Thursday, March 28, 2013

William G. Lowe, First A.M.E Church, President, Sr. Usher Ministry

William G. Lowe shares his vivid memories of the early years of Civil Rights work and protests in Seattle.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

“It was my sophomore year of high school, 1961… The Central Area and all its Churches were joining and walking… down the hill to downtown Seattle. People downtown would see coming over the hill thousands of people… And so, we came across the brand new Denny overpass, and filled it with us! ... We were making a statement about the way we’re being treated in Seattle.

They had maybe five or six police motorcycles escorts for thousands of people. They thought surely Black folks would tear up something, would riot. But we had been instructed from our congregations. It’s a peaceful demonstration. They’re going to holler racial epithets at you, they’re going to give you the finger, and they’re going to spit at you. They were coming out of taverns on that Saturday morning and they’re hollering at you, nigger! Coon!

You keep walking ‘cause that’s not your name. You’re on a mission. And even now, I get filled thinking about 1961, (takes a deep breath, eyes shining), because of the success of non-violence. Because these epithets are not who you are, you know what your name is.

Did it make a difference? It made change, absolutely.
But the change stops if you don’t practice it.”

Photo: Seattle Post Intelligencer

About William

To meet him is to be impressed with his sense of purpose, his ability to speak his mind and share his ideas while leaving room for others ideas. He has a seriousness of mind and yet a ready smile. His family was the first Black family to buy a home in Capitol Hill.

William on the Central Area:

You grew up in the neighborhood in the late 1940s?

I was born in Seattle at the old Columbus Hospital in 1946 during the baby boomer time. I’m a dinosaur, and a Seattle native.

I was the youngest in my class, graduating from Garfield High in 1964. I was 16½ years old; everyone else was 18 going on 19.

How would you describe your neighborhood when you were growing up?

We grew up on Capitol Hill, a block from Holy Names Academy and three blocks from St Joseph’s so we were in an Irish Catholic, Jewish, Caucasian neighborhood. We were always described as the first Black family on the Hill.  There were other neighborhoods at the time that were allowing Negroes, people of color, to move out of the Holly Park and Rainier Vista housing projects.

The Army built one (housing project) the Navy built one, and the government built another. This was so when your father came out of the Armed Forces they had a place to begin raising their families. There was an effort to get into the areas of Madrona, Leschi and even Capitol Hill, which really is the northern extension of the Central District across Madison Street.

When you cross Madison St. the demographics were entirely different. There were (real estate) covenants that didn’t allow people to sell (their houses) to Japanese, they didn’t sell necessarily to Italians, and they certainly didn’t sell to people of color. We bought our house from the Schwartz family who owned the Marine Supply company.  There’s still a building downtown on 1st and Jackson that the Schwartz family built.

Our next-door neighbors were the Reeds. Barry Reed Sr. owned the hardware store at 23rd & Jackson. The McDougalls lived next door, and the McDonalds lived across the street from us. When you go back and look at the history of Seattle these were families that were in the labor movement. They owned the Department Stores. We were in a very good neighborhood.

We just didn’t know it or appreciate it (because we were kids). All my parents wanted to do was raise their family. They had every intention to keep their yard up, send their kids to school, education them well and be a good neighbor. That is just how we did it. Over the years other families (of color) began to move in (the neighborhood) as this restricted/unrestricted attitude was lessened.

I can remember as a kid riding from corner to corner on our block because our mother always wanted to be able to see where her kids were. My younger sister and I could ride up and down the street, first with our tricycles and later with our bicycles. My Mom could look out any front window and she could see her children. It wasn’t so much that you were afraid of your neighbors but at the same time you were cautious because you were colored (and then Negro) at the time. It was a brand new cultural challenge not only for them but also for us.

My father’s out of Louisiana. My mother’s out of Florida. My father came here because of the Army. My mother because of Rosie the Riveter and the Boeing Company. It was that attitude that got you to a better place in life. After my father got out of the Army, he went home, packed a bag and came right back.  He always said he’d never seen water so blue, or trees and grass so green, as when he came to Seattle. No one went to Seattle. Everyone went to Detroit because of the auto industry. You went to Chicago because of the opportunities. If you were going to go west you went to California; nobody went west to go to Seattle.

Beyond the physical environment did he ever talk about how it felt compared to the south?

Well, there was an interesting dynamic. The West and the Pacific Northwest were not as open, as inviting as one might believe. There is something called subtle racism.

And it is alive and well even in this day. There were people who wouldn’t say they didn’t like you but they would treat you with a certain amount of disdain or ignore you. There were other people who might be tolerant on an individual-to-individual basis. In a humanistic way but in a collective way they were not going to be seen as an integrationist, one who was going to align themselves with Negroes. There were other disparaging examples in language that they would use to each other about you.

We were higher on the social rank, the African American community, than the Japanese, which was unfortunate but we had just fought a war with the Japanese. Native Americans were seen and stereotyped as being drunks, so they were not going to be in your neighborhood. People of Hispanic descent were seen as illegal even if they had been born in this country. So racism and discrimination were alive and well even in the Pacific Northwest.

I had a friend who moved to Boston and she said it was a relief because the racism was direct. Subtle racism is harder because it’s insidious. You don’t know when it’s going to come up because everyone’s nice to you.

And the reason you’re surprised is you let your guard down. We were always on guard. Growing up in our household we were encouraged to achieve. It was also reinforced not to hate but to be aware that you have to work twice as hard because that’s just the way of our society. You have to be on guard because when you’re not on guard then complacency sets in and then you’re vulnerable. Vulnerability will kill you or get you killed.

