Friday, January 3, 2014

Fordie Ross, Former Moderator, Madrona Presbyterian Church

Fordie Ross served his community, his church and his family during his 100 years. He has now passed on and that loss is still much mourned while the memory of his quality and impact is treasured.

Photo by Madeline Crowley

"I am one who believes that you concentrate not on the bad but on the good;
that you build on the good rather than the bad. That is what we have chosen always to do."   

About Fordie Ross:

Even at nearly 100 years old, Fordie’s life revolves around service to others. It gets him up and out to Y’s Men’s meetings, to church and out on his 2-mile walks. He is a living example of how a life focused on giving keeps you alert, active and fully alive.

Fordie Ross on Madrona Church and a life well lived:  

Where did you and Thelma live in the Central Area?

On 32nd Avenue, north of the Madrona Presbyterian Church. In the early 1950s, we lived in a house that had a dirt basement. Every week I would go and get concrete. I finished that floor.

I have to ask what you have heard of me?

You’re spoken of very fondly as a very smart, very kind man. Mr. Zimmerly told me you’re a good man with a long history with the church. I also saw an article on your walking program in the Seattle Times.

I have a long history of service both in Seattle and the Church.
Fordie Ross of the Y's Men's Club. Collection Fordie Ross

Also, I do walk every day. One day a reporter from the Seattle Times asked to walk the two miles with me. When we arrived back home, he said, 'Hey, let me get inside because I have to sit down.' He was tired. 

I don’t know where to begin.

Can you begin with the Grace Church?

The Grace Church (formerly on Cherry & 22nd, building still extant) would be about the same size as the living room of my house.

Before that though, my wife and daughter were born in Oklahoma City, OK.  I lived there and worked at a Baptist Church. One day, I met a Seattle Minister who found out I was well versed in Sales. He told me about a newspaper in Seattle. Then, the owner of the paper called and asked me to come to Seattle to take a test to become the Editor of the paper. His name was Noodles Smith, the richest black man ever to come to Seattle.

The fascinating story of Noodles Smith pictured with his fine automobile
I came to Seattle, as did five other black men from around the country. We were all given a test, which I won. Two weeks after I moved here, Noodles Smith dropped dead. I didn’t have the money to keep the newspaper going and his family couldn’t agree on what to do, so the newspaper was closed. That meant that I was out of a job. (long pause) I pause because if I tell you what happened immediately, I would kill the magnificence of the whole story. I won’t tell you right at this minute.

So, let me tell you that my wife, child and I had come to Seattle and we arrived on a Sunday. On that same Sunday we found Grace Presbyterian Church. I was born a Presbyterian, my father was a Presbyterian Minister. We not only joined the Church, we pledged and we never missed a pledge from 1952 until today.

To pledge is to give money? So, you pledged but you didn’t have a job?

That’s right. I pledged but I didn’t have a job.

Can you tell me the story of how the Grace Church became part of the Madrona Presbyterian Church?  

The Presbytery decided they were going to close Grace Church. They were very firm in their decision. And then they were firm in their decision that if we wanted to scatter to a variety of Presbyterian churches, we could do so. They also extended us the invitation to merge with Madrona Church.

Had the congregation at Grace bought the land the Church was on?

I’m sure they had.  I don’t know for certain. I’m sure they were owners of the land on 22nd and Cherry.

So, the congregation put their own money into buying the land for Grace Church which was sold. Then, they were told to attend Madrona Church.

One day in 1952 we marched as a group to where Madrona Church is located. At that time, it was an all white Church with a membership of 144. We worshipped with them that particular Sunday. The next Sunday, we went to Church having been instructed by the Presbytery to go to that church. And all of the members of Madrona church had left except eight, only eight people from 144 had come to worship.

Even in Seattle, which has a reputation for being liberal, people didn’t want to worship together?

That is absolutely correct. They did not want to worship together.

I heard that when Grace Church was sold that money was used to start a church in Mercer Island.

That money went to build the Mercer Island Presbyterian Church.

Yet, I have to stand up in defense of Mercer Island Church because (50 years later) they did a superb job in making certain that Madrona was recompensed for the money that went to Mercer Island.

They did it not in words but in their actions. Everyone I can think of from Mercer Island Church came every day for five months to rebuild the main sanctuary and the fellowship area. How do I know? I know because I am he who at 7 o’clock in the morning was opening the doors for Mercer Island men and women who worked like beavers in behalf of the Madrona Church.

They did a superb job inside and out. Above all there were members of the Church who worked even on the roof of Madrona Church. So Mercer Island Church decided they were going to put in new carpet and to do that all the pews had to be taken downstairs. We had all to work like beavers. Mercer Island Church was superb. They were grand. They were great. I can’t say too much about how much we appreciate Mercer Island Church for all that they did, and the money that they spent, and the labor that they devoted. They revamped not only the sanctuary but the Fellowship Hall as well.

That is a sermon of life. It should be always remembered. One important thing is when they repaired it, 90% of the church was black. They did all that for black people.

Madrona Presbyterian Church. Photo: Madeline Crowley

So a white church in Mercer Island did this for a largely black church in Seattle.

