Editor’s note: The following is an edited excerpt from Marilyn Morgan’s new book, “Trailblazing Black Women of Washington State,” which will be published July 4 (The History Press, $21.99, available locally wherever books are sold).

ON JULY 1, 2021, a ceremony was held to change the name of Tacoma’s Woodrow Wilson High School to Dr. Dolores Silas High School. One by one, current and former students came up to the petite, impeccably dressed 95-year-old woman to tell her what an honor it was to meet her, how proud they were of the school’s new name and to thank the longtime trailblazer for her work.

Silas, who died later that month, holds many firsts. She was the first Black woman to serve on the Tacoma City Council. She also was one of the first Black teachers hired in Tacoma; the first Black principal in the Tacoma School District; and, last year, the first Black woman in Tacoma to have a school named after her.

Honoring the Black women who held up the world from Washington

Joshua Garcia, the deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools, said at the ceremony, “[The high school] is adding an American hero to its legacy.”

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said, “There are little girls all across this community who will see this new name … who will be inspired by what they can be and what they can do in this community.”


Silas, who was born in Elkhart, Indiana, moved to Tacoma in the 1950s, after having begun her teaching career in Gary, Indiana. Her first job in Tacoma was at Lister Elementary. She was the third Black teacher hired by the Tacoma district. In a 26-year teaching career, she helped kids find their voices.

In her speech at the high school’s renaming, Silas said, “As a person who was born on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, to have a school named after you — what does that tell you? That anything is possible.”

Silas was raised by her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, women who set high standards, including the value of education and service. She graduated from Tuskegee University in Alabama in 1949 with a Bachelor of Science degree. In 1962, she received a master’s degree in education from the University of Arizona, and she received her doctorate in philosophy in 1977 from the United States International University in San Diego.

Silas’ dedication to teaching, to her students and to the Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma made her a beloved member of the community. Cynthia Tucker, president of the Washington State Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, says, “Dr. Silas was a true Black woman. Her race and her culture and her community meant a lot to her.”

Silas was appointed the first Black principal in the Tacoma district in 1970. Until her retirement in 1982, Silas was a leader in organizations such as the National Teachers Corps, a group established in 1965 that focused on improving teaching in low-income areas.

Tucker says Silas fought hard for the schools in the Hilltop neighborhood. “The Hilltop schools didn’t get a lot of money or resources, but Dr. Silas continually pushed for more money and resources for our children,” she says.


After retiring from teaching, Silas changed course. In 1991, she was appointed to the Tacoma City Council. She ran and served two additional terms, through 1999, and also served as deputy mayor.

Silas served as president of the Tacoma chapter of the NAACP, and was active in the Tacoma Human Rights Commission, the Black Collective and the Hilltop Multi-Service Center.

“I remember being the president of the Tacoma NAACP, standing at the microphone asking for help — and then I realized I should be on the other side of the microphone, giving help,” Silas said in an interview conducted in 2019 by Jessie Koon for the Tacoma Historical Society. “Life is always a challenge.”

Tucker says Silas took the lead in tackling challenging problems.

“Whenever the council took on subjects like affordable housing, she had a way of leading the way,” says Tucker. “During her years on the council, she championed for public safety, affordable housing, resources for education and neighborhood development.”

Silas was a traveler who sought to learn about different countries and cultures and use those ideas to help the Hilltop.

Silas was a member of the Tacoma chapter of the Urban League’s board of directors, the YWCA’s board of directors and Delta Kappa Gamma, a professional society for women educators. She was honored in 2019 with the Tacoma Historical Society’s Star of Destiny Award and the City of Tacoma’s Lifetime Service City of Destiny Award.


She also proved, over the years, to be a savvy businesswoman. Silas had retail shops at the Seattle Convention Center and concessions at Sea-Tac Airport.

Silas loved sports, especially the Seahawks.

Silas, who was known for her generosity, willed her home to the Tacoma City Association of Colored Women’s Clubs.

“That was so typical of Dr. Silas,” says Tucker. “She knew we are trying to build a new clubhouse, and she wanted us to use the money from the sale to help.”

Silas was a proud member of the club. “She is a lifetime member, and of course, we will have a Dr. Dolores Silas Room in the new clubhouse,” Tucker says. “She gave me several of her papers, including her doctorate dissertation, for display.”