The only way I can relate to that is as a small woman but it’s different. I only have to be aware when I’m going to my car at night. I don’t have to be aware all day long everywhere I go. Psychologically that must be tiring.

I don’t know because I always been who I am. What it is, it is strengthening. You know that it’s unfair; it is what it is. I can do one of two things. I can succumb to it or I can be aware of it and do what I need to do. If I do what I need to do, then this God in Heaven that I serve will make a way. So, I don’t worry. I pray. That’s what Christians do. The saying goes, if you’re going to pray, don’t worry; and if you’re going to worry, don’t pray. It is what it is.

So I did not live my life as a second-class citizen. I lived my life understanding I am who I am. My father always used to say, your job is to go to school, not to play sports; your job is to go to school. I pay taxes so you have a right to go to school and to play in the park. You have a right to walk down the street. I will protect your right to do those things. But you need to do the things I need you to do, to represent us, to strengthen the family name. Your name means something. It means integrity. It means that you’re honest, that you don’t steal other people’s things; that’s a family trait. That’s integrity. That’s motivation.

As you excel and you achieve, that levels the playing field even for those individuals who don’t like you or those who hate you. If they cannot out-do you then they have to go to some other means. We trust that it will be legal and if it is illegal we still have rights in this country. So we didn’t grow up thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re poor.’ We may have been but we didn’t know it. We may have been middle-class but we didn’t know that either. We knew that our yard, our house was very well kept. There was a sense of pride and accomplishment in our household. Our name meant something. So when you instill your children with that, there’s a sense of pride.

And rootedness.

Absolutely. We knew who we were. Now, you may have an opinion of us and that’s fine. I don’t live for your opinion. If you like what I do, that’s fine. If you don’t, that’s your problem. I’m going to do it honestly. I’m going to compete. I’m going to be the best I can be. My father always used to say about sports, sports all are played from the top of your shoulder to the top of your head. If I can take the first step and beat you, you’ll never catch me. If I can out-think you, even if you outweigh me, I can use your weight against you. If I make a move quicker than you, then you spend the rest of this race trying to catch up. I can’t think of a better motivation than that.

It sounds like your father was a very strong, very clear presence in your life.

He was a good, hard-working man, he did not mind work, didn’t mind going to work, didn’t see any overtime that he didn’t want. He had a mission. His mission was his family. He wanted a better life for us than he had. He did not come from abject poverty, he came off a farm where there were nine kids. My mother came from a family of 21, she was the 21st child. My grandmother was married twice, outlived both husbands had 21 kids. In 1955,we went to the South, got my grandmother and brought her back to Seattle. It was two-fold. We had a built-in babysitter but also my mother was able to bring her mother to a better life. That was strengthening.

We were latchkey kids, but we had our grandmother there. In the late 1950s everyone in Seattle Public Schools had a dog tag with your name, address, religion and blood type. You could hang your door key on it too. Seattle schools had that to identify kids. There was controversy over that because people thought that was too much information. Big brother looking at you, we weren’t fearful but there was always the idea that government wants to know too much about us. We want to keep a bit of privacy. We didn’t want to put Protestant on the dog tag; we were not Protestants. We were actually Baptists but there was no category for Baptists, so again we had America dictating who you were.

People never called themselves colored. If you go back to the Crayola crayon box there’s no color called colored, so what color is colored? If you called someone who was a person of color ‘Black,’ those were fighting words cause we weren’t black. Skin isn’t black. Black is a color. And you aren’t white because white is a color. So, what are you? You’re Caucasian or you’re Irish or you’re Irish Catholic or what have you. So what is color? What is colored? It’s a category.

Now, every time you had to fill out something, it asked what is your nationality? American. (And they’d say) ‘No, no, you’re colored.’ But colored is not a nationality. And so in our household you did what you had to do when the government forms came your way. But in our upbringing, our sense of identity, my father was from Birmingham, Louisiana. My mother was from a little place called Green Cove Springs Florida. They both grew up on farms. We had a legacy of family history. Nowhere in our family history did it say were colored, but if that’s the category, then check the box. We were Negroes and that was a category of ethnicity.

When James Brown came out in the late 1960s and said, “I’m Black and I’m proud,” it was like, “Oh, No.” Yet, when you listen to the lyrics, I’m Black and I’m proud, it was a great message. In this soulful song he gave identity to a race of people who had been labeled by society, by America, but had never labeled themselves. All the sudden, you take away the stigma of ‘black.’ The Black Panther Party gave us Black Power. That was something that America did not know how to deal with.

You can’t have it both ways; it’s disingenuous. You can’t say, ‘you’re colored, stay in your place.’ Then people took what used to be a negative, (black) and turned it into a positive. This created a sense of identity and it has power. America was not ready for Black Power.

I would imagine that would have been a point of contention within the churches between those who were older and followed Martin Luther King and those following the young radicals. It must have seemed very threatening.

Especially because you couldn’t identify with it. If you look at what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did, he built on what Mahatma Gandhi had done, non-violent protest. It’s hard to have someone insult you and to not defend yourself. It’s even harder for someone to hit you and for you to not defend yourself.  It’s absolutely unfathomable that you would let someone spit upon you and you turn the other cheek. It is just not the human condition, there’s a thought process that say, ‘when I am hit, I hit back’. It’s a defense mechanism; it’s self-preservation. It’s the first law of nature, all throughout the animal kingdom you have that self-preservation. If you insult me, I insult you back. You hit me, I hit you back. If you hit me again, I hit you twice as hard.

