Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Carver Gayton, Former Corporate Executive & Educator

Carver has served as in high level positions at institutions ranging from: Founding Executive Director at the Northwest African-American Museum; Commissioner for the Employment Security Dep't during Gov. Gary Locke’s Administration, spent twenty years at Boeing as a Corporate Director,  as well as on a host of Boards for a significant range of social and educational organizations.  

Photo: Madeline Crowley

Tell us about growing up in the Central Area.

I was born in the Central Area in 1938 on October the 18th. My family had just moved up the hill to 32nd; I think we were the first Black family to move there. When my mother was carrying me, we lived down in the Hollow, or what is now called Madison Valley. There were Blacks living in the Hollow, around 23rd and Madison, and between Madison and Union. These were all socio-economic levels, basically de facto segregated so no one had yet moved up to 32nd Ave. Very few blacks moved up to where we moved.

Where was that?

We moved to 32nd Avenue and Pike Street. We were about a block away from the Madrona School. The stories I was told was when we first moved up we heard the N word and rocks were thrown at the windows; that sort of thing. We were the first Black family (there). So we had a little bit of difficulty; and maybe a little bit more than I knew as I was a baby.

When I was growing up I never did experience much direct discrimination; but as I said, others in the family did when we first moved up there. I was the sixth child of eight siblings, and so I had an enjoyable time growing up as a kid. Back in those days I didn’t worry about going to different parts of the neighborhood even into my preteens. I knew the neighborhood. I knew most of the people around the neighborhood. They knew me; they knew our family. It worked out pretty well in those days. We were pioneers in that we were desegregating that neighborhood otherwise known as "blockbusting". 

My family, initially, were the only blacks in that part of the neighborhood, then others followed, they called it ‘block-busting’. A lot of the later arrivals were servicemen after the war (WWII). My brother was a realtor and was part of that Booker T. Washington effort; he was part of that effort. 
Collection: Carver Gayton

As the years went on, we saw an increase in the numbers of Blacks coming into the community. Roughly, by the 1950s or 60s, the mix of blacks to whites was probably close to what it is now. Ultimately, (in the late 1960s through 80s) the percentage rose to about 90% black. Now, it’s started to revert back (to racially mixed) as blacks move further south into the Rainier Valley and into Kent.

In the late 60s or early 70s, the whites started moving out to the suburbs. This was also the beginning of Open Housing, which challenged the (redlining, racially restrictive) housing ordinances. That also allowed the black upper middle class to move out of the Area to places in Bellevue and so on.

So there was white flight and black flight?

Particularly, for those who had opportunities to make fairly good money. If you had a reasonable income with Open Housing (policy) you could move where you wanted to go. It was similar to my family moving up in 1938 (moving up the hill). They took an opportunity to move into a neighborhood with good education, and so on. History kind of repeats itself. We saw the few professionals: the doctors, the lawyers, and so forth were beginning to move out. They were moving into other areas, out of the Central District.

Collection: Carver Gayton

I didn’t make that connection. I spoke to William G. Lowe about the First A.M.E. and it’s role in Seattle.

That church was a gathering place, a social and political gathering place as well as to go to Sunday School. We'd usually walk with our Dad to Church. My mother would come later for church services. We really enjoyed it especially as kids. Our mother would take us every Sunday. Often, we would walk from 32nd and Pike all the way down to 14th and Madison, and then we’d walk back with our dad. That was a real joy back in those days. Our mother, she would get up and about to make sure we were ready to go to church. And for the most part, it would be an all day event. The church was a gathering place for all socio-economic classes.

On special events like Christmas Eve, we would get a brown paper bag that held an orange and  some hard candy and a candy cane. And we would just wait for that bag! It really was a wonderful time.

This (see below) is the photo of my 1943 kindergarten class in Madrona. You can see that there weren’t many blacks. Here I am, in my striped shirt (back row, third from right). All the boys wore a part in their hair. I still see some of them, even today we still get together.

