty mixed, some Chinese, some Japanese, Jewish, white and some blacks.

As the years progressed more and more blacks moved in. The Central Area was in transition, when I was born it was predominantly white working class.  By the mid-forties it started to change; almost daily I’d see a white family moving out the neighborhood. And people of color were moving in. When I left to join the army in 1960; it was still pretty mixed but well over 50% Asians, lot of Japanese and African Americans. As it changed it became more and more black and Japanese.

Who were your friends when you were young?

Lot of my friends were African-American because they lived next door to me, and I played with some white kids and then Chinese kids because I went to school with them. When I went to the Washington School, I came to know a lot more Asian kids who came from Bailey-Gatzert, Colman and Leschi Schools. In high school, I used to hang around with all of the kids I knew growing up but my best friend was Japanese. He lived on 17th & Jackson. I still have friends that are Japanese, Chinese, and African-American. 

Doug, Art & their sister Priscilla. Collection: Doug Chin

When I was growing up everybody stayed right in the neighborhood; today kids have cars. Back then we either walked or took the bus. Most of the time we walked wherever we were going. It was a whole lot different, those days, man, we played in the street and walked around after dark and never even worried about it. But nowadays it’s a whole lot different because there are gangs. I mean we had gangs of kids but in those days, (the 1940s or 50s) or they might carry a knife.

How were the gangs organized? By friendship groups or ethnic groups?

There used to be one group of Japanese kids who were a gang. Also, there was an African-American groups that wore the same jackets, the Gaylords, they might have carried knives. Today they shoot each other. There wasn’t the violence then that occurs today.


It was a pretty interesting neighborhood. I was growing up and playing basketball; I was quick. If I’d gone to another school I would have made the team. I couldn’t make Garfield’s team because they were too good.

I might be small but I used to be athletic. I used to play ball all the time. The guys wanted to play sports like basketball, football and baseball. There were pick up games in the parks. Most of the guys playing sports were Japanese and African American, with some Chinese. They established a Boys Club on Spruce & 19th  in 1954, we used to hang out there all the time to play sports. You’d hang out there after school then go home and eat, then go back and play some more.

Sometimes we’d go steal stuff like Coca Cola from the plant on 14th between Spruce and Cherry. They used make Coke there, the trucks would be there, and we’d lift the fence up and crawl under and grab a whole case. Those bottles are heavy. We’d get the whole thing and then realize what the hell are we going to do with all this? We’d run down the street at nighttime. It was a fun time, those days. We had some good times.

We used to hang out at that Buddhist Temple on Main Street and play basketball inside. Every Saturday they’d show Samurai movies – for free. We were all there. Lots of people would go there, on Saturday nights that place was packed.

In the 50s, race relations were really good, especially if you played ball. There was a Sterns Grocery Store on 19th & Spruce and everybody used to go there to buy their meat. In those days there were a lot of small stores and the supermarkets were just starting to appear, so you’d go to the grocery store and then the bakery on 14th and Alder. We’d get bread and donuts and stuff. It was where the juvenile detention is now.  They had the best bread, everybody would go there to get bread. Wonderbread used to be there too on Jackson Street. It was pretty good. The area was definitely not like it is now.

The Jewish people moved (away) in the 1950s, they moved from Central Area to Mt. Baker and Seward Park (neighborhoods). I live in Seward Park now; I live near three synagogues.

After graduating from Garfield in 1960, I went to the Army and then moved to the Bay Area.

Naming the Central Area

We used to never call it the Central Area; if you asked me where I lived I’d say near Providence, or pretty close to Garfield. Everybody knew Providence Hospital. When I came back in in the 1970s from the Bay Area, they called it the ghetto and now they call it the Central Area. Since I had lived here in the 1940s, it was like, what are you talking about, man? The neighborhood kept being called different things.


A lot of things centered around Garfield, that was the big institution, everybody knew Garfield because it was good at sports. There was a music scene too, the big hit was Ron Holden, a national hit, “Love You So".  He wrote it in prison and when he got out he recorded it. His dad, Oscar and his brother, Dave, are famous musicians too. Jimi Hendrix went to school when I was there but I don’t remember that. My next door neighbor said, ‘Don’t you remember he used to come over to our house,’ but I don’t remember. I don’t remember the guy.