That’s exactly what I’m saying. That’s absolutely right. The congregation was 90% black when they did the repair. 

Thank God for Mercer Island. You look up at the Cross and you see the love of Mercer Island, you see that love in everything you see in our Church.

They were terrific. I shout with great joy for that Mercer Island Church, that’s how my feelings are about it. No one has asked me to say a word. The greatest thing about it all, Madrona Church did not ask them to do a thing. It was Mercer Island that felt that they should repay Madrona Church. They decided to do it in such a way that it will outlive the amount they received (from the sale of Grace Church), which in today’s dollars is chickenfeed. Oh, I love Mercer Island Church.

They were in our church for worship; Mercer Island was there. I can say that the greatest gift Madrona has received has been the gift that comes as Love in Action. You can tell the world, that’s the way I feel. Man, they were terrific. I wrote a letter to one member of that church, and he told me that when he read that letter he sat and cried. It’s a thanksgiving for one who says we love you for all that you are.

 What did it feel like when Mercer Island Presbyterian repaired Madrona Church? Did it heal the injustice?

Oh, yes! We never harbored the injustice. We were bigger than the injustice. In fact, if it were not for the Presbytery we would not have fully known the facts of that injustice.

During its existence Madrona has been a church that loved people. We fell in love with Mercer Island Church and we love Mercer Island today.

I am one who believes that you concentrate not on the bad but on the good; that you build on the good rather than the bad. That is what we have chosen always to do.

We love that Mercer Island more than other the Churches in the Presbytery. Mercer Island put down a new floor, beautiful as can be. You can’t say too much of great joy and thanksgiving for its physical labor, for its financial labor. They were superb. 

  Since then, for five years I was in charge of Fathers’ Day at the Church and the center aisle was cordoned off for only. I have pictures of the whole sanctuary filled 98% with black men. Right now, it is 98% all white.

Most Sundays I am one of only three black men in the Church.

How did that happen?

We all wonder about that.

Is it a problem getting young people to come to Church?

We have young people, that’s all we have, but they’re all white.

Do you feel comfortable in Madrona Church?

That’s a tough question to answer, I feel comfortable at Madrona because I am a Presbyterian. I feel uncomfortable because I cannot and do not enjoy the comfort that I desire. I mean by that that there are no blacks. I am comfortable as a member of the Church. Also as a follower of Christ I have the task of trying to increase the ‘black fold.’ I know how almost impossible it is because there are so very few blacks remaining in that area. There are very few blacks who can even spell the word, “Presbyterian.”

I am the only living member of Madrona Church: black, white, purple, green or grey who has been an elected delegate to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. There used to be a Black Caucus in the Presbyterian Church. For years, I was President of the Black Caucus for the Synod of Alaska. I am the only member of the Church who has held a national position of the church. I am the only black person from that church who had that position. Yet, there were those connected to the Church who questioned the authenticity of that statement. I say this humbly; I was the only Moderator of this Presbytery from that Church.

Fordie Ross - Moderator

  The only black Moderator, which makes me – this is history – the only black Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. The only black person to be so honored.

During your lifetime have black people been leaving the Presbytery?

No, they haven’t left because they had not been a part of it. They haven’t been a part because there are more black Baptists than in any denomination in the world. When I was Moderator, I went to every Presbyterian Church to preach.

While I was Moderator, the Head Person, I received an invitation to meet to with a special, elite group at the First Presbyterian Church. A day or two before going, something said to me, you are talking to an elite group, why not talk about the Rules and Regulations of the Presbyterian Church? I was introduced as the speaker for the day. I spoke for 20 minutes about what you do and what you don’t do as a Presbyterian. Then, all the sudden I stopped and asked a question. Who is the Moderator of the Presbytery? Lord, have Mercy. I was talking to the elite, educated group of white Presbyterians in the Church and not one of them, who all go to church every Sunday, not one of them knew I was the Moderator of the Church. I was the Head of Presbyterian Church. And they didn’t even know my name. When we talk about solving the problems of the world… I have encountered many. 

When I was young and on my way to college, I rode the freight train to Marshall Texas.  I started walking down the sidewalk to get to school. I was arrested and put in jail. As a black man I should have been walking in the street. Boy, I have been telling you.

Sometimes I wonder when you’ve experienced unfairness, how do you keep your heart open?

I do it because I know Christ would command that I do forgive. You will learn as we go along of my deep commitment to Christ.

I’ll tell you something strange but it is something that I do. My wife has passed on but every night I pray every night I pray. I say, “Honey, let us pray.” And she is right there. That’s my life.

She is with me every night when I pray and in my prayer I devote time to mentally listen to what she has to say. I have been working on a project for almost 3 years and I had been hoping it would consummate this year. Three days ago, I got word that it would consummate. She had worked in the sidelines on it. I would say to my wife all the time, don’t get weary we’re almost at the finishing line and those were comforting words to her. For a moment, I looked at the dark side because physically she will not see it. But something said to me, Rejoice! She does see all this.

You know, Fate is giving us the time to talk. And I rejoice.