All my older brothers had had the same teachers so I’d follow them into the same classes.

It sounds like you were able to enjoy your experience at school without experiencing much of what happened to your parents when they moved to the neighborhood. Is that right?

One thing my parents did was maintain our identification as ‘Colored’ back in those days, or Negro; they made sure we identified with who and what we were all about in our neighborhood despite being surrounded by whites. 

Collection: Carver Gayton

With yours being one of the pioneering black families in Seattle that would be a point of family and personal pride.

That’s true; there’s no question about that. We had pride in ourselves. Our mother read to us fairy tales and the like, but also read books about Booker T. Washington or W.E.B. Dubois, and George Washington Carver.

We had a famous great-grandfather. My mother’s grandfather was named Lewis Clarke. (The likely inspiration for George Harris, the rebellious quadroon, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin)

He was an abolitionist and a friend of Frederick Douglass. We had pride in him, but we kept it within ourselves. We didn’t run about trying to propagate the faith so to speak. We didn’t go about talking about him with others outside of the family, we considered it family lore.

That’s important, it keeps you grounded, rooted to the people who came before you. I think you are very fortunate to have had that knowledge. Many people don’t have that.

That’s right, we didn’t feel intimidated. We believed we were just as good as anyone else. 

Collection: Carver Gayton. Family Party in the house on 32nd

Looking back, the first time that I detected that I was different from the other kids was... I didn’t detect it as racism or anything, but I did tell my mother about it. There was this first grade teacher, she came up to me and said, “Carver, I just don’t trust you.” I knew what she said was bad when she said it, but I didn’t know what she was talking about. When I went home, to this day I remember it, I never told my mother what was said to me but I asked her, “What does trust mean?”

She explained it to me, “It’s when people don’t believe you, they don’t know if you’re doing the right thing.” The teacher saying that made me withdraw from the other kids and stop speaking out in class.  I never told my mother what happened. 
Collection: Carver Gayton

Probably the next time that race came into play was in the 6th grade. At that time, I would go over to a friend’s house all the time. We were in the 6th grade at Madrona School. We would see each other almost every day. I heard that this fellow Jimmy was having a birthday party, but I didn’t know anything about it. This was around this time that the kids started pairing off, girls and boys, so I didn’t really see it as Jimmy’s issue. Anyway, I went up to Jimmy, and I don’t know what made me do it, but I walked up to him and said, “Jimmy, I heard you’re having a birthday party and you didn't invite me. Why didn’t you tell me?” And he kind of talked around it. So, I told him that I was coming anyway. And I showed up, (laughs). It was then that I began to think of myself as different because of who and what I was. I got there to find out that they were all paired up. I was the only one who was not paired up with anyone.

It was sixth grade so they decided to play ‘Spin the Bottle’. So guess who ended up being the one to spin the bottle? That was my job. But, you know, at that point it wasn’t overwhelming. It angered me as opposed to making me shrink back.

Maybe that’s where rootedness comes into play. With that you wonder, “What’s wrong with them” instead of “What’s wrong with me?”

At that point, I did understand that there were some differences when it came to interracial relationships. It was kind of an awakening. At the time, it wasn’t all bad. I ran the Schoolboy Patrol. That was a big deal. My brother Gary was a Captain Patrol, and my brother Phil was a Captain Patrol. When I came up, I said, “Gosh, I’d like to be that.” I guess the teachers ultimately made those decisions, but I was made Captain Patrol. It was like being President of your class. I enjoyed that role and had a good time.

I especially liked it because I guess I was a feminist before the time of the women’s movement, or maybe I had other motives, but I wanted to bring in some of the girls. By the end of 6th grade, we ended up bringing in some girls for the flag crossings. I had to do some of the training for them; I ended up training them to be members of the patrol squads. For the most part at school we had good teachers, it was enjoyable, we played a lot and liked our classes.