And the Japanese had this group, the Skyliners, they used to play here and Las Vegas. The former music instructor at Washington Junior High was the band leader. We had some other groups, Charles Woodbury, and they had a rock and roll scene. I never went but a lot of my black friends went to Birdland on Madison. Ray Charles used to play there. Madison was hopping, people were excited about going out to Birdland.

I have to say that in the mid-sixties my family actually moved, a lot of the Chinese and Japanese families moved because there was too much racial tension between the blacks and, well, everybody. They were really angry. People told me they were walking on 23rd Ave and they’d get rocks thrown at them. So it there a lot of racial tension and people moved out because of it. My impression was the non-blacks (white, Asian and Black Middle Class Flight) moved because of that in the 1960s.

The first Chinese-American family in the Central Area:

I need to give you some background. My great aunt’s husband and her family, the Dong Family, used to be the head of Chong Wa. This was the Chinese umbrella organization, consisting of Tongs and Family Associations

My great uncle, Mr. Dong, was also the head of a trading company and a curio shop on 2nd and Seneca. That land was later sold to Washington Mutual Bank. He was a big time merchant. He was one of the very first Chinese-Americans to move into the Central Area.

My mother was born in Norfolk VA but she went back to Guangdong Province in China. She came back to America in 1937, because my Dad was here. My father came in second decade of the 1900s, and he came to work as a houseboy for my great uncle Dong. He was able to come despite the Chinese Exclusion Act because he came as a student. The Act didn’t allow laborers so you had to be a student, merchant or a diplomat. Then, he went back to China so to come back to the US he had to come as a merchant for my granduncle’s business. My father worked at the Curio shop.

Later my Dad was a waiter. He saved money and probably inherited from my aunt when she died, so he opened a Chinese restaurant on Capitol Hill. We used to work there when I was in Junior High and High school in the mid 1950s. Sometimes my friends would come up there to eat.

What was your strongest impression of that time?

I just knew we weren’t living in Magnolia or Broadmoor but we thought, ‘it is what it is.’ We knew we weren’t well off. We weren’t impoverished or homeless. We didn’t have a whole lot of transients; they were in Pioneer Square. I didn’t ever feel that, ‘I wish we were somewhere else.’

My parents didn’t have a car so we walked everywhere. We heard about places like Laurelhurst, but it was like hearing about Hollywood. No one we knew went there or lived there. It was never thought of as, ‘Oh, it’s so dirty and there are vacant houses.’ You just accepted that there were a few houses that weren’t well maintained. It wasn’t so bad that houses were getting condemned. Some people took care of their yard, some people didn’t.

Did growing up in this neighborhood prepare you for going into the service?

 I think knowing people from different races helps only in the Army but in employment, you know how to relate to people. You’re not surprised if someone does this or that because you’ve seen other cultures; that’s a benefit. I worked in government most of my life, doing community relations, working with people with different backgrounds.

You seem comfortable with different people.

 It’s a big plus, because people if they don’t have that experience with others sometimes they respond defensively or they’re shocked. Anyway, living here was a pretty good experience. I wasn’t the best student; I didn’t get good grades like my brothers and sister. Socially, though, I had a great time. I did well. I had a pretty good childhood.

Is there anything you miss from the old neighborhood?

 Growing up here you learned appreciation for racial relations, civil rights and appreciation for different cultures. You also learned about how people from different income levels face different challenges. When I was a kid you went to the dentist only if your teeth were falling out, you only went to the Dr. when you were pretty damn sick. You realize (that people experience) different things because of the environment they lived in. It was a good experience, to see and live through different situations. Then, you compare that to the American Dream and you see what it is and what it can be. I say this, though; I don’t think the poverty that I lived around was as bad as it was in other areas in the US, like in the Appalachians, deep pockets ofpoverty and crime.

Did growing up in an economically diverse environment make you a better urban planner?

 Oh yeah, people knew that I was one of very few people who worked for the city who was from here; many people were from other cities. I knew the local neighborhoods better than most people in the department.

What do you think of how it’s changed?