So, all the sudden you take this very dynamic and you say, ‘No.’ I will not subject myself to that, I will not lower myself to that level. You insult me. I explain why the insult does not pertain to me. You hit me. I walk away. I will not subject myself to lowering myself to your standard, to this physically confrontational, animalistic behavior. I won’t do that; I’m stronger than you are. Psychologically, it is the strongest thing you can do. Still, it is challenging because how much can the human psyche take when this (violence and insults) comes their way? 

We found that there was a Movement (around Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) that sprung up, and permeated, and was invested in this country. Now, it was not widely endorsed early on, I can remember as a young teenager saying, “Oh, no. I’m not going to be with Martin Luther King, if somebody slaps me, I’m slapping him back.” But if you think about the psyche, here was something absolutely brand new.  Something that we had never experienced before and something that we had to learn to accept because there were so many beneficial aspects of it.

Then you take the Black Panther Party who spoke to the black manhood of the Black community. ‘If someone hits us we hit them back. We are like a third world country in America. You attack us and we will attack back. America has guns, we will go get guns.’ Oh, an entirely different type of empowerment that spoke to many because some people saw non-violence as too slow a process for change. We live in America where the general consensus is, ‘Add water, turn on the microwave and have a meal in minutes.’ America has not gotten away from instant gratification, instant change, but real change comes from patience and persistence.

And discipline.

And discipline.

So, it seems like there was a huge philosophical division in the community.

There was a division. There was absolutely. Dr. Martin Luther King comes out of the Church. The Black Panther Party comes out of the street. There’s a line of demarcation that’s wide as the Mississippi River. Dr. Martin Luther King is a Minister, he’s of age, he has a family, and he’s older. The Black Panther Party is young and vibrant. So you have the old bull talking about the philosophy of change and you have the young bull saying, I’ll knock something down if something runs up on me. We’ll battle.” Oh, my goodness. What a dichotomy.

Aaron mentioned that there were kids that weren’t allowed to talk to him once he joined. And these were kids he’d played with his whole life. And I thought about that; that must have been true in all the neighborhoods.

Some of it was fear. There’s a parent thinking, if you arm yourself against America that has an Army, and a Navy, and an Air Force, you will die. But you had these young people like Aaron and Elmer, who I know, who talked to Huey P. Newton and others and looked at this revolutionary philosophy. It’s the same as third world countries do today. America and the CIA with its clandestine arrangements go and help revolutionaries up in the mountains doing guerrilla warfare. They arm and support them but once they’re in power, America unfortunately has this attitude; now we own you. Is that not a form of slavery? The very thing you helped me fight against in my country you are now trying to implement on me on some invested servitude. There’s something irrational about that. There’s something very powerful about the haves and the have-nots continuing that cycle. When you look at the revolution in America of people of color, they’re saying, ‘How do we even the playing field?’ I go get an education but you only hire one or two of us. I call it the Noah Effect; Noah only brought two of each kind of animals, two by two, to maintain the species. But you don’t do that to people, but it has been done.

I go back to my father’s original teachings:
“You’ve got to work harder.”
“Because you’re Black.”
“But that’s unfair.”
“Yes, it is, but it’s the law of the land.”
“Well, (the son says) we need to change that.”

Then between father and son there are generational philosophical clashes. The father has lived it, worked hard, and been rewarded by his hard work. Yet, had there not been this unfair line of demarcation, how much further could he have gotten? Then, there is a young educated son, his father has made sure he has an education, made sure he could walk to school, made sure he had more than one pair of jeans. Made sure that he was able to compete. The son thinks, ‘I saw what you done to my father and it was unfair. I will not allow that to continue to happen to my father. I will certainly not allow it to happen to me and to the generations who follow me.’ So, you have an angry young man. You can call him Black Panther or Revolutionary, you can call him ‘young buck’ who does not want to see the transgressions that his father may or may not have tolerated. Who may have spoken against (these transgressions) and may have been penalized for speaking up. Yet, if a man is truly a man: the head of his household; the carrier of the seed; the protector of his family, how do you reduce that man to something less than human without consequence?

It sounds like it was a tough time to navigate because there were two very different views.

You were also living in two different worlds. One world by day where you work for the Man and then you come home at night. You look at the positive, here is a family that’s growing.  (Your children are) asking you why, why is our playground not as good as the playground in other areas? Why do we not have the new school books? Why are our science labs secondary, why are our desks old? So something comes along called Model Cities…

Was that under (President) Johnson?

It was. It was meant to try and level the playing field. Then, you look at your history because you’re constantly being educated and you see the cheating, the duplicity, the skullduggery and the manipulation that’s going on in this America. You ask yourself, why does that happen? Something’s wrong here. We look through the annals of history and we say, it didn’t have to be that way, if they had just played fair. We were playing fair.

Now, I’m not saying that we walked on water; we were not perfect. Yet there were things that were put in your way, obstacles and barriers placed there to make you fail. To make you fall, to test your integrity and to put you in a compromising position. Yet, some of us succeeded but many fell by the wayside. How long do penalize those who weren’t as strong of character because those artificial barriers that were placed there intentionally didn’t have to be there.

I was reading that book on Jazz in Seattle, it mentions that Leon Vaughn was top of his law class. He was invited to a job interview. When he walked in they said, ‘We’re not looking for janitors.’ So all of his talent, all of that knowledge, and all those other people who had training and were not allowed to contribute. When you think of that loss over generations…

What happens to the educated man or woman from the South who comes across the Mason Dixon line and comes to this opportunity in the West and finds that the cultural differences are so subtle? I’m trained to be an educator but when I walk in the room you only see me as a Negro. You don’t even look at my credentials. You just say, ‘We’re not looking for maids or domestics at this time’. Well, you looked at the package but you haven’t taken the time to look at the person, or the content in that package, so you stereotyped a race of people. Why are our young people angry? Because they’ve watched the treatment of their fathers and their mothers, their grandfathers and their grandmothers, and it continues even in this 21st century.