I guess, my greatest public achievement got its birth at a meeting in the north end. A man walked up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Fordie, I want you to take over OEC (Operational Emergency Center).’ I thought, you’ve got to be joking. He told me, the job is yours. The decision has already been made. So, I went to the Director and he told me he was waiting for me. We had an agency, the largest of its kind in the State of Washington. I was its Director for 12.5 years in Seattle.

We had the largest United Way Agency dealing with the needs of people; we provided so much food. I have seen as many as 180 people in line for food. I had food for every one of those 180 people. I had one young man who came in everyday. One day I said to him, I don’t want to see you in two weeks, I want you to have a job. And before the two weeks were up, he stopped me to tell me he had a job.

We also had a ‘rent-a-kid’ program that was a thriller. People would rent kids to do yard work. It got them off the street, taught them about work and made them good and respectful citizens. We had an agency that everybody talked about.

My wife and I were chosen to represent Seattle at the Seattle Seafair parade in 1962. Then, 10 years ago the two of us were chosen as Delegates for the Parade of Renton, we were honored guests, for 10 years. They called a few days ago to tell me we would be honored guests again this year. They did not know my wife had passed. 

Do you want to tell me about your birthday party?

Five years ago, a member of the church said we should have a birthday party for you. 202 people from all over the State of Washington came for over three hours. Wherein I told them the history of my life and all of the many things I had done and accomplished.

When the newspaper closed, I had no job. I said to Thelma that I’m going downtown to look for a job. I went downtown to the National Cash Register Company. The owner told me, ‘I’m sorry, we have no openings.’ So, I went to a few other places and went home without a job. The next morning I told my wife I was going downtown to look for a job. Again, I went to the to National Cash Register Company. The manager again said, ‘I’m sorry, we have no openings.’ On the third day, I said, ‘Honey I’m going to look for a job downtown’ and I went to the National Cash Register Company. On the third day, the manager once again said, ‘I’m sorry, we have no openings.’ I went to other places and I found no work. On the fourth day, I went to the National Cash Register Company. The manager again said they had no openings.

I left and when to other places and I found no work. On the 5th day, the 6th day and the 7th day, when I went downtown where did I go?

To the National Cash Register Company.

And on the 8th day when I went into the National Cash Register Company the phone was ringing. By then, the manager knew my name and he said, ‘Fordie, answer the phone.’ I answered the phone and a lady wanted to buy two rolls of paper. I convinced that lady to buy a case of paper that cost over $500. And when I completed the sale, the lady told me that she wanted to meet me the next time she came in.

When I got off the phone the manager said, come to my office. He said very pointedly, you’ve been here many times and I’ve told you we have no openings. For the last time, I’m going to tell you again, we have no openings. He got up from his desk, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, I heard you make that sale. A job is yours.

Three years later, I was the chosen employee to go to the national meeting in Dayton Ohio. So, persistence pays off.

I have I learned if you are determined and you are consistent things pay off, if you don’t give up. I don’t give up. I don’t give up on life.

(Long pause) I’m skipping one of the main features of my life. I sold real estate in Seattle, one day a lady walked in and threw $500 dollars on the table and said, “Mr. Ross, I have a house that I want to buy. I can’t buy it because my husband won’t sign the papers and the government, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) won’t sell the property unless he signs the paper. You get me that house, Fordie.”

She left the money. I went home to think about it. Three weeks later, she came back to find out if I could get her that house. I asked her, ‘where do you work?’ She said she worked for Mrs. A. on Monday. And another lady’s name for Tuesday, and so on through the week.

I leaped to my feet and said, “You’re going to get that house.” When she left, I called the people for whom she worked and told them that on a certain day I wanted them to meet with me at the Federal Office. I asked them to each say how much they loved the woman who works for them because I’m going suggest that the rule be suspended to let her buy that house. We all met there and each one of those ladies spoke for her. I made my presentation and they suspended the rule. The lady bought that house. And I became the Salesman of the Year for that sale.

During all this time I am a member of Madrona Presbyterian Church.

You know that Dr. Martin Luther King came to Seattle. He was here one time. He was refused a place to speak in Seattle.  (voice rises in indignation). He had to speak in a boxing ring. 

That I did not know. I knew he spoke downtown.

He was refused the privilege to speak at the first Presbyterian Church in downtown Seattle. Oh, that was common knowledge. Dr. King was only once in Seattle and could not preach in a Seattle Church (voice breaks). And isn’t that a sad thing?

It’s unbelievable from this vantage point.

Well, it shows that in many instances Seattle has been and is, to some degree, the same as Mississippi.

My wife and I decided to have a house of our own. So we would travel in our car everywhere looking for an empty lot. Finally one day we made a turn and this lot (near Jefferson Golf Course) was vacant.

Why was it vacant? Because where you’re sitting right now was a river.  The land where you are right now was a river. I said, maybe we can build a house there; let’s check it out. We got in touch with the owner downtown and he said, “Heck, I’ll sell it to you.” I found that the City would work with me to build a house here. The city worked with me to build a tank in my backyard that is half as big as the lot itself but they helped us build this house. Where my driveway is a bulldozer sank into the ground. It was beautiful to see how they got a bulldozer out of the ground.