 Physically, it’s better now. The houses are renovated and there’s new construction. It looks better nowadays, I hate to admit it, but it looks better than it did in the 1950s and 60s because then there was a lot of blight. With gentrification my perception is that a lot of African-Americans have moved out and some of Asians are moving back into the area as well as white folks moving down from Capitol Hill as the Central Area is more affordable.

[Doug was referred to this project by the OCA] 

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part by
4Culture's Heritage Projects program

Friday, February 1, 2013

DeCharlene Williams, Chamber of Commerce President. Boutique Owner & Writer

De Charlene Williams has long tended the Central Area Chamber of Commerce
kept track of local history and published her own books on the neighborhood. 

Ms. De Charlene Williams. Photo: Madeline Crowley 

My name is De Charlene Williams, I’m located at 2108 E. Madison and have been here since April 1968 when they were killing Martin Luther King. I’m still standing because the Lord Jesus Christ is my Savior. He has guided me and put me on this path, protected me, wanted me to stay right here and be a voice for this community.

I want people to know that we had organized crime here in this area through crooked policemen, crooked mayors and crooked city councils. The only person who tried to help us was a man called Sam Smith, a Councilman, now deceased. I want you to know what happened to the black businesses, the ones that wanted to do right were forced to do wrong or were pushed out of existence.

Our community was redlined (real estate covenants) preventing sales to people of color). Black people were pushed out of existence, hardworking black people were killed for their property. This has been going on ever since 1968 when I moved onto this corner of Madison Street. I have been here a long time; I built this community. I’ve been on this corner for 45 years so I have been here for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

When I bought this building in 1968 (real estate people generally) wouldn’t sell to women. I was able to buy this building from Washington Metro Savings & Loan. I bought the building from a Black man, Mr. Henderson, who knew Mr. Grose (the first large property owner settling and platting this area, a very successful 19th century black man). The Developers drove him (Henderson) crazy, but he didn’t tell me all that when he sold to me. See, when I bought this place I was only 23 years old. Then, I found about all the trouble that was going on here.

The Lord always opens the door for me. I have worked ever since I was 10 years old. I came from Portland. I came here to do just what I did, to be a businesswoman and to make bank for myself and my family. It’s called lineage. To leave something behind, a lot of people don’t think like that, but I do.

In the years I first bought this building that was when Mayor Braman was in office (from 1964-‘69) he was a crook and a gangster. He had crooked police who blackmailed all the black people and made them pay him off. He sent his cronies to press you to buy advertising space in the newspaper, to make me pay for an ad every week. I fought that by getting a group of people together to run Mayor Braman out. And it worked, we ran Mayor Braman out and his policemen went to jail.

His administration used crooked cops and they’d have people break in your house and steal stuff. These people would break into your house while you’re at work, we called it ‘snatch and grab.’ You’d come back from work and there would be no TV, they’d take all your valuables. They kept a house right near here where they were putting all the (stolen) stuff.

At that time, I was young and very hot-tempered. I didn’t take anything from anybody. They broke in my store and stole all the clothes I had in here. At that time, I was opening Seattle up for fashion modeling. Sandy Hill, Kathleen Wise and Lynn Sampson had a show on King5 TV and they put me on the air. I’d go to New York  buy the latest evening-wear and then bring to the show with my models. I called it, ‘Junk Jewelry and Bitches Dresses.’ I used to also wear hats so people called me the Hat Lady.

If you look at the FACTs Newspaper, I write a column the every week. Next to my column is an old picture next to it of me when I was about 25 years old with the hat. It was my signature, that hat.

So, anyway, I was telling you when the police was stealing stuff, every six weeks I bring it in (stock for the store) and they take it. I bring it in and they take it. I found out that there was a house over here full of stolen goods through a lady who sent me a note through the post office. So, I gave guns to all my fashion models. I went over there, kicked the door in. Collared me a couple of people, took my shit out of there and took it back over to my store. Then, the police was acting scared. I told them, Hell, I’m not scared.

So, who was in the house?

The criminals.

I thought you meant the police were…

That was the house (kept) for the police. They (the criminals) were giving the stuff to the police.

So, the police were fencing it?

