WHEN ROOSEVELT HIGH School students designed their 1968-69 yearbook, on the title page and on each of six section-introduction layouts, they paired two versions of a large photo — the first appearing conventionally and the second in a reversed, negative format, as in this week’s “Then.”
This was the first academic year that Seattle Public Schools implemented its Voluntary Racial Transfer Program, an effort to avoid litigation over a perceived failure to integrate schools as mandated by the famous 1954 Supreme Court decision that struck down “separate but equal” education.
As shown in Roosevelt’s 1969 yearbook, the program had a relatively small but visible impact there. Of 1,865 students, about 75 (4%) were people of color, many bused from southern neighborhoods. One of those was Lea Vaughn, a biracial sophomore whose parents chose for her to bus from the Central District, near Washington Park, to Roosevelt and back.
Vaughn, now a retired attorney and emerita University of Washington law professor, is at the core of a grassroots nonprofit, Roosevelt Alumni for Racial Equity (RARE), formed via Zoom during the upheaval over the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
With a 21-member multiethnic board, RARE provides scholarships for students of color and has produced an engaging half-hour documentary, “Roosevelt High School: Beyond Black & White,” which aired twice this year on KCTS-TV and is available online.
With historical data and footage, along with observations from 20 alums, educators and present-day students, the film seeks to “stimulate difficult discussions about race and education.” Interviewees conclude that despite Seattle’s efforts at voluntary, then mandatory, busing, racial equity in city schools remains elusive.
They also characterize a perceived “Seattle nice” as “performative, not reformative” and address the “baked-in” effects of racist covenants and redlining in real-estate sales and rentals that the city finally upended in 1968. A 1936 Kroll map coded areas of Seattle as green (“best”), blue (“still desirable”), yellow (“definitely declining”) and pink (“hazardous”).
Today, Vaughn lives in a Ballard neighborhood that her family would have been barred from inhabiting when she was young. She says, “I think because we used busing as the Band-Aid to not face redlining, we never really dealt with it.”