Shortly after that we met a man in Kirkland Washington. He was a builder and he told us he’d like to build some houses for black people. I said, ‘I’ve got a lot and I’d like you to build my house. If I got you two customers would you give me a reduced rate?’ He said he certainly would. I got a greatly reduced rate on the construction of my house. I got him three customers some of them still live today on 32nd Ave in the Central Area down the street from Madrona Church. 

Then, after we moved over here (to Beacon Hill), we learned we were in a neighborhood where blacks did not live.

What year was that?

1958. A white man said, ‘the heck with all of this crap’ (redlining) and got a black family in a house that’s right on the corner on the 23rd. They were not there long. There is no black family in this whole area. You talk about discrimination. You talk about the barriers that exist! My wife is dead and there is not one person except the man who lives next door who even knows my wife is dead.

I don’t know anybody across the street and nobody across the street knows me. The only person who knows that my wife is dead is the mailman. He came as he did everyday and handed me my mail. I told him my wife is dead and that man stood there by that railing and cried. My wife loved the yard; she worked every day in the yard and over time, they became pals.

Since my wife died, I have had as many as 14 people in this room at one time since her death. I mentioned that I was the President of the Y’s Men’s Service Club. The
eight men from that club came here at 7:30 in the morning to take me to breakfast. And since my wife has passed, of all the people that I know in Seattle over all my years, only two white people have been inside to say, ‘I’m sorry.’

Boy, I tell you the world has a long way to go before we solve our problems.

(Long pause) The funniest thing about this house is after we built it; we didn’t have furniture. You can’t live in a house without furniture. I said, “Honey, let’s go to the furniture store.” She said, “We don’t have any money for furniture.” I said, “Let’s go and look anyway.”

She looked at furniture for the living room, dining room and kitchen. I told her to jot down her choices and she did so reluctantly. And a saleslady came over and wanted to know how we were going to pay for it. I sat down with her and I said to her, ‘Miss, I want to say there are three things I want you to know. The first is, I have no money. The second is, I have no money; the third is, I have no money. (laughs) That lady knew a wild man had arrived.

I asked her to call her manager. Reluctantly, she called him down. He came and I shook hands with him. She hands him the sheet of paper with all the furniture listed on it. He looks down at all those items full of joy. He said he was happy to meet me. I tell him, “Mr. I have three things to tell you: The first is, I have no money. The second is, I have no money. And the third is, I have no money but want delivered to my house the merchandise I have chosen. We bought our house on a FHA contract. The government is just beginning to sell houses to black people. The government has decided to make these houses possible and with all that, I think I’m worth the opportunity. I will pay my entire bill.” In three days, all the furniture was delivered. And I paid my bill. Yes siree!

So, I got the house and we are attending church at Madrona every Sunday. I became most active in the Presbytery.  I guess it’s hard for me to tell you the whole story about Madrona because my whole life has been inculcated in the life of the whole city rather than simply the Central Area. For example, I was Man of the Year for the YMCA in Seattle (he served with the Y’s Men’s Club as President for many years).

Y's Men's Service Club President

I’m active in the life of the Presbytery and worked with Daisy Dawson. She and I worked on keeping Madrona Church alive.  I wouldn’t say what I’m about to say because I have an undying love for Madrona Presbyterian Church but they wanted to close Madrona Church.  So, Daisy and I sat on the floor in the Secretary’s office collecting information to combat the efforts that were put forth to try and close the church.

Do you know that in Seattle there are any number of women who are Minsters only because of the Daisy’s leadership? With her membership in a nominating committee – the decision was made that we would get a female pastor. At that time (the 1970s) no woman could be come a Pastor of a Presbyterian Church. We hired a lady as the first lady in the Presbytery to become Pastor of the Madrona Church. Now there are several ladies who have become pastors in the Presbytery. That’s all due to Daisy Dawson’s work.   

(Fordie Ross was referred to this project by Pastor Mark Zimmerly of Madrona Presbyterian)

©  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, January 1, 2014

Jacqueline Lawson. Geneologist, Co-founder Black Heritage Society

Jackie Lawson has worked ceaselessly as an archivist and with the Black Heritage Society. She shares her memories of the Central Area with us:

Jacqueline Lawson. Photo: Madeline Crowley

When did you live in the Central Area?

If the Central Area includes Madison Valley, I’ve lived there since I was born. We first lived on 26th Ave, then we moved to the 400 block of 29th Ave. N. That house is still there.

So you grew up in that house?


What was the neighborhood like when you were a child?

It was probably pretty much the same because I know some of the people that still live there. But there were several nationalities, I guess you could say, living there. The boys across the street and next-door were Swedish and Norwegian. My best girlfriend was English, her mother actually was from England, although my friend was born here. My other best girlfriend was Italian. It was quite a variety of cultures. The people next door were Nicholsons; they were from Norway.

Did the children play together?

Oh, yes! We didn’t go into each other’s homes. That was one thing that none of the parents, my parents or their parents, would allow. We weren’t allowed to go into the houses. We played outside in the streets. We did a lot of ‘kick the can’ and all of those childish games.

Why do you think people didn’t go into each other’s houses?