That’s right. The police take what they want then they fence it. Also, all the businesses around here, the cocktail lounges had to pay them (the police).

That’s right.

Another thing they had going then, was Coffee Royales. Coffee Royales is coffee with whiskey in it.

And they (the police) had Jimmy’s Café; a place up there called Promenade, his daddy was a criminal too. He was a crook; he would pay the government off (the protection money) so he was selling Coffee Royales.

See, he didn’t have a liquor license. So he served liquor like that.

So he had a license for a coffee shop but it was really a bar?

That’s right. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.

Then lots of people would go in there. I was going to beauty school near there. I found out what they were doing so I stopped going there. I started eating at to this woman’s place, a Japanese/Chinese kitchen, called Momma’s Kitchen. It was little place with fried rice. When I stopped going to his place, the owner of Jimmy’s Café started cussing me out when I walked past. He was mad because I was Black but I wasn’t utilizing his business. I told him, “Hell, no. Because you’re a criminal.” I wasn’t but 17 at the time. I told him, “You’re selling whiskey in there. I’m not going in there with that whiskey business.”

From 1961 – 1969 under Mayor Braman there was organized crime in the police. All the mayors were criminals, crooks. They would take had (organized crime) been going on, the same mode, the same drill. We got the Post-Intelligencer newspaper to investigate, you can look it up, they did a crackdown on them.

We got them out (of office). We documented it here, (points to a Central District Chamber of Commerce guide). There was a crackdown and we got rid of Mayor Braman.

All these years, I’ve been able to keep tabs on what’s been going on because I keep reports on all the businesses in this area for the Chamber of Commerce. I keep track of everything (about local businesses) in here so we don’t lose track of the history.

This (Chamber) report is from 1992 (pulls out another report) when we had the first Black Chief of the Fire Department, ClaudeHarris. The Black community fought for him and we haven’t had a Black Chief since.

These reports documented how they excluded Black people from certain jobs. If you got a job that was worth anything then it was always the most hazardous work, where you might get hurt or killed. (The thinking was) better them than me, so Black people here have gone through a lot. You see, Washington State including Seattle is a racist place. A lot of people don’t want to own up to that but it’s so racist it is not even funny.

The Establishment here has always been able to block people out but I always work around them. I’m watching the Establishment at all times so I know what they do to and how they do it.

Back in the 1990s through 2000 the police were still up to the same things. They got rid of Deano’s and Oscar’s (both notorious nightclubs) by implicating them with drugs.
We used to have a man in this area named Wilbert Morgan, and he wouldn’t get in on corruption. He owned the Mardi Gras, a dinner and nightclub, so to get rid of that element (criminals) he would shoot his gun in the air. He’d yell, “Go back across the street, you crack heads and dope fiends,’ to get them away from his place. Then Deano renamed his place Chocolate City after the police crackdown. Then, Miss Helen moved in there with her soul food kitchen. That became Chocolate City and the police was running corruption in there.
One time, the police sent some girls in my store with some ‘hot’ curling irons. When I say ‘hot,’ I mean stolen. So, I asked, “Why would I want to buy your stolen curlers?” The girls said they bought them at the store. One girl said, I can’t twist ‘em myself and I can’t get my money back at Bartells because I’ve already used them.

I told them, “You take those curlers and get your ass out of here. Those curlers didn’t come from Bartells, they came from a beauty supply store. You don’t have a license to sell me anything; you’re not a vendor, so get the hell out of my shop. You’re making me mad, so you get out of here while you’re still walking.” And so the girls left.  I opened the door to look and they were across the street handing the curlers back to the Police.

And I yelled, “Hey!” so they’d know I saw them. They were trying to implicate me in buying stolen goods.

Do you think the girls were trying to let you know?

Hell, no! The police sent them in here. What the police do is send criminals into your place to try and get you buy stolen goods. They tell the criminals it’ll take time off their sentence; they put them up to it.  

I told them don’t ever come back in here again.