Collection: Carver Gayton

For children growing up in the neighborhood right now, it’s hard for them to imagine what it was it like to be young then? What was it like without the Internet, TV or portable radio? What did you do for fun?

Gosh, we went everywhere in groups of four or five together. We would discover places. In summer, we’d find the best blackberry spots because there were many vacant lots in the neighborhood. We would pick blackberries and bring them home. My mother used Mason Jars to make blackberry jam, punch, cobbler - all of it. We had a little blackberry patch right next door.

In the empty lot right across from our house we set up a fort. We dug down below and covered the top with boards and dirt. Then we covered it up with branches and brush. It had a little secret entryway so no one knew we were down below. We’d sit there talking about everything and we’d play or if we were by ourselves we’d go find someone and talk with them. There was Ole Sundberg up the corner and his brothers and sisters, and Ole was slow mentally. He and I would be off by ourselves sometimes, maybe before school. He was much older (than I was) maybe in his early teens, but we could relate to each other. He had a bit of a speech impediment too, but I never really thought about any of that at the time because he was a friend. We did a lot of things in the neighborhood along with Bill Mogle, Jim and Micky Ellis. In the 50s' other black families moved into the neighborhood from the (American) south. Guys like Roy Dotson, John Bass and King Baker became part of our little gang. We’d go around flying kites and such. We probably would be considered juvenile delinquents today, because we knew where all the Bing cherry trees were in the neighborhood. We’d go sit in those trees, eat cherries, stuff them in our pockets, and bring them home.

I imagine the neighbors kind of expected us to do that sort of thing in summertime. Sometimes, it was terrible when they would come out yelling, ‘Get out of there!’ and we’d fall out of the tree and squash the cherries in our pockets. It would stick all over our clothes and bodies. In the summertime we would go about barefoot. I have no idea how in the heck we did that.

We were just roaming around everywhere. We’d go down to Madrona Beach and play in the vacant lots there and catch frogs and lizards. And in the summertime we’d play Mumbley-peg with a little penknife to see who would win. We also spent an awful lot of time up at Madrona Park; that was one of the major gathering points for the kids.

Collection: Carver Gayton

Is it essentially the same place now as it was then?

It’s essentially the same park. The same building, the shelter house; it was built by the WPA. We didn’t have any organized sports. All the games we would play: baseball; softball; tennis; football and the like, it was all sandlot. Sometimes the park instructor would get us together for teams but we didn’t have any uniforms or anything of that sort. When we played football someone might have a helmet, someone else would have shoulder-pads, it was seldom someone would have a pair of cleats. It’s not like how things are organized today. We had tennis shoes for everything; there weren’t a bunch of different shoes for every sport. We had, for all the sports, only our tennis shoes.

We had two pairs of shoes, tennis shoes and shoes for church. Usually they were hand-me- downs from all my brothers.

We would go anywhere and everywhere. There were some very rich kids who were going to Madrona School, white kids obviously and there were also the  poor. However, the the distinct economic differences were not as evident as they are now. Professionals and blue collar workers lived together in the radius of our home.

As far as you can reconstruct, what was your Mom’s day like raising eight kids?

She was the disciplinarian; she kept us in line. She had to with eight kids. I remember even today, the old lilac tree that grew outside. It was next to a stairwell going out back, past the kitchen, it grew up right to the back porch. Whenever we would act out of line, she would say, “Go get a switch.”

You know, that poor lilac tree looked terrible with all those branches missing. She’d take that switch and give me a few whacks if I was out of line.  My dad used to say, when I'd get in trouble, (my nickname was Butch) “Butch isn’t a bad boy, he’s just mischievous.”

You know, though, (chuckles) I really was bad because I’d do crazy things, like the throw the ball against the house from the back yard. And you know when you’re hitting the ball against the house you’re going to break the window. So, I broke a window from time to time. My mother said, “Now, when your father gets home you’re going to get a spanking.” But here I am toward the end of the family, (almost the youngest) and my dad is working all the time. 