Family Portrait. Collection: Jacquelyn Lawson
I have no idea. I didn’t know at the time. In my case, as the years went by first I would first have to know the parents, and the parents would have to know me. Now, I was allowed into the little English girl’s house next-door because she was right across (from us) we shared a driveway. We knew her well enough. My parents knew her parents well enough. I think that was the only home I was in. Maybe once I was in Joanne’s house; she was Italian. Joanne’s parents I knew very well. He was a shoemaker right on 29th off what is now Martin Luther King Avenue. He had a shoe making place there so he was very well known in the neighborhood. Maybe I went in Marianna Sandi’s once, but I was scared to go in there. I didn’t really know her parents.

Why were you afraid to go into that house? Was it a dark house, or…

No, her uncle or her father, I forgot which, had this really deep voice and it used to frighten me. He was a very good friend of my uncle’s. Oh, he was a big man. He just kind of scared me. You know how little kids are.

What’s your happiest memory of that time?

I don’t have any “happiest,” it was just a good time. Fun times.

How did people celebrate birthdays back then?

Probably it’s the same as people do now. I don’t think birthdays are much of a surprise but we always had our birthday cake. In later years, I was never one for cakes and cookies and things, so my mother started baking a chocolate pie. That was my birthday thing. We’d just have birthday parties, you know, in the house at home, just with your family.

Where did you go to school?

I started off going to Harrison Elementary, it was four blocks down the hill from our house which is now MLK Way. I went there through the fourth grade. It only had four grades. After the fourth grade then I transferred to Longfellow.

That’s quite a walk up the hill.

Yes, it was.

Were you the eldest? 

No, I was the baby.

Family Home. Collection: Jacquelyn Lawson

So you would walk with your brothers and sisters.

No, by myself. The other neighborhood kids also walked. When I was in the sixth or seventh grade I was one of the patrol girls, so one of my patrol girl buddies who lived on the other side of Madison St, we would meet and we’d start walking up the hill and when we got to the main streets we’d have to stop and wait for the little kids and help them across the street.

You were born in 1928?


So you were in the sixth grade in…?

That would be the mid to late 1930s, I guess.

Were you aware, as a child, of the Great Depression at all?

I was affected by it, although I didn’t realize it was the Depression. We always shopped at the Goodwill. Daddy taught me how to put soles on shoes. We had an old foot form that my grandfather had used when he was a shoe maker or a shoe repairer. My clothes were always homemade, my dresses and everything. I never thought about our lives as being deprived. We all wore second-hand clothes and hand-me-downs. It was just the way it was with everybody.

Do you remember your mom making you clothes? Would you get excited?

Only the one dress, I have a picture of it. She and I are standing in front of the big ol’ car. She has on her Sunday clothes and her little hat, and I’m standing there with my hands on my hips. I was so proud of that little dress with the ruffles. Usually they were made out of a stock pattern; we had the same pattern. Yet, I never had dresses made out of flour sacks. I think I may have had underclothes made out of them. The dresses were always very inexpensive little flowery prints. Different dresses in the same pattern. I still never thought about us as being poor.

Where did you go to church?

The First A.M.E. My grandfather was one of the Trustees, one of the founders of the Church. The original stone on the church, I don’t know what they’ve done with it, his name was on it. As was his brother-in-law, who is also his wife’s brother-in-law.

Replacement Foundation Stone. Photo: Madeline Crowley
So they probably knew the Gaytons?

The Gaytons lived next door to the church at that time

They did? Where the school is?

There were two houses there. The minister lived in the one and the Gaytons lived in the other. Those houses I’m sure are gone. They were very old at the time I was young.

The current city boundaries for the Central Area don’t include the First A.M.E.

Well, the First A.M.E. was out of the way.

First A.M.E. Photo: Madeline Crowley

Yeah, the city considers that Capitol Hill. But you can’t really account for the history of that community without the First A.M.E.

In fact in my book, “Let’s Take a Walk,” I put it in as an extra note because the walk described ended at the top of the hill on 19th Ave. or 20th, so I had to add, “Farther down is First AME.”

You went to high school at Garfield High. What year did you graduate?


So then you were you in school when your Japanese classmates would have all disappeared (due to internment/incarceration)?

I was in grade school at that time.  I remember I was at Longfellow and the principal had called us to an assembly. He announced that our Japanese neighbors were going to be sent away. We didn’t know why or understand it. I remember all of us started crying, and that’s all I remember about it. I think that was like 1942.

Did you have any friends that were in your neighborhood that were Japanese?

Oh yeah, we had a lot. My friends were younger but some of the older kids were Japanese. One of the boys from the neighborhood, it was rumored that he went back and joined the Japanese Navy. The Kosakas were Japanese, Yuji and Aibo, those were their nicknames, they had longer names. They were very close friends with my brothers, I mean Yuji was my brother’s best friend.

Meany School Portrait. Collection: Jacqueline Lawson

Interestingly enough, in the late 1970s my mother started going to Senior Services or something having to do with her rent. Her agent was Yuji who had come back from internment. Here was Yuji. It was exciting for all of us to know that some of the kids did get ahead.

Do you know what happened to the Japanese houses and businesses during Internment?

