In a year riven by deeply felt losses and calls for racial justice, the death of Tacoma civil rights icon Harold Moss Sept. 21 resonated hard in the South Sound. 

Moss, 90, was Tacoma’s first Black mayor and council member, and Pierce County’s first — and to date only — Black council member. He spent decades teaching his life’s learnings on leadership to many who held similar aspirations.

Part of this was accomplished through organizational work and willpower. Moss founded the Tacoma Urban League and was an original member of the Tacoma Black Collective, both still strong after decades. But his guidance was more powerful on the personal level. Tacoma’s last mayor, Marilyn Strickland, has long called Moss a mentor; its current mayor, Victoria Woodards, considered him a father figure.

It is a rare feat for a civil-rights luminary, even on the local level, to bestride generations, as the dearly missed U.S. Rep. John Lewis did. Yet that’s what Tacoma had in Moss. He fought real estate redlining after arriving in the 1950s, helped steer racial frustrations away from violence and toward civic influence in the 1960s, then made his way into city power in the 1970s to champion economic opportunity and fair housing.

That path did not exist in Tacoma before Harold Moss.

“I wanted to do all I can from behind the dais,” he told the (Tacoma) News Tribune in 1994, the year he was appointed mayor. “Otherwise, you’re just screaming into the wind.”

Moss deserves to be remembered throughout Puget Sound as a unique and generous pioneer.