This project has been a real education for me. I think about the Civil Rights Movement was to a degree successful, the Black Power Movement was to a degree successful, and the idea of being proud of who you are was to some degree successful. Still things haven’t changed economically, in some ways they’re worse.

But there’s a reason. When all else fails I take the power and control that I have: money; jobs; environmental conditions; where you can buy a home and where you cannot. I reinstitute redlining. Ok?

If not for the Schwartz family, my family would never have been allowed to purchase their house. We get to cross Madison Street, we’re uphill from Montlake and Lake Washington. We’re living in a neighborhood where they have never seen us before. Yet, we still go to church in the heart of the Central Area, my mother was a 56 year member of the New Hope Baptist Church off of Yesler Street. Our barbershop was still on Jackson Street. We may have shopped at the Safeway on 15th and John Streets but we also went to Rev’s Rib Place was on 18th and Yesler. We bought from Sterns Market who cured their own meats and made the hot links. We went for those things that were of the South, of our cuisine. We went into the heart of the (Central Area) neighborhood for those things.

So you have us as pioneers outside of the neighborhood working their way back into the neighborhood. We didn’t do the crab in the barrel, ‘we made it so the rest of you should get up.’ We didn’t do that, I’m not saying we were crusaders but in a sense we were ambassadors without knowing it. The neighborhood did not go to hell after we moved in; your property value did not fall because we were there. Our yard looked as good as anyone’s, not that we were trying to, it was just the pride of our family. Our yard looked as good, if not better, than the Arboretum. My father and my mother wanted a beautiful yard because it was a signature of theirs. It was not to say, white folks we’re just as good as you are. If that’s what you think, fine, if that’s not, that’s on you. This was about us; we were looking for sanctuary. And we had it on East Republican in the heart of this bastion of Irish, Italian Catholics and Jews. Then, you had what they called this colored family – that’s what they thought but we knew were we our family.  That didn’t mean we were better or less, it didn’t say we were colored or Negro, it said we are our family.

No one else can define us. I don’t know about anyone else but in our neighborhood, in our time, I trust that there is a legacy of my father and my mother. We have put our signature on this city, on this state, and on the Northwest and in this country.

One of the blessings of doing this project is meeting people who were the first to move into a neighborhood, who made their mark on the history of this place.

It’s marvelous that you’re doing this because we did not set out to be trailblazers or to be the first, we didn’t set out to make history. What we set out to do was to survive. In the process, sometimes there were monikers or mantles that were placed on you. The world was watching you in your particular environment. Not that that made a difference but you were certainly aware that there was an expectation. You don’t know me. You have an opinion and it’s not very high, but you don’t know me. You don’t want me here, but you don’t know me, because this has already been ordained. Here I am. It’s a legacy in the making. You take on the assignment because there is nothing else I can do except be me. I can fail, but failure is not in my vocabulary. It’s certainly not my mission.
The First African Methodist Episcopalian Church

There’s an interesting dynamic about the Central Area because we had the Church. It doesn’t matter if you went to the First A.M.E, which was the first African-American church in the Pacific Northwest, founded in 1886. That was three years before Washington became a state. Also, Mount Zion, one of the biggest churches in the Central Area. New Hope Baptist, Tabernacle and Progressive, a very old church where the congregation has almost all left this earth. Many of them have died and the younger people have not come to their grandparent’s or their parent’s church as so it is a church that is lagging in membership. You have the Tabernacles, the People’s Institutional Baptist Church, and it goes on and on and on.

The Church was one place where people of color, Black folks, could gather. They didn’t only gather for worship, we baptized or we christened our young people there, we married in the Church, we buried in the Church. And when there was a crisis, we could gather no place else; we would come to the church.

1961 The Churches March on Seattle

I can remember in 1961, the great march in Seattle. They had a young Minister at Mount Zion, the Rev. Dr. Barry McKinney. You also had a relatively young minister by the name of Rev. John Adams who was the Pastor of First A.M.E. The city didn’t think these ministers were talking to each other but they were. So you had this young upstart by the name of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. come to Seattle. He was a classmate at Morehouse College of Rev. McKinney, so that’s how he got here.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came out to preach for his colleague and he said, “What’s happening out there? He listened and said we should get together. We should make a statement about the way we’re being treated in Seattle. We will make a statement to the Department stores about us, adults, being followed around the store as if we’re going to steal. Our kids are being stereotyped and categorized, they can’t take clothes into the dressing room and try them on. The store said, ‘If someone finds out colored people were in those clothes, they won’t buy them. If you try them on, you have to buy them.’ Well, white folks don’t have to do that. Also, we are qualified to do many jobs in the Department store but we seem to never get offered anything past the cafeteria or the janitorial jobs. Those are good jobs but were not getting past them (to other jobs we’re qualified to do). And so, it goes on and on, the redlining and the attitudes.

So there was a march planned on a Saturday. Let me just give you this explanation. Mount Zion is located on 19th and Madison; First A.M.E. is located on 14th and Pine. If you come up Madison and down Pine, and the congregation from F.A.M.E and the congregation from Mt Zion would gather at 14th and Pine. Now, if you come from Tabernacle from Jackson walking west on Jackson, to 23rd to be joined by people from the Institutional Baptist Church. And if you were to continue down Yesler until 14th, they could turn north and be joined by Goodwill Baptist Church. As they came up 14th and Spring, they would be joined by Progressive Church and if they continued across Madison they reach the First A.M.E. on Pine.