In order for my dad to support our family of ten it seems as though he always worked two to three jobs. He was so proud of not having to go on welfare, even during the Depression of the 1930's. He had a great disposition and was a positive person, but I wish he had taken more time to relax. He died young at the age of 69---he probably was just worn out.

So, he’d get home and he’d pull his belt out, and he’d say, “Now, your mother told me what you did. If I were younger, you’d really get a whipping...but I’m just too tired.” I’m standing there. I think I started bawling, yelling, “Oh, please don’t hit me!” I don’t think he ever hit me; he was too tired. Still, the fact was you had to go get your own switch.

That must have actually been the worst part, trying to choose a little one.

That’s right. Still, she was the sweetest lady. I had the benefit of there being four years between me and my older brother, with four years between me and my next younger brother. They always said I was the spoiled one. Most of the others were two years apart. The others considered me spoiled because my mother spent more time with me.

Collection: Carver Gayton

There was a radio program out of Chicago called Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club and they would play a march every morning on the show. She’d say, “Let’s march!” and we’d march all around. We had a pretty big kitchen. I’ll never forget it. And then she'd say, “Come on, Butchie, give me a hug. You can hug tighter than that!”

Having those moments when she would do that, with all she had to do to keep us in line; it meant a lot to me.

That must have been nice, because back then women were washing clothes by hand and cooking from scratch, no pre-cut vegetables. So she must have been moving from dawn ‘til bed- time.

She did all that, but at the same time she always made sure that there was time to sit down and read to us almost every evening.

Then, in my senior year at Garfield High in 1956, my family moved to Mt. Baker that was then considered an extension of the Central Area.  However, there weren’t many blacks living there at the time.

When anything happened at school she was up in the face of those folks at school, you know when she thought something wasn’t right. I’ll never forget, when I was in high school I took some type of vocational test. The results came out saying I was more inclined to be a social worker, not that there’s anything wrong with being a social worker. And she challenged it, asking, “Why did it come out like that?” She was a strong advocate for us.

Collection: Carver Gayton. Our football team - most players were Japanese with maybe one Chinese player

Why was the high school giving you vocational tests? Did everybody take one?

It was an aptitude test. My mother got indignant because she saw it as them thinking all blacks wanted to be social workers.

The thing was, she didn’t look black, and that figured in too. The shades in our family were from very light to brown. In our family, the race thing, color wasn’t an issue. Still, we were never allowed to use the N word, not at all. Never. That would make my dad... (angry) As an example, when television came in 1950 we weren’t allowed to watch Amos and Andy even though the kids thought it was funny as heck. My father said, “No, it’s too degrading.” Quite frankly, we would sneak and watch it anyway when he wasn’t home. But the N word was completely verboten; there was no way we could ever say that word.

I remember taking a US history course at Garfield High. The teacher thought he was being liberal by saying, “My family was from the south. My grandfather had slaves, but he treated them very nicely. Once there was a slave that had a terrible brain tumor and he sent her to the best doctor in NYC to make sure she was taken care of…” And boy, when I told her what he said, my mother got hot. She went up to the teacher and said, “You know the thing is, you're trying to justify slavery. They would have done that for there best horse because slaves were property just like the horse. They wanted to make sure that the slaves were healthy so they could do the work they weren’t getting paid for.” She was in the face of those folks.

She went to Howard University; it’s a long story. Her grandfather was a major abolitionist, so my mother ended up staying at the home of her grandfather’s daughter (her aunt) who had been one of the first blacks to graduate in Oberlin down in Ohio. Oberlin was one of the first schools to accept blacks and women. After that, she went to Amherst College to get her library degree, and she became one of the high level clerical employees in the Library of Congress. My mother stayed with her while she was in school. There’s also a Canadian connection because my Great Grandfather escaped from slavery and ended up in Canada. That’s where my maternal grandfather was born.

So your ancestors were resourceful, determined and educated.