Then these people from the streets used to chop holes in my roof every six weeks. So, I put some hot (electrified) barbed wire up here. I have a switch where I turn it on at night. I put a sign up that said, “See owner before going on the roof.” Then, the police call me and ask me about the sign, I told them it was to keep people from chopping holes in my roof. And the policeman said, ‘you’re not supposed put a booby trap on the roof. I understand you’ve got some wires attached.’ I said, “Damn right, I do.” He told me, ‘You can’t have a booby trap on your roof.’ So, I told him, “Well, you’re not supposed to have people cutting holes in my roof either.”

It cost me hundreds of dollars to patch the roof every time it happened. I told him my barbed wire stays up. So if someone goes up on the roof despite my sign, you’ll pick them up across the street because they’re going to fly off that roof. I’m going to shock the shit out of them. You’ll be able to go pick them up from the parking lot.

The police said, ‘You can get in trouble for that.’ I said, “So can they! It is what it is. We’ll see what happens when the time comes. In the meantime, it stays up there. If send them up there, you send them up at your own risk. And why are you telling me to remove the wire if you’re not implicating (yourself) with them (the criminals).” The police was tied in with them. I knew that.

Another time, they (the police) had this one guy working for them. It was 1976. That guy worked for the police but I didn’t know that (plainclothes). I went into the Post-Intelligencer and shot three times. They put me in jail. He was after me and he was going to kill me.

So, can you explain that a little bit more? You went into the offices of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and you shot a gun? Did you shoot in the floor? Or in the air?

I shot three warning shots… bam, bam, bam!

Were you shooting in the air? You weren’t aiming at anybody? Weren’t you worried about hitting someone?

No. I’m from Texas. I’m a shooter. I know how to shoot.

So, you’re saying, if you were aiming at someone, you would have hit them?

People who know me know that about me.  

Seattle Times, May 14 1976. Page C7
In a newspaper article I found on this, they said you were drunk.

The newspaper thought I was drunk but I wasn’t. I don’t drink. They gave me a breathalyzer. I was acquitted.

Anyway, that guy ran me down there from the freeway…

Who did?

That one man (plainclothes) who was working for the police. Then this other man, a wonderful man, a (uniformed) Policeman came to arrest me (at the Post Intelligencer).

The thing is I had dreamed about him the night before, that all this was going to happen to me. When it started, it was like I had already been through it. I had started off from work then, this man (plainclothes) from the police started chasing me, but it was all like I had been there before…

So, if I’m following you, the man who chased you worked for the Police Department? So you sought to be protected, and you went to the Post-Intelligencer?

Yes. I was running down there because I had to get help and protection.

Before all this I had called the police and told them people were threatening me. And they told me I had to bring a cut in.

You had to be injured?

They said, “Bring the cut in, there’s nothing they can do ‘til I show them a cut.” I said, “I’m not going to let anybody cut me. If they come at me with that, I’m going to shoot.” I said, “We’re not going to have any cuts on me.” So, then that morning that man ran me down there.

When you say he ran you down there, does that mean he put you in his police car?

No, he was chasing me in my car. I was watching him, mirroring him; you know how you mirror people? Look in the mirror and he’s behind you. So I ran into the Post-Intelligencer for help. And I shot three times in there. They put me in jail, arrested me, and bailed me out.

So a good police officer helped you?

It’s in my book, “Black Success. Get out of the Ghetto,” and I wrote about him (the good police officer). I wrote a book on all this. I’m going to publish it too.

What was the name of the good police officer?

He had a German name. He lived in Bellevue, he was off-duty but he said something told him to go towards the Post-Intelligencer. He saw me; he reached his hand out and said he had seen me in a dream. He was a born-again Christian with a curly Afro. He reached his hand out and I went to him. He asked, “What’s going on? You’re in trouble. I saw you in a dream.” I told him, “I saw you too.”

This is how I know the Lord is Real.

This man (the good officer) put me in this police car and said, “I’m going to protect you, stay right with me. They’re trying to snatch you away. I’ll find out about you. I’m going to arrest you and put you under my custody.” So, he took me downtown, put me in a cell and then he came back and said, “How come you didn’t tell me that you were that woman? The one on Madison, you own that building. You’re the most prominent Black businesswoman in the city. Your name is DeCharlene. Why didn’t you tell me that? Then I would have known what this was all about.”

I asked, “What is this is all about?”