What I’m explaining is that the Central Area and all its Churches were joining and walking north. When you get to 14th and Pine, and then go down the hill to downtown Seattle and people downtown would see coming over the hill thousands of people.

It was my sophomore year of high school, 1961, and there was a great picture in the Seattle Times and the Post Intelligencer of us coming down the hill on Pine, thousands of colored folks, Negros. Who purposely walked to Pine Street and Bellevue Ave and again turned north.

There’s a significance of always going north, and it’s Biblical. If you look at the sky, and find the northern star, you can find your way anywhere. And so, we came across the brand new Denny overpass, and filled it with us! And we came down to Stewart Street and turned south into downtown Seattle. The reason being was that at that corner of Denny & Stewart was the Greyhound Service Station. What we were doing was strategically making a statement about this city.

The idea was to come down Pine and 14th here bringing unity from the Central Area,  bringing all the congregations north. Then, downtown as we came across the overpass, is Greyhound. A major employer who wouldn’t hire us, and then past that is the Seattle Times building. They can look out all their windows and see us. And then you take Stewart Street and you head back downtown. It was strategically designed so when we went downtown we turned and went up a block back to Pine and there you had: I. Magnin, Fredrick and Nelsons, the Bon Marché, J.J. Jacobs and Nordstroms Department stores. You also had the Federal Courthouse on 5th and 6th Ave.

They had maybe five or six police motorcycles escorts for thousands of people. They thought surely Black folks would tear up something, would riot. But we had been instructed from our congregations. It’s a peaceful demonstration. They’re going to holler racial epithets at you, they’re going to give you the finger, and they’re going to spit at you. They were coming out of taverns on that Saturday morning and they’re hollering at you, nigger! Coon!

You keep walking ‘cause that’s not your name. You’re on a mission. And even now, I get filled thinking about 1961, (takes a deep breath, eyes shining), because of the success of non-violence. Because these epithets are not who you are, you know what your name is.

Did it make a difference? It made change, absolutely. But the change stops if you don’t practice it. And so when you talk to your young people, and they ask, ‘What did you do? How did it change? (It changed) because we stood up and spoke, because we had success in the Pacific Northwest, but still there is not parity. There will always be what I like to call SOS, stuck on stupid. Until you deal with those pockets of stupid, ok, with some people it’ll take a lifetime. It’ll take a generation or generations to change their attitudes.

It’s also taken generations of change for us to lose of some of that measure of success that we’ve had. So we can continue to tell our young people, we continue to reinforce to ourselves that change is only as good as there is participation.

I am still not those epithets, I am walking history. I’m a dinosaur. I’ve lived it, I walk it, I talk it; I teach it. I trust that I am a living example of this legacy so someone else will see this and think, ‘All right, so you know.’ I saw it (racism) when it wasn’t as good (as now). It wasn’t the worst. My mother and father told me about when it was the worst and about how not to go back to those times.

I sit here and I chat with you and I think the work is not done because the mission has not been accomplished. If you leave one person stuck on stupid they will populate. If you hate me, and you don’t know me, you probably have missed something.

I say this thousands of times because I’m Master of Ceremonies, or I’m leading a discussion, ‘Is there anyone in the sound of my voice who does not know his or her name?’ People laugh and say, ‘Of course I know my name.’ When you know your name you can introduce yourself to someone else. When I know your name I have lessened a part of your fear because now I know you. If I know your name, I can at least call you by your name. I can have a conversation with you and in that conversation we will probably find that we have more in common than we have in a distance. Because these (bodies) are nothing but packages. One day we’re going to trade these packages in. What we have in common is that all of us have one heart that pumps red blood. I don’t care about the package, that’s just a visual. You have one heart that pumps red blood. We have that in common. If I know your name and you know my name, then we can have a dialogue. And that dialogue will lessen those fears that seem to separate us.

The church was our springboard, many have gone from the church because they think it’s antiquated; it’s not progressive. They think it is not connected to what is happening in this world, but we must remember that the only place we had to baptize, to marry, to bury, when we had no other place to gather we had the church: church basement, church parking lot, church sanctuary, church grounds. It was a point where we came together. That march in 1961 proved that if we all met at our respective safe houses we could gather strategically. We had a mighty force, a mighty army, and a mighty statement to make.

It must have been so exhilarating.

It was. It still is today. Still is today. It wasn’t about who was up front walking it was just us together. It is a marvelous picture, the Times still has it.

Thank you so much.

[William came to this project via Cliff Armstrong, Security Director, CityU of Seattle]

©  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

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dee Goto, Author, Business Owner & JCCCW Founders Group

Dee Goto is an author who also kept working (with many others) over many years to make the Japanese Cultural & Community Center in the Central Area a reality.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

In Japanese Culture we have the Daruma Principle, when life knocks
 you down seven times, you get up eight.

Dee on the Central Area:

When did you live in the Central Area?

In 1960, I had been accepted in the University of Washington nursing program in public health. I worked nine months full time at King County Hospital before I started school and then worked part time at Swedish Hospital.  I came to school here from Oregon because my grandfather wanted me to go to school in Seattle; his roots in America were here.

When I got here and started looking for an apartment, my housemates and I were turned away from three different buildings before we could find one that would rent to Japanese.

In 1960? It’s interesting to learn that even in the Central Area with redlining there were further restrictions on renting to Japanese-Americans.

We ended up living at the Monticello Apartments.