My parents expected us to go to college but couldn’t afford to send us to college so we had to do it on our own. I was lucky enough to get a full scholarship all the way through from football. That was the way for lot of black men, in particular, to get into college in those days.

She always wanted me to be a physician, yet she never pushed any of us. Later, I found out she had actually been engaged to a fellow who ultimately did become a physician. He and his wife kept in contact with my parents over the years. 

I didn't become a medical doctor however I eventually went on to get my PhD. She always wanted us to do our best in school, but she never said you have to do this or you have to do that. She just set an example. We just knew what the expectations were of both our parents. 

The strength of unspoken expectations can be strong.

Just to give you an idea, this (newspaper clipping) is from the Rose Bowl in 1960. My mother kept these pictures and articles from what were called Black Dispatches. She kept them from all around the country like: the LA Sentinel; the Kansas City Call; the Chicago Defender; the Pittsburgh Courier (it was national news). You have: Ray Jackson; Joe Jones; George Fleming and me. Fleming was the player of the game. It was the first Rose Bowl the University of Washington had ever won. The articles pointed out that our team had the largest number of black front line players ever in the Rose Bowl. We had back-to-back championships. I was a graduate assistant coach the next year, probably the first black coach. I was younger than all those guys. But I had finished school and was doing graduate work, so I was the coach for the 1961 Rose Bowl. We became National Champions. 

Collection: Carver Gayton. Rose Bowl Team.

You had a lot of ‘firsts’ in your life. The first team with a lot of black players in the Rose Bowl, the first black coach and the first African American in the FBI

From the State of Washington; yes. There were no more than a dozen in the nation. Every state I went to, I was the only black agent: Pennsylvania, Kansas, Missouri.

How was it for you to be the first in a law and order organization? They’re often fairly conservative people.

Well, I wasn’t naive, but I wanted to do the best I could. Looking back, I really enjoyed the work I did, and the work in the Bureau wasn’t always about putting people in jail. I met some of the most unbelievable people. I mean, very well know people. For example, I had to interview some of them for Presidential Appointments. Still, my primary work was in criminal cases, bank robberies and like. I was much more conservative when I went into the Bureau than I was when I came out, like I am now, for example.

I found out that even the criminals are three-dimensional. There were some really interesting folks and I met some very bright folks. I met a great many people in that arena. I could not be naive with them in regards to trust, but I was fascinated by their stories and their lives. I had some who were informants. Even though they were informing on criminals and other matters, I was really interested in them as individuals. It really just opened up a whole new world to me, of people.

You know I was working in the ghettos of Philly and Kansas City. There was this one guy in particular; he was an informant. He was so fascinating. This guy would drive the bootleg alcohol from LA to Mexico and back working for Bugsy Siegel. He showed me a ring, a pinky ring, which was given to him by Siegel before he was whacked. That’s one thing I found out going into those cities in the black neighborhoods. I would always go into those areas by myself (because I felt being with a white agent would draw too much attention) unless I was going to arrest somebody. I guess ignorance is bliss.

There was one woman who worked for me, a lady of the evening, she was 25 and looked two to three times older. I asked her, ‘Why is it that you don’t you have children, most women your age and in your world do?” She said, “Carver, let me tell ya,” while she’s drinking a half a pint of vodka and a can of orange pop, “I’m not a very good person. I live a tough life but I’m not so bad that I’d bring a child into the world that I’m in.” She was smart and street smart.

You can’t paint people in a certain way. You can’t say they’re all evil. She wouldn’t choose that, because it would obviously not be fair for the child. She wasn’t so bad that she would do that to a child.  

On the other hand, the work meant dealing with people from the opposite side of the spectrum, people like Judge Higginbotham who was the Federal Court Judge in Philly, about a Presidential Appointment. I was well aware of his status before I interviewed him. I also interviewed William Hastie  who taught Thurgood Marshall (the U.S. Supreme Court Justice) at Howard University Law School. At the same time, this was  opening up a wholly different new world to me. The world my brothers and my parents had talked about with me. I’m interviewing these giants in Philly and DC.