“It’s about your property. That’s all I can tell you but I will protect you while you’re in here because we’re getting ready to get rid of our Mayor.

Around that time, the City Administration was stealing property in the Mt. Baker neighborhood to make the new freeway. The major players had bought up a lot of property; ordinary people were forced out of their homes. A lady who was working for me lost her home over there, Jean Audrey. People said that the Mayor was behind it.  (History on the land taken for the interstate)

So, this policeman (the good officer) told me this and the Police helped me. There were good and bad police. There was another good cop, Detective Roy Burt.  He helped me a lot.

There were property grabs also happening in Ballard. They were taking property for the Burke-Gilman trail. There’s a woman named Suzie Burke, I met her from being on the Task Force and learned about how all this worked.  I also found out about it from a man named Jim Kimball who helped me, he was with the Rosenberg Insurance Company. He’s a white man. He found out how the same thing was happening in Ballard. He was running for office, he’s a wonderful man.

(Returning to the shooting at the Post-Intelligencer) The (good) policeman who helped me, he was from Kirkland and he told me what was going on (regarding the plans for my property), he knew of me and he had seen me in a dream.

So, from his point of view, you were a target because you were a landowner, a Black businesswoman on an important street?

They had plans for Madison all the time. I never knew that. See, this is Madison Street. He was the one that told me that.

That was on May 14th 1976. The person who was behind it was my husband. I was trying to get rid of him, trying to get a divorce from him. He was a gambler and I didn’t know it. He was involved with the Black Family (Chicago gang) but I didn’t know that at that time.

Was that connected to the Black Panthers?

The Black Panthers are different, that’s a community. They were good people, people trying to help others. They ran out drug dealers out of a Jewish deli out of the area. They helped found the Carolyn Downs Clinic.

Now, I was talking instead about the Black (Mafia) Family; they are gangsters. They’re underground; they come out of Chicago. My ex-husband was from Minnesota but he had lived in Chicago. He was trying to deal my property off (on Madison Street).

He had people trying to make me sell. He had a man, a Security guard who worked over in Kirkland. Big, old, fat black man who’d come over here and tell me, “You’re going to sell.” I’d say, ‘What do you have to do with it?’ See? They were trying to scare me. He was black in color and black in skin. I said, “I’m not scared of you because I can see you. I’m not scared of what I can see; I’m scared of what I can’t see. I’m not scared of you because I’m looking at you.” So, I was getting ready to shoot him off my property. Later, I found out my husband was in on it. I was getting a divorce. So he was trying to get me to sell my property because he wanted the money (and developers wanted the property).

Was this a Community Property state then?

It wasn’t community property. It was my property because I owned it, I bought it before I met him. I never co-mingled my property. I never put his name on it. I was married to him but it was mine. So, I had to pay to get rid of him from the value of a house we lived in. I had another house that was rented out. He didn’t want the bills, he wanted this building so he could sell it to the developers downtown.

Later, in 1983 I formed the Chamber of Commerce here to help Black people to open their eyes, to show them they have to plan their businesses; to show them not to do crooked business. You see, once you start buying and selling hot goods that makes you a criminal. You got to make a business plan and then you stay in business.

It does seem like the criminal enterprises here are disorganized.

But they think they’re organized. They’re doing what someone tells them to do.

It’s all connected. When I was on the Task Force in 1985, I tried to tell the Mayor the Crips and Bloods were coming into Seattle. I was in California on a buying trip and I overheard people saying in a restaurant, ‘Seattle was open.’ I guess God wanted me to hear that and little old me, I’m sitting in the back behind the high rollers and picking up all their gossip and hearing them talk.

Was that being running out of Los Angeles?

It’s run out of everywhere. You don’t know who’s running it. It was a white man who gave them a half million dollars and told them to come up here and take this city over. They wanted properties. It was all about properties and land. They buy low and sell high. They want to get you out of your place.

They make it uninhabitable?

