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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