Silas also was known for her style, especially her hats, claiming she had one for every outfit.

“She wore a hat every day of her life,” Tucker says. “I visited her home, and in all three bedrooms, there were hats on the wall. The club will inherit part of her hat collection. I’ll have to figure out a way to encase the hats to preserve them.”


On the day of the ceremony to name the Tacoma high school for her, Silas cried.

“I didn’t do anything for the glory,” she said that day. “I did it because it was the right thing to do.”

RETIRED KING COUNTY SHERIFF’s deputy Fabienne “Fae” Brooks recalls one of the cases from her long law-enforcement career.

“It was one of my early cases. A rape suspect had left his wallet in the back seat of the woman’s car,” Brooks says. “I called him, pretending I had just found the wallet. He was eager for me to come down to his place of employment to return his wallet. He was surprised that we placed him under arrest. He was even more surprised when I asked him if he knew where he lost his wallet.”

That was a relatively straightforward case for the trailblazing law-enforcement officer. During her 26-year career, Brooks racked up a number of firsts.

Brooks was the first Black woman to attend the Northwest Law Enforcement Command College. She was the first Black woman from Washington to attend the FBI National Academy. Brooks is also the first Black woman detective and the first Black woman hired as a commissioned deputy within the King County Sheriff’s Office. She retired as chief of its Criminal Investigation Division.


“I didn’t realize that I was the first Black woman commissioned deputy officer when I was hired,” Brooks says. “I didn’t know I was making history.”

Brooks was the only Black person and the only woman in her police academy class when she graduated in 1978. She finished second in her class at the police academy. She would have been first, she says, but she had never fired a weapon and did not score well in that area. Brooks says most of her classmates at the academy were very supportive of her, often running with her during training and giving her tips on climbing a wall.

Brooks became a member of the King County Sheriff’s Office sex crime unit in 1980.

“At the time, there were three detectives in the sex crime unit — all males,” Brooks says. “The Sheriff’s office decided to expand the office after pressure from the Rape Relief Organization. The unit of three detectives was doubled by adding three — two women and one man. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, so I think I was effective with the victims. I could empathize with them.”

Perhaps Brooks’ most memorable time with the sheriff’s office was when she became one of the original detectives on the Green River Killer case, with the Green River Task Force, in 1982. For more than 20 years, Gary Ridgway terrorized King County, raping and murdering young women. He was eventually convicted of 49 murders.

“The case was all-consuming,” she says. “To this day, there are places I drive through in King County, and it takes me back to that time.”


Brooks remembers the identification of one of the victims; Brooks had a previous connection to the woman, from her time with the sex crime unit. “The victim was a victim of another crime, and she decided not to press charges but then became a victim of the Green River Killer,” Brooks says. “It hit me hard. … The victims live on with you — they become close to you in a certain way.”

Brooks was a member of the task force until 1989. What she remembers about the manhunt for the Green River Killer was the officers’ passion for solving the case.

“I can close my eyes now and see the pictures of the victims on the wall,” she says. “We kept saying, ‘We are going to get this guy.’ “

Brooks, born in Harlem, New York, into a naval military family, traveled extensively during her childhood and spent the last part of her high school senior year in Alaska. She moved to Bellingham in 1969 to attend Western Washington University.

Brooks, who moved to Seattle in 1971, worked as an investigator for the King County Public Defenders Association as a secretary, investigator, executive secretary to the defender and office manager for the Juvenile Division. One day when she worked for the Juvenile Division, she met her future husband, Herbert Brooks, a firefighter with the Seattle Fire Department. “Two firefighters came into the office to conduct an annual inspection, and later on that afternoon, I got a call from one of them with follow-up questions. I found out later that he knew the answers; he just wanted to meet me.”

They have known each other 45 years and have been married for 43. Herbert retired as a captain for the fire department after 32 years of service. They have four children, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.


Brooks says her college roommate worked for the King County Sheriff’s Office and remembered that Brooks always had wanted to be in law enforcement. She let Brooks know that the office was recruiting for commissioned officers. Brooks applied in 1977 and passed the written and physical tests, before her training at the police academy.

As her career progressed, the sheriff’s department saw Brooks’ potential and nominated her to attend the FBI Academy in 1995. The coursework centered on leadership, current trends, physical training, legal decisions and community policing, one of Brooks’ passions.