Still, I’ll never forget living and working in Philly and working in south Jersey, the day-to-day stuff that I was involved in. I’d never seen anything like it in Seattle. As far as the eye can see, filth, run-down row houses, the smells. You’d wonder how anyone could get out of those situations. One quick story, I had this lead to go talk to somebody so I knock on the door in the 'jungle' ghetto of Philly. This girl comes out she’s about 15. All she’s got is this one piece of furniture in a room, the stuffing coming out of it and the smells were terrible. In there, lying there, is a little baby sucking on a bottle. It’s 90% humidity in there. The baby is sucking on the bottle, and the milk is curdled. This little girl with this baby, so innocent. Then, you look out the door and there’s the pimps, the drug dealers, and all that. As far as she could see, there’s nothing but that repeated on every block.

It made me wonder, you see, I hadn’t seen any of that in Seattle. I’d lived and delivered papers on 24th and Madison, but I’d never seen anything that in Seattle. I wondered how anybody could get out. That’s what really made me decide, at that point, to start taking graduate classes at Temple University in Education. I wanted to get back into education. I really consider myself an educator. I had no regrets getting into the Bureau, it helped me experience another world that I had never seen; I think it was ultimately beneficial.

Going back your first question, how do you deal with being the first for all these different things? I wanted to do the job. I never considered at the time, for any of the jobs I had, that being the first black was that significant. I wanted to do those jobs because I was interested and wanted to do the best I could. 

So you were focused on what you had to do and doing it really well. You let others’ ideas and misconceptions go because you can’t change their ideas anyway.

I can’t change that, and it was kind of a Jackie Robinson syndrome. I was the first black to go to a slave state as an Agent. There were no black agents in the south; Missouri was a slave state. I was the first black to go there. There were disciplined, really hard-nosed agents there. I guess I was like the canary in the coal mine. If I survived, they would bring other blacks in. And they did.

There are a lot of young people with a bit of a chip (on the shoulder). And if you have a chip you can’t do what you need to do. No one is entitled to anything. Anything worth achieving requires a great deal of hard work.

I would be baited by some of those agents. One said, “Why do black people eat all those greasy foods?” or “Why are so many blacks homosexuals?” And I would respond to them as if their question was intelligent and rational, when obviously it wasn’t. I knew the guy asking about greasy food was from Virginia. I said, “Well, you’re from Virginia, didn’t you have black folks cooking for you? Didn’t you ever eat that food? You must have had some because that bacon grease tastes good.” He said, “That’s a good point.” So, they’d bait you. One guy said, “You know, you’re privileged that I’m even talking to you.” He couched it in such a way that I couldn’t take the next step. I had to brace for the N word. But he said, “We never talk to first office agents, usually, but I’m giving you a break.” If you take the bait, you won’t survive. There’s is however, a balance in terms of maintaining your integrity as a person and as a black. Sometimes you don't have a choice but to trip out on some of those folks.

That’s probably where growing up in Seattle really helped you, actually. If you come out of generational poverty in Philly, you might not have had the balance to take that question and decide to just answer to it at face value. You probably would have instead dealt with the subtext.

That’s right. I was able to see another world. One of the things Quincy Jones and I would talk about was (how that was possible for us) because of our experience of going to Garfield High. He was exactly right. Garfield was what integration was intended to be. It’s supposed to create true integration, not de-segregation.

We went go to Garfield back in the days when you knew the kids who were living next to the tennis club, all the kids from Broadmoor, the Bekins (Trucking Family), among others. We knew kids from Madison Valley and the Central District. All these families were going to Garfield, the rich and the poor. You found out about different people in those circumstances, because we didn’t have Advanced Placement classes separating people. 

Collection: Carver Gayton
Today, some call it the Zebra Syndrome, separating kids with blacks taking classes in one section and whites in another in the same school. 

