Thursday, March 28, 2013

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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