“The coursework was interesting, and networking with other law enforcement professionals from around the world was so beneficial,” Brooks says.

In 1997, she was an Atlantic Fellow assigned in London, conducting training on policing for safer communities, policing through partnerships and diversity.

A few of Brooks’ other firsts in the King County Sheriff’s Office: She was the first Black woman to become detective, media relations officer, sergeant, captain and major. She also was the first Black woman and the first Black person appointed to the rank of division chief.

After retiring in August 2004, Brooks has focused on consulting for organizations both local and around the world. Much of her work involves helping to develop policies for unbiased policing. She is president and CEO of Brooks Strategic Assessments & Communications. Her company specializes in training and building community partnerships.


“Community and police can and should be in partnership together by trust-building and exploring implicit biases,” she says.

Brooks was asked for an FBI newsletter whether there was one thing she would have changed about her job.

She answered, “I would have incorporated authentic communication training for law enforcement on a national level. I believe the benefit of improved relationships with members of law enforcement and community residents has a lasting impact on both groups.”

DR. MAXINE MIMMS has devoted her life to education. She is an activist, educator and the founder of The Evergreen State College’s Tacoma campus.

Among the many institutions she has advised is Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

Mimms, born in 1928 in Newport News, Virginia, moved to Seattle in 1953 after her husband took a job with Boeing. She got a job as a teacher, first at Leschi Elementary School.


In 1964, Mimms was one of a few Black individuals promoted to an administrative position for the Seattle Public Schools. In the turbulent year of 1968, she became project director for a teacher in-service sensitivity training program. This was the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It also was a pivotal year in Seattle. There was a battle between the school district and civil rights organizations surrounding the segregation of Seattle schools, and housing redlining practices had divided the city along racial lines. The training program that Mimms directed trained school employees to understand, accept and make racial minorities feel welcome in schools during the period of integration.

In 1969, Arthur Fletcher, who had been a candidate for lieutenant governor in Washington in 1968, was an assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. He asked Mimms to join him in Washington, D.C., to help implement President Richard Nixon’s policy of promoting affirmative action on federal contracts. Mimms worked as a special assistant to Elizabeth Koontz, the Labor Women’s Bureau’s director. Koontz, the first Black woman in charge of a department and the highest-ranking woman in the Nixon administration, established the Human and Civil Rights Division.

In 1972, Mimms returned to the Northwest and education by becoming a faculty member, teaching public policy, at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Mimms commuted from her home in Tacoma to Olympia. But she was bothered by the fact that in Tacoma, there were two private colleges but no public ones — other than community colleges.

“Every bone in me wanted a reset,” she said in a Legacy Project story. “My soul was crying and sad because I was not able to work with people whose skin color looked like mine.”

Mimms took action. She and a friend, Betsy Diffendal, began teaching classes for people in Tacoma at Mimms’ home in the mornings before she commuted to work in Olympia.


Mimms wanted a school that would serve low-income residents of the Hilltop area in Tacoma. She thought the community deserved more. Mimms worked to develop a program that would help working adults, the idea for starting a new college. In the meantime, she kept working with students.

In 1982, her dream was realized when The Evergreen State College, Tacoma, was established. Mimms became the first Black woman in the state of Washington to found a four-year college. The motto of the school is, “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve.”

Mimms retired as the school’s executive director at the age of 90. She’s 94 now, and said in a recent interview that she has no intention of slowing down. When asked what she thought her legacy would be, she was reluctant to say. She’s very humble, so she said perhaps that would be the legacy. “My humility — my willingness to be humble enough to give and to receive.”

Mimms still has an active speaking schedule. “I usually speak on the genius of Black people and re-imagining yourself,” she says.

She was thrilled to see an event she didn’t imagine would happen in her lifetime — the election of the country’s first Black president, Barack Obama. “It was unbelievable and pure joy. I never thought I would see it, and now we have Kamala Harris as vice president. It is something to behold.”

She’s still teaching, forming the Maxine Mimms Academies in 2004. According to its website, the academies serve Puget Sound students temporarily displaced from public education, providing nontraditional postsecondary education. The original emphasis had focused on students who had been expelled, suspended or had dropped out of Tacoma public schools. The academies offer mentoring and job training.