In our time, all of us would sit together, the best students and the worst. And we’d find out that we could hang with those kids from Broadmoor and Madison Park. We could because they weren’t that much different.

I’ve talked to people who were roughly in your grade at Garfield. They speak to that real community of kids with Bob Santos and Quincy Jones. Bob is setting up events for Quincy to come to play and everybody was dancing together. They were building things together; doing things together. There was integration before that was a political ideal. Sadly and ironically by the late 60s, it had changed. Now, it’s two separate unequal schools in one building. You guys instead had this ideal experience.

There was more to it, though. I get into this discussion when I get together with some of the guys, the Jewish guys, there was a pretty strong Sephardic community at Garfield and Meany.
They try to portray it as some kind of Nirvana. It was good (and fun) considering the times but it was not Nirvana by any means.

Here’s an example: I had to speak to some people for HistoryLink.org with regard to music in the 1950s and such. I’m not a musician, but my son’s traveled around the world with his music. What I indicated to them was that for our generation with R&B, the beginning of soul, and the gospel, we created this environment where our music really facilitated this integration.

Paul De Barros wrote a book about Jackson Street Jazz. That (jazz scene) was before our generation came along with R&B music that all the kids wanted to listen to. We moved out of the Central District, the bands did, like the Dave Lewis Combo. I followed those guys. They would go play at Parkers (nightclub), they’d go up to the Casa Italiana, which was still part of the Central District. They’d go up to downtown to the ballrooms there. All the white kids and black kids would go there together to dance, probably to the dismay of some of the parents.

Some of my black brothers and sisters in the south were integrating the lunch counters, and being challenged by Law Enforcement.

Here, we were integrating through our music. We were truly integrating. That’s what was happening in Garfield High. It’s really funny looking back on it. We were said to be a microcosm of the United Nations. We had Chinese kids, more Japanese than Chinese kids, Filipino kids, Jewish kids, blacks and so on. We were really making things great. We had really good academic programs and good music.

Still, there was this one thing. Some parents complained because some of the black guys were going out with the [white] girls, because that’s the way it was at that time. One day the Vice Principal called in a group of white young ladies who were considered leaders in the school and then a separate group of so called black leaders. He said, “Now, we have a UN here, we’re known all over, even nationwide for what we’re doing here with integration. So don’t screw it up with interracial dating.”

So, in reality, it only went so far, the integration. Dr. Martin Luther King would always say, ‘I want to be your brother, not your brother-in-law. He intended to placate white men. If you want integration, it’s the natural course of things. If this is for everyone, you’ve opened the door; you can’t limit it. This is for everyone. The concern is the same with regards to breaking down racial barriers.

After that meeting with the Vice Principal we all just fell out laughing because the whole scenario was so ridiculous. Anyway, when I was reminiscing with those guys, and a couple of them are very wealthy, I brought up that situation and said that there was a limit socially to integration. Let’s be honest with how far we can go. Still, we did enjoy those times.

We had social groups. The Jewish guys had a group, the white guys had a variety of groups, and the black guys at Garfield had a group. We would walk to meetings at the original Neighborhood House, down by the old Wonder Bread factory, once a week. The group was called the Bon Temps (good times in French).

The Neighborhood House, the Jewish organization?

Well, the funny thing is we had no idea of that history. We just wanted a place to meet. The folks there embraced us. We would sponsor all these dances, and we would make money from those events. It wasn’t the athletes who had the most girls but the musicians who had the girls. Those of us who were athletes waited in the wings of these places, like the Washington Social Club and Washington Hall. Upstairs, we would count the money we were making from the dances during the event. One time, the police came in downstairs and asked one of us if we had our permits. We got the word around. We’d look around asking each other, ‘Didn’t you get the permit? No, didn’t you?’ Then, we slipped out the backdoor with our tin box and all the money. That was bad, we shouldn’t have done that. Then we went to my house in Mt. Baker and talked until the wee hours. I cooked waffles, eggs and bacon and we had a good time.