I couldn’t help you at all. I was young. I know that one group of Japanese friends had the big grocery store right where the new MLK Ave cuts across Madison Street.
They either lived right there at Arthur Place and East Madison or across Madison, which would have been 27th Ave. There were several Japanese families that lived there. I don’t know about their businesses, I don’t know about their homes, I just don’t.

That store that I’m talking about wasn’t taken over by anybody, it was just demolished by 
the city.

MLK Way was built that early? I always figured it came much later.

Oh, it probably did. I don’t remember that well, I hadn’t paid that much attention to it until I start doing research on my own.

Collection: Jacqueline Lawson.

What do you remember of Garfield High?

Well, I suppose we all had our little cliques. Those of us in the pictures I’ve shown you, most of those young ladies and gentlemen, we grew up together through the years so we just stuck together. Although, I did get into trouble with them after a while. When I was a Senior I was appointed, not asked if I wanted to, but appointed on the Girls’ Advisory board. So, I became a ‘Policeman’, so to speak, and I lost some friends. Even my best girl friends stopped speaking to me for a while, because I was going around spying on people.

What were you supposed to look for, short skirts?

Oh no, no. Nothing like that. The big thing was smoking and skipping school, those kinds of things. I have no idea what I did, all I know is Priscilla didn’t like me for a while and it really hurt my feelings. I hate to say it, but I didn’t particularly have fun in high school.


I was so very shy. I just stuck with my close friends. I was pretty studious. I didn’t read a whole lot but my main intent was to get good grades and make my dad proud of me. I can’t say I didn’t get into trouble that my parents didn’t know about (I’ll never tell you, though). Yeah, we had some sneaky times, my best girlfriend Priscilla and I, but that’s water under the bridge.

What do you think your dad’s dreams were for you?
Well, after high school it was just to try to decide what I was going to do. I had one sister who was a nurse. She had to leave the city (Seattle) because they wouldn’t teach black nurses at the University of Washington at that time.  She had to find another school. My other sister was married by that time and she was working for a doctor in Portland. My Daddy’s dream was that I had to do something in the medical field. We just had two choices, I decided I was either going be a dietician or a pharmacist. That was his dream.

The Family Together. Collection: Jacquelyn Lawson
 What was your dream?

To get out of school… and to get married. I eventually flunked, you know. I flunked the first year at University.

You were studying nutrition?

No, for both majors, I had to study Chemistry, Botany… Anyway, I had to take three sciences. It was just too much for me. At the same time, I had met my husband-to-be, so I was cutting classes. I didn’t want to go there anyway, so I ended up going to Broadway Edison (which is now Seattle Community College). I took a clerical course, a secretarial course and finished it with flying colors. A two-year course and I finished in 6 months. That’s how I knew I was meant to be, something along those lines.

I tried while, I think it was still when I was going to university, I decided I wasn’t going to make it, I’d try to take Physician’s Assistant course. So I went to technical college up in Renton for Med. I was fine. I kept going to the classes every day, until the day they brought in the dog to be autopsied. I walked out and I never returned. So I knew I wasn’t supposed to be in the medical field at all.

What was it about the dog?

Autopsy. Cutting it up!

So it wasn’t that it was a dog.

Oh no, anything, eww!
Garfield High School. Collection Jacqueline Lawson.
 Where did you and your husband settle?

We first lived in the Douglas Apartments. I forget what they’re called now, on 24th right off Madison. We stayed there through the birth of our first child, then we started looking for a home, looking for a place to call home. One of the first places we looked was up on Beacon Hill right off of Beacon Ave.

What year was this, roughly?

This would have been… let’s see, Gwennie was born in 1950. So it would have been ’51, ’52.

There was still redlining (real estate racial restrictions) in place.

We didn’t realize that at the time but we found out. The guy said, “I won’t sell to color which hurt me deeply (colored people, a term at the time for African-American). Then we came back to the Central Area and started looking and found a darling little house that is still there; it is still a darling little house. We stayed there through the birth of the second child. I think we were there through the birth of the third one too. Little two-bedroom cracker box, right on MLK Way and Jefferson. It’s still there, little square house on the corner. I think they’ve added onto it.

Jefferson & MLK Way. Photo: Madeline Crowley
So, it’s right smack on the corner.

Right on the corner. You can look right across to Powell Barnett Park. Back then, it was a playfield, back in the days of the Mardi Gras (Nightclub), which we can talk about later if you want. When it was hot, they used to come over and drink out of our faucet, sit on our lawn and stuff.

‘They’ being kids?

Yeah, the kids in the neighborhood. There weren’t that many at that time, they didn’t have that big of a track team at the time. Barnett Park was part of Garfield High then, it was one of their first little tracks.

Then we decided we needed a bigger place, because we had two boys and a girl, and one bedroom.

What year roughly?

Ronnie was born in 1952, Michael wasn’t born until ’58, so it would be about ’58. We did what a lot of people do, a terrible decision, we sold our place before we were able to find another place. It was rush, rush, rush. We found another house, but it wasn’t going to be available for another two months. I took off a month from work and started looking and found a rented house right around the corner. So we didn’t have to go far, we moved in there, it was terrible, but it was temporary. We were there about two months until our home opened. It’s right on Cherry St., between 30th and 31st. It has a driveway. That was our home. We were there around 8 years.