At that time I was studying at the Japanese Language School. My future husband’s younger sister was a classmate. I didn’t have a car and she offered to drive me home so that’s how I developed a relationship with my husband. We married on Christmas Eve in 1961.

Baby Dee. 1939. Collection Dee Goto

Once you got married where did you and your husband live?

On 23rd Ave, near Holy Names. That house is still there right as you turn downhill towards the University, if you didn’t turn you’d run right into the house. 

23rd Street Home. 1968. Collection Dee Goto

Did you have your daughters in that house?

We did.

What was that neighborhood like in 1968?

When we first moved in a neighbor came over very excited that we were Japanese-Americans and were moving in.  

In 1968, I was unaware of the incarceration/internment problems that had taken place in the Central Area in the ‘40s.

23rd Street Home, Interior. Collection Dee Goto
You grew up on the other side of the Cascades?

Not only that. We went to the incarceration/internment camp to visit and I thought they (the Japanese internees) were having a great time. Back then, we lived on a farm in Idaho, we had relocated before the war and didn't have to go to the camp because we lived outside the restricted zone which was 400-miles from the coast.

We visited Minidoka because many of our friends were there. Living on a farm, we didn’t have neighbors very close by so when I visited it seemed like the kids in camp were all having a lot of fun. My mother particularly envied all the craft classes the ladies were taking. Also, she noticed the women didn't have to cook. My 21 year-old Uncle worked hard during the week so he could drive to Minidoka for the Saturday night dances. Despite what seemed like the good times they were having while incarcerated, our family wouldn't consider trading places. We knew freedom was most important.

1939. Collection Dee Goto

You started talking earlier about the composition of your neighborhood on 23rd.

There was two black families across the street and one Japanese family a few doors down, the Hayashis, another black family three doors down. There were the Vogels, Germans, across the street.

We knew everybody for about 2-3 blocks; we were pretty close.  I organized Block Parties.  Our kids played outside with all the other kids, they all were playing in our yard. I had doors open so there were kids running through our house. One day a kid knocked our television off its stand.  There were trikes and bikes all over in our yard. I found a photo last night of the kids making a train of these toy vehicles.

Because the kids were always playing in the street, I organized a kitchen conference and got all these signatures to get curbing put in on 23rd Avenue so the cars couldn’t rush in. That was one of the first neighborhood traffic diversions. Since then, the Department of Transportation made lots of diversionary traffic controls in the streets of Seattle but that was one of the first ones.

Dee at 4 years old. Idaho. 1943. Collection Dee Goto.

In the evening did people sit on their stoops to socialize?

No, people didn’t sit on their porches at night by then.

Why was that?

It was getting a little scary. There was a huge march from the University to downtown in Civil Rights protest that came by our house. The Black Panthers sort of instigated some things along the route. There was a fear that a Molotov cocktail could be thrown in our windows because we were right on the march route.  Anybody who lived on the route was afraid.

Collection Dee Goto

This was in the 1970s? You were in the Central Area a little bit longer than many other folks. It seems by then the Jewish community had all pulled up stakes. There was Jewish Flight, there was Asian Flight, there was Black Middle-Class Flight as well as White Flight all about the same time.

One night my husband woke up to see someone shooting out the windows of a house across 23rd Street. Because of the unrest in the neighborhood insurance companies raised rates then one company was going to cancel our home insurance because we were living in the Central Area, so we had to get insurance elsewhere.

And busing was instituted at that time.

Flower Girl. 8 years old. Collection Dee Goto.

How was busing perceived here?

My recollection is that many people didn’t like it. I didn’t want my kids to be riding all over town. However, my view was different because I had grown up in a rural white area in the middle of a neighborhood that was really anti-Japanese. We had gotten to know our new neighbors and developed new relationships. Over time we got them to respect us. That was really valuable; it gave me a new perspective on Americanism because Japanese-Americans were just as guilty of being isolationist.

For example, when I came to Seattle I encountered a lot of cliques in the Japanese community.  When people come from outside, like myself, we felt isolated and rejected. I had enough self-confidence that I was not intimidated. Still, it’s really hard to break into those cliques. They still exist today. I’ve been here long enough that I could almost be part of cliques, although that’s dependent on what social class you belong to. I also have had the experience of different cliques because I had skipped a grade, I was with my class and then also my age group which were two different groups.

Dee at 12-13 years old. Collection Dee Goto

When I have students from Japan or Korea it always strikes me how friendship has to be divided by strictly by age group. If two people are not the same age no matter how much they like each other they can’t truly be friends.


There’s this age-based hierarchy that has to be respected and it gets in the way of real feelings.  Was that true when you were growing up?


Is it still true?

Oh, yes! If you go back to a class reunion you still feel it.

Slumber Party. 1950s. Dee took the photo.
Collection Dee Goto

When you moved to Mercer Island your life and your kids became grounded in Mercer Island.

True. But my two closest friends are still from the Central Area. They still live there. Penny Simkin, who Bastyr named the midwifery program after.

She’s very famous in childbirth circles.

That interest may have come indirectly from me. She took me to the hospital when my second daughter was born prematurely. We were friends before that but that day the police wouldn’t take me to the hospital after my water broke. They didn’t do that type of service. I called my husband’s office and he wasn’t in, so Penny took me to the hospital. At that time she was a stay-at-home Mom and physical therapist but later she became world known as a child-birth educator. She has always run her program from her home. 

Middle School. Idaho. 1952. Collection Dee Goto

What about your birth experience might have inspired her?

She doesn’t look to my birth experience as what inspired her but I’m sure it influenced her.

Was she able to be with you during the birth?