(The men in the group included) Dave Holden, he was a basketball player a very successful musician and one of my best friends. His Dad and my Dad were best friends; his Dad was also a fine musician. Ronny Holden, Dave's younger brother, was one of the folks. He had a number one hit in the country, “Love You So”.  J.B. Allen was part of the Dave Lewis combo. It was a really fine group of guys working those dances. We got a really nice letter from the neighborhood house stating we were the #1 club this year and doing wonderful things. Then, I had the boy’s Advisor at Garfield ask what was the purpose of our group?

To have fun!

Yeah, pretty much! We said, we’re trying to uplift the character of the community, we’re doing good things. It’s going to benefit everybody. I don’t really remember exactly what I said, but the Advisor just said ok. We had fun. We put on these really nice dances that brought kids together. The only thing I remember we did that might have been questionable was we did have an initiation drink. We called them boilermakers. I didn’t drink, I was an athlete, comprised of musicians and leaders in the school. So we had to chug-a-lug about a bottle, maybe two pints of what we called boilermaker. It was a terrible strong, fortified beer and wine mixed together. If you were still standing up after drinking it, then you’re in the Club! 

This is our graduating class. It was very diverse.
Collection: Carver Gayton
 There are Japanese, whites, blacks, and some Chinese

Most of the Asians were Japanese. As the Japanese began to move up the economic ladder, they tended to move out to Mercer Island and Bellevue, but on our football team there were Japanese players. 

In my immediate neighborhood in the Madrona District, there was a socio-economic mixture of the heads of the house-holds, predominately men, who were professionals, i. e. doctors, lawyers, executives as well as non-professionals and blue collar workers like my father. Almost all of both groupings were white. From my observations we do not see that kind of socioeconomic diversity in most of Seattle's neighborhoods today. The wage gaps seemed to be much narrower then compared to today. Having that kind of diversity creates much healthier communities.

That’s happened across the country, you had the collapse of the incomes, then the difference between classes was much smaller. Now, the gap between classes is widening.

Another interesting thing is that back then there was a fairly large Sephardic Jewish community. Sometime during the holidays I would light the Shabbos candles when they would ask me to do it. One time, I’ll never forget, a good friend who’s an attorney now (we’re still in contact after all these years) wanted me to come down and to the Talmud Torah because after school he would go to his religious classes. The gentleman at the door told us, ‘No, this is for the Jewish kids’. That was a lot of fun. Also, there was this one fellow Sammy Angel, we’d go over to his house and his mother didn’t speak English. She only spoke Spanish because of the Sephardic history. So we had that whole kind of cultural integration.

I had Miriam Alhadeff as I believe Language Arts Teacher at Garfield. She was the only Jewish teacher at the school, and only taught one semester, a course focused on Shakespeare. I was a jock at the time, so she watches me and checks out my work. After the first few weeks of school she comes up to me and says, “Carver, you’re a bright guy. You have a lot to offer but you’re not putting out the effort. I’m going to make sure that you make an effort. I’m going to push you.” She was the first teacher to ever say that to me; and here I was a Junior. She had us doing Hamlet, Julius Caesar and all this stuff. Also, she had us read the editorial section in the newspaper and find the meaning for words we didn't know. She got me going.

She taught you critical thinking. Is she still around?

I just saw her three weeks ago. I never had a Black teacher from Madrona to Garfield, all through school.

If you had one piece of advice for young people what would that be?

I hope I’m not being trite, there will be people who you want to guide you to the direction that you want to go in life. I think you have to be true to yourself and don’t let anybody dissuade you from your dreams or define what you should be. No one else should define you. You need to be able to define yourself. Then, set your goals based on how you see yourself. If you have the commitment, work hard, and have the desire, you should really be able to accomplish anything you want. Anyone with normal intelligence and desire can accomplish anything they want.

Thanks to Zachary Hitchcock for his help with transcription. 

©  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 4cultures 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 CentralAreaComm.blogspot.com 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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