Jackie and her husband, Officer Lawson. Collection: Jackie Lawson
Right in the middle of the block?

Just about.

I think there’s a woman who has a little beauty salon in the basement of that house now.

That’s what I had been telling people! I know she did, I remember when she opened that up.

When we lived there the kids used to sit up on the lawn and watch the Panthers March past.

Cherry St. past 31st Ave. Photo: Madeline Crowley
The Panthers come up in almost every interview and it’s really interesting in that everybody has a different take. People who knew them were very comfortable. And other people who didn’t know them were terrified.

Oh, yeah.

And then, do you know William Lowe? He’s involved at the First AME. He was a student of Carver’s at Garfield so he’s got to be about 20 years younger (than Carver). But he said for him and for his family...

Carver? I knew when he was born.

I bet he was a cute baby.

I just know his brother said, “Another baby brother!”

Mr. Lowe was saying that from his family’s point of view, while they understood the anger, they felt that Martin Luther King’s ideas were correct and productive while the Panther’s way not productive. I would love to hear how you and your family felt about that.

We had different opinions. I was nervous because my daughter went to school with them; she knew them. They were her friends, and when they walk by you can’t wave to them because they were scary. My husband had to arrest them. He said that he was on their good side, because I forgot if it was Aaron, it might have been Aaron.

Elmer’s the one Gwennie went to school with. So it had to be Aaron. My husband said he brought him a candy bar once. He said that Aaron said, “Don’t mess around with Officer Lawson, he bought me a candy bar.” Walt (her husband) always told me that I would always be protected.
Jackie with her husband and daughter Gwen. Collection: Jackie Lawson

The Panthers liked him as a policeman. Even when we moved out of the neighborhood he didn’t have any fear for us. We stayed in one place eight years each time. We stayed in three places eight years.

I didn’t know any of them but they just didn’t bother me. The only time that I was bothered was when down the hill right on Cherry on MLK Way and closer to 23rd Ave. they had set some fires and that upset me (1968 unrest).

Now what year was it that what’s-his-name (Stokley Carmichael) from the Panthers came here and spoke at Garfield?

I think that was around 1968.

Whenever it was, I asked my Mom if she wanted to go and she said, ‘Sure’. We went to Garfield High. It just didn’t bother me that they were up there on top with their guns. I just thought, ‘Well, that’s pretty cool; it didn’t bother me at all. We went in there and enjoyed whatever was being said. We got up and sang “We Shall Overcome.” And (from that) my mother learned… I don’t remember her saying ‘Colored’ or ‘Negro’ after that. We were Black. That really surprised me, you know, coming from my mother who was from the old, old school.

Your mother would have been about how old at that point?

She’s a year older than the year, whatever it was. If it was 1967 she would have been 68.

That’s interesting; William Lowe talked about that a bit too. Before the Panthers and James Brown the word ‘Black’ was considered an insult in his family. After, it was a point of pride.

People of my mother’s age and older would ask if someone said, “I saw this lady down the street,” they would say, “Is she one of us?” That was the way it was put. “Was she one of them, or was she one of us?”

Right. Would “them” have been a lot of people? Did it include the Japanese, and the Jewish?

Oh no, they were “Japanese,” or something like that. Or otherwise, “Yes they were one of us.” Newspapers did a lot of that talking about “them” and “us.”

But did “them” mean anybody who wasn’t black or did it mean only white?

They weren’t really caring about that; they just wanted to know if they were one of us.

It was a way of defining if you were part of the black community.

There was another phrase that was used but I can’t remember.

I had another thing that happened to me in grade school. Back in the day we had, ‘I Am An American Day’. Have you heard of that? I don’t know if this was before Pearl Harbor (the attack on...), anyway we had this assembly. They picked out different children from different races by colors. We were supposed to get up and say, “I am an American.” Now, I forgot what I was. I think I was a member of the brown race. “I am an American. I am a member of the brown race. I am American.” In my recollections, I’ve often wondered who was representing the Black race? Was there a yellow race? I don’t remember. All I remember was what I was supposed to say. Isn’t that funny? Just a little kid.

Within the community as it defined itself, was there much difference between people who were light and people who were very dark?

Not in my group. Not at all.

That’s good, because that’s an unfairness as well. You can’t help who’s in your bloodline.

In the late 60’s, Dee Goto, talked about how their family left the area in the late ‘60s because they were afraid. Doug Chin’s family left at the same time. I spoke to an Anonymous woman from the Sephardic community. Her family left because there were rocks thrown through their windows.

Your family stayed, why were all these other people so afraid? Did the crime rate really go up?

Oh, I don’t know about the crime rate. I think it was again the, probably due to the Panthers. Got to love the Panthers, but, I’m sorry, it was probably them. Now, we left but not because of that.

My children hate the idea that we moved so far out. We moved out to Bangor Street out there in the Rainier neighborhood. There is a bank there. I remember when I agreed to move I had to go up there and my sister went with me. That’s another story. While we were in there the bank was robbed and we didn’t know it until they left.

Well, that turned out well.