I would think being with a friend during that would be a transformative experience.

She had Marv Herard come and watch the kids when we went to the hospital. He’s a Professor of Art at Seattle University and a well-known northwest sculptor. We have a sculpture he did representing the State of Washington for the Osaka Worlds’ Fair in 1971. Every time I would go to their house I would sit on it and so now we have it.

Do you think there was anything about this neighborhood that helped you become who you are?

This was where I started searching for my heritage. I wrote a poem:

Heritage remembered nurtures our souls
Sense of self builds, pride sets goals
Freedom and economics for which our forefathers came
Found working together the name of the game.

What was it about living here that made that bloom?

I don’t know that was the reason per se mostly it was because I started working for the University Archives at that time. Still, the Central Area was where the whole Japanese-American community lived. As I interviewing people for the history of the Japanese-American community I got to know who lived where and what their experiences had been.

Omoide IV. Childhood Memories. Nikkei Heritage Project.

You put together for the UW Special Collections a history of the Japanese in this area, the Issei and the Nisei. So, can you explain how you started the history of the Japanese-American community?

I found the community leaders and the stories of where they came from, where they were born, where they lived and so on…  The first generation Japanese were still alive. Of course, there’s an immigrant story of why they came to America. I started putting that together. I also had an innate interest in psychology so I wanted to know why people made certain decisions. I went with my instincts and what I found out about that Japanese-American experience hasn’t changed since; it’s stood the test of time.

Omoide V. Childhood Memories. Kiuchi & Goto, Editors

I think now that’s my purpose in life - to document the history of the Japanese experience in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. That made it important for me to help put together a Japanese Cultural Center.

Over many, many years, through the efforts, ideas and energies of myself, Chuck Kato, Ken Sato, Toru Sakahara and Tomio Moriguchi and many, many others, we made a Japanese Cultural Center out of the buildings that had been the Language School and Community Center on Weller. It took initiative and political maneuvering but finally we got it done. In 2003 we got the Center and the Language School merged, and incorporated. It’s been moving forward for 10 years now and received a million dollar remodel.

So, the Japanese Language School building became the Japanese Cultural Center. It is a great building.

It’s a 100 years old this year, the first section was built in 1913. It's on the National Registry of Historic Places. 

It has a great history, at one point it housed returning internees released from incarceration at the Camps.

They just got a Park Service grant to document the families in residence after the incarceration/internment camps. There were 25 families who lived there from about 1946 – 1955. Then, it was turned back into a Japanese Language School and Community Center. After the war it was the Japanese Community Service. Genji Mihara was the Executive and the President of it then.

Before the war it was sort of a Chamber of Business people and they built the Japanese Language school. They were the organizers of what was called a ‘Kenjinkai.’  A ‘Ken’ means the various prefectures in Japan and each prefecture has their community organization. If you’re from Hiroshima, you belong to that Ken, each has a representative that forms a representative body to make community decisions. 

Omoide Revisited. Dee Goto et al Editors

There was a strong connection between Japan and its those who initially moved to America. Japan wanted to expand and at one time, colonize. Japan felt a certain responsibility for their emigrants and wanted to keep track of them through a census. These Kenjinkai’s may have formed originally as they were paid to collect this data. Some of it may have been in the form of membership dues.

The community developed through these organizations. Before the war, mostly of these businesses were hotels. During 1890-1910, there might have been about 10 Japanese-run hotels.  The Japanese who worked on the Railroads would come back to Seattle on their days off. Probably the Hotel functioned as their homes, where they got medical care and so forth. If the hotel was run by someone from a particular Ken, all the workers from that region in Japan would use that hotel. My ancestors are from Hiroshima. My great-grandfather came here and worked on the Railroads in 1897.

Then it’s possible that your grandfather and Herb Tsuchiya’s grandfather might have known each other?

They definitely knew each other. I don’t even have to guess. If you were from Hiroshima as a first generation immigrant, you knew all the other people from your region.

I learned from some of my research done during this project about Minidoka that some people make the contention that the reason the Japanese were forced out of the land on the west side of the Cascades because they were such successful farmers which allowed white farmers to take those flourishing businesses.

That was mostly in California. That is true, though.

It makes sense because why were people forced into camps on one half of a state and not the other…

You see in California the farms were big, but they were small up here.  That was true about the big time farmers so there was some of that, especially because Issei could not own property and in 1921 they also could not rent property so many farmers lost everything when they went to camp.

Another thing I learned was that after Minidoka a high percentage of people didn’t come back to the Central Area. I wonder why?

I think their feeling about the discrimination they’d faced. Some were willing to fight for what they had while others were not entrepreneurial and business-savvy so they didn’t come back and went to work for someone else. There was a time, even if one had a college degree they wouldn’t be hired. The war eased that and Japanese were known to be honest and hard workers.

With discrimination you had to be pretty self-reliant and savvy to fight through it. I think some people took the easy way out and became employees rather than business-owners. The business owners who came back are the focus of my book on the Lion’s. You needed to be strong. Discrimination in a way helped some become stronger.

About this book:
 They later proved themselves because by 1980 in Washington, the Japanese were statistically the highest percentage of white-collar workers and per capita income. They were the most educated, they had fewer numbers of children, and they out-married more. The Native-Americans and the Japanese out-married more compared to the other ethnic groups.  

Out-marriage is when you marry someone of a different ethnic background. Why do you think people made that choice?

Because of prejudice people just wanted to be as American as they could be…  kids of that generation went overboard to be American.  Something like nearly 90% of Sansei (third generation) out-married where I grew up. On the other hand, as one of the older Sansei it was still made clear that I socialize with and marry only Japanese. Therefore, my grandfather was known as a match-maker. It was known that if I didn’t find someone quickly on my own there would be negotiations started on my behalf. 