That’s right. They make it awful for you to live. Look at me, I bring it (goods) in and they take it out. They break out all my windows, boom, boom, boom. Then, they said, “Well, who is this woman she won’t budge?” I replaced the windows and they said it must be hard on her pocketbook. Next, they sent criminals chopping holes in the roof. Finally, the Fire Department tells me they won’t suck the water off my floors any more, not unless I pay. I realize then what I have to do; I’ll fix it. So I started running through the neighborhood with a .38. Bang, bang!  Now, they knew, here I come. Suddenly, they’re gone. See?  It’s just gangsterism in the area.

So, then you used your gun to scare the gangsters away?

Shoot up the place, and I did. That’s what happened. If you look at these books different people wrote, they’ll tell you about me and you’ll see that’s really what happened. And then the gangsters, they stopped.

Weren’t you worried about stray bullets?

I did what I had to, to survive. I like to be feminine. I’m a feminine woman. I like to be decent. I like the Lord. But, I don’t let people mess with me. What has been hard is… I grew up too off the same Tobacco Road all these people did. It’s been hard.

I worked my way up. I had three jobs to get this place, to have my own business. Nobody gave it to me. When I was coming along they had the SBA (Small Business Administration) but they wouldn’t help blacks. That’s what people got to understand.

I worked for my success and I’m not letting people just walk in and take it. That’s how I am. The gangsters used to send people in here and they broke all my glass doors out so I had these wood ones made and put in.

And in the end who’s behind it is white folks, white people, developers.

All this building around here today, they want my property because they want to build a high rise here. Right now, they’ve got plans for this; I’m in their way. They’re waiting for me to die. I’m 70 years old so they figure I should be dead. That’s how people plan stuff.

Right now, I’m going through some stressful times with all the building of high-rise buildings in this area, this pushes families out. Developers don’t want families here.

I tried to tell them (the Central District community about this coming urban planning) in 1983 on Mayor Royer’s Task Force. I tried to show then what was going to take place, the plans to building all these bitty houses and apartments. It reminds me of what’s happening in China…

Do you mean by that developers plan to push the working class out?

Yes, it is the same thing here. At the University of Washington (Urban Planners) make the maps; the maps are already drawn. They draw the future. It’s already thought out andplanned. It’s already on the maps. But they lose sight of the history and what’s actually lived here.

This development is going to make two classes: the rich and the poor, we’re seeing the redistribution of wealth all over the globe.  They don’t want people to know.

Ultimately, I found out it wasn’t just about me and my property; it was about this whole area. It was about the plans for this area, the plans for this area is to have high density and they don’t want family homes here. It’s not for families, they’re not building for the people that live here now, the people of today; they’re building for the people that are coming after us in 30 years. And still people don’t understand what’s going on; they stand there looking stupid. And the developers who are taking everything from our community – it’s not for us; it’s not our day. It’s for the people who’ll come next. Just visualize you’re driving in your car and you look in the mirror, what do you see?

What’s behind you?

So that’s what we’re talking. It’s not us. It’s the people who are coming behind us. The people today are carrying the folks to come. Does that make sense to you?

It does.

And so you understand what’s going on. And a lot of these people don’t understand what’s going on. The white folks, white people think they’re doing something smart by booting all the Negroes out, the Black people out but they’re knifing their own self, shooting their own self in the foot. Because they aren’t realizing there are plans for density; it’s about greed. It’s about money. Nothing for the people. It is the government taking over your lands. They have a small group of people, millionaires and billionaires and those people are in the fight now.

I’m sure they still drool over this location.

They do, but I’m still standing. I’m getting ready to have news for them. I’m going to be here, I’m going to stay here because the Lord told me to stay here. So, I’m doing what he tells me to do. He directs me; Jesus Christ, he directs my path.

These Developers are sick; they’re trying to get rid of the people. The poor white people, I feel sorry for them, they don’t have a clue what’s headed for them. It’s not about race; it’s about the class system. They’re getting ready to get rid of money.

Down South, the poor blacks and the poor whites, they work together and they did well. In Seattle, the people here are going to have to learn that too. You’ve got to make a connection to do well.

I hope you understand what I’m trying to do; I’m letting our truth be known and told it as it was.

Thank You!

This interview was conducted over a number of visits for follow up questions.  De Charlene Williams granted my request to participate in this project and has been very kind in sharing her time and her views. 

 ©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2015   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part by 
4Culture's Heritage Projects program 

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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