We stayed up there until Walt retired from the Seattle Police Department and started working for Law Enforcement’s Assistance Administration and got an offer to go with the main office back in DC. So, again we had been in the office eight years, so then we moved back east.

So you don’t remember the 1960s and ‘70s being a particularly troubled time?

No, I think as I said Walt (picture with Sidney Poitier) pretty much put me at ease. The main thing that concerned me over those years was that I was raising the kids almost alone because he worked long hours. He’d work extra shifts. He worked all holidays. He was never home for Christmas morning. His reason for doing that was to get promoted, so he went from a Patrolman to a Sergeant to a Captain. I mean, in his mind it was all worth it. I wasn’t a very good policeman’s wife. Anyway, no, I wasn’t really affected by what happened in the neighborhood. I never went on a demonstration march. My daughter probably did, I don’t know if she would have, they didn’t dislike her.


Did you work during any of this time?

Always! Now where was I working? I’m trying to think if I was working at Boeing when we first got married. Isn’t that awful? I can’t remember. Yeah, I worked at Boeing for a couple of years. In fact, I often regret not accepting a position there. I was working in the print shop and my boss wanted to get me promoted and so I was promoted to replace her. I was just too scared and so shy, I’m not a boss-type person, but I could have been the first black supervisor back in those days. I worked at Boeing for two and a half years and the kids were going to school for part of that time. That was before Michael was born, I think. Winnie and Ronnie, the two older kids, were actually living with my parents. I would go to work and then pick them up on weekends. When Michael came along, I think he stayed with my mother-in-law. I had a baby sitter who lived right next door to one of the girls I rode in the carpool with to Boeing with. Then after a while, I found a job at Harborview Hospital. I became the Secretary to the Head of the Cardiology department. Dr. Cobb was also a University Professor.

A couple of years after I started working for him he started Medic One with the Fire Chief. I worked for Dr. Cobb for about 11 years but quit because of doctor’s orders. It was too much pressure, because I was taking work at home. Me, who didn’t want to be in the medical field, was a medical transcriptionist at home. I was doing that at home, Walt was working nights and it was just too much. My doctor said “You need to quit.” I’ll never forget that day I went in and I said, ‘Dr. Cobb, I have to quit today’. He wouldn’t speak to me for a while. Long time.

When did you get involved with the Black Historical Society?

It’s the Black Heritage Society, it’s alright though, even members say that, even people on the board, I’ve heard them say that. Let me think. Oh, I was one of the founders, that’s how I became involved. Esther (Mumford) called me. My husband and I went I think to the first meeting over at Esther’s house. I was supposed to even be on the constitution committee I think. And I went to the first meeting and I think I went to two more, and then we moved back east. So I stayed in touch and everything.

And then, you’re still coming in and working on that…

Yeah, I’ve been every position they had: President, Secretary, Vice President, Treasurer... I got involved in the collection, I was on the collection committee with Eula Helen, she just passed away. We started the collections. Esther had been collecting things for years. The original organization had been storing things away in closets and under the beds and stuff. Eula and I went and got all those things in storage.

And now all those things are stored through MOHAI (Museum of History & Industry).

They’ve always been. When I came back, when did I come back? 1990. When I first came back, I wanted to live close to the archives and to MOHAI. So I started volunteering at each place immediately. While I was working at the archives… I came here from Denver… I moved around quite a bit after my husband passed away. I’d been in Denver for about three years by then. While in Denver I joined an organization called the Black Family Search Group. They now call it after us, the Black Genealogy Search Group. They stole our name, I stole their name and their idea, because when I got back to Seattle I started the Black Genealogy Research Group here. Anyway, what else.

So you were doing a project from the 1930s...

The Black Heritage Society got a grant to do this Heritage Project… Oh, I remember what happened with that. I was so embarrassed. I had to go before the 4Culture board, , they were all sitting on the dais up there. I got nervous and my mouth was quivering and somebody had to help me say the words, because I was so excited about being able to do this, and nervous about having to be in front of these strangers - who really couldn’t understand anyway.

The oral histories, it was interesting reading it. I think there were only two or three of us transcribing it and reading their transcriptions. In the project in the 1940s, I was one of those interviews, one of those narrators. And we were so boring. Our life was boring, I think. I had one of the interviewers tell me that, she said, “You guys, all you did was you went to church, you went to Sunday school, you had picnics, you had family dinners and parties with your families. Maybe you played cards. You never went out anywhere, unless your parents were with you.” You know, that was our life.

Right. Exactly, exactly. Although you might have within the families differences, because my sisters were 8, 10, and 9, and 11 years older than me, so they were among those who got out. One of the favorite things was, (my sister) Dorothy would say, “Daddy, I’m going out for a while.“ He’d ask, “Where are you going.” She’d say, “Oh, just up the hill.” Well, from where we lived, up the hill was where the Mardi Gras and Birdland Nightclubs were. Both buildings were also theaters during their years.

So would she go dancing or would she just go to the theater?

I don’t know what Dorothy did. I never asked her. As time went by, she’d have to take ‘the baby’ with her. The baby was our sister who was two years younger than Dorothy. They always called her Baby.

That would be interesting too. Are they still around?

No, no. They passed away. Juanita just passed away a couple years ago. 

©  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 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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