It differed though on who might marry who.  Because of the war (between Japan and China) it was considered bad to marry a Chinese. That was also because Japanese were farmers and the Chinese were merchants. In Japanese culture farmers were of higher social status than merchants so it was a class issue.

My father-in-law, though, totally admired how the Chinese have amassed fortunes in the US. He thinks the Chinese are better at that than the Japanese.

If I wasn’t focused on building the Japanese Cultural Center I think I would have participated in the Pan-Asian organizations; it would be fun for me. I have more fun in the mixed heritage events because I like learning about people – how we are alike, how we are different. 

Nevertheless, I feel like we need to focus on creating a sustaining Japanese Cultural Community Center first because the Japanese have helped build this community. I still support the idea that President of our Board should be male, to generate more funds. Yet, when I went to Japan and visited political community groups everyone there, including the men, agree that it’s the women who bring things about. Here in the States I don’t think that’s how we look at it. The woman supports the man in the home, takes care of things and they’ll subjugate themselves in terms of outside family honor. Those ideas persist from family history, from culture. Smart women all over make things work.

My grandfather came to the States in 1905. He was a dairy hand and eventually came to own a dairy. By 1910-1920 about 100 Japanese farmers in the Kent/Auburn valley supplied roughly half of Seattle’s milk supply. They were all run out of business because of discrimination and the Alien Land Law in 1921. This law meant my grandfather could not rent property; Japanese were already prohibited from owning property because he was not a citizen.

This was a law passed 1790 probably intended against the blacks as it was passed just after the Revolution. In 1921, it meant my grandfather then couldn’t own or rent property anymore and all the Japanese were run out of the dairy business.

My grandfather and a group of his friends all relocated together to eastern Oregon where the Owyhee Dam was providing farming opportunities. That area was a desert but with the dam it could be farmed.  The allotment of land was bigger so they could earn more money than they had from the small truck farms they’d had in here.

I was born over there in 1939. I lived there during the Japanese-American Concentration camp years. Then, I went to college in Portland.  When I left for college I had to take a train because my folks couldn’t afford to drive in those days. At the train station a lady came running up to me to ask, ‘Are you Japanese?’ She said, “Stand right there, my girls have never met anyone Japanese.’ That was my first experience of being a specimen, a curiosity.

And for readers who might never have experienced that, what does it feel like to be made a representative of an entire community because you happen to be standing there?

It was reverse discrimination by that time but we were singled out and made to feel a little uncomfortable. I went to Lewis and Clark College. One time, my roommate wanted to set me up on a date but he said couldn’t go out with me because his parents might not like it if he dated a Japanese girl.

In that sense that’s where I was fortunate. My grandpa is one of my heroes. He built churches and he was a community leader.  When I was called 'Jap' and all that I had a heritage to support me, I felt proud to be called Japanese. My family instilled that into us.

Each culture has special cultural traits that help us overcome hardship. That’s one of the key things I try to do in developing the Cultural Center here.

In my Master’s degree study in psycho-social nursing, there was a study about problem-solving that found that the war brides from Europe and Asia scored better because they could see different sides of a problem.  Having a different cultural heritage from where you live lets you have a different perspective. That’s something very valuable we bring into the larger community. It’s very important to me to bring that Japanese perspective to the Seattle area. That’s why I worked so hard over years to develop the Japanese Cultural Center.

In 1961, when I married my husband, I did not know that our grandfathers had once been best friends. Nobody talked about the old, hard times. All we knew was everybody was happy for us. We knew all the Japanese families in the area.

I came to learn all this family history later after I started my research. I encourage everyone to research their own history.

It turned out that my husband’s grandfather died by accidentally swallowing some poison. As he was dying, my grandpa stayed overnight with him and was asked to take care of the Nakanishi family and the nine children. My mother-in-law was the oldest and already married.

Also, I learned my mother had been promised to my husband’s uncle. That didn’t happen so my mother was asked to marry my father because my grandfather owed my father’s father money and with the marriage they’d forgive the debt. My mother said since my father had gone to college she was impressed by that.

So, she was not in opposition to the marriage.

Right. My father has become a hero in my mind yet he didn’t quite have the entrepreneurial spirit that some others had so he was a little maligned by my uncles. Also, my father was a born-again Christian. Relatives made fun of the fact that he wouldn’t work on Sundays.

What was the religion of most people in the Oregon area you grew up in?

Buddhist/Shinto, but in America it was the Christian community that reached out and helped the immigrants.

My grandfather told my mother we would learn nothing bad if we went to a Christian Church. He encouraged her to follow her husband’s religion.  So we grew up Baptist like Herb (Tsuchiya) and Yosh (Nakagawa).

Then, you must have met Pastor Brooks Andrew’s father?

I interviewed his father, Reverend Andrews, for the University of Washington Special Collections. Once, I had Rev. Andrews in my car to go visit Floyd Schmoe and I ran out of gas on the floating bridge. I was young in those days. A policeman rode up, gave us a little gas and we made it the gas station. That was a memorable experience with Reverend Andrews.

Is there life advice you’d like to share?

In Japanese Culture we have the Daruma Principle, when life knocks you down seven times, you get up eight.  Everyone has something unfair happen to them and the Daruma Principle is how you keep going.

[Dee came to this project through the Japanese Cultural and Community Center.  She also owns a Nutrition and Family Counseling business, the Goto Company and Shaklee Distributors]

©  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

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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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