BlackPast.org is a website devoted to black history, where you’ll find the answers to these questions and much, much more. Try this quiz, with questions pulled from information found in the historical archive.
Susan Kelleher features Dr. Quintard Taylor, a University of Washington professor, and his website, BlackPast.org, in Sunday’s Pacific NW magazine. Taylor’s site is a treasure trove of African-American history, much of it based in the West. Take this quiz, based on facts from BlackPast.org.
1. What year did African-American students in Seattle stage a boycott to protest de facto segregation and substandard conditions in schools attended primarily by black students?
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2. What event prompted the Seattle City Council to outlaw housing discrimination against African Americans and other minorities?
a) The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964
b) World War II
c) The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
3. What movie sparked a protest when it came to Seattle?
a) “Birth of a Nation”
b) “Gone with the Wind”
4. How did ultramarathon running legend Eddie “The Sheik” Gardner earn his nickname?
a) He lived in a palatial home on Lake Washington.
b) He wore a white towel tied around his head when he trained.
c) He was a descendant of royalty.
5. How many years did African-American community activist Isaiah Edwards work without missing a day?
After years of trying to get the Seattle School District to address inequities and substandard conditions in 13 schools attended by mostly African-American students, 3,000 students staged a boycott on March 31 and April 1, 1966. Instead of attending regular classes, the students went to eight integrated “Freedom Schools” at churches and community buildings in Seattle’s Central District. A group that included about 1,000 white and Asian-American students took classes in African-American history and civil rights. The boycott worked: The Seattle School Board adopted most of the changes the community had spent years asking for.
Discriminatory real estate covenants and racist practices by Seattle real estate agents and sellers was so common in Seattle that by 1960, about 78 percent of the city’s African-American population had been steered toward the Central District.
Efforts to outlaw housing discrimination began in the late 1950s and crystallized in 1959, when Robert L. Jones attempted to buy a house in a white neighborhood. The seller’s refusal resulted in a tortured legal path and a movement that would involve the courts, the state Legislature and the City Council. In 1964, Seattle voters defeated an open-housing measure that would have authorized criminal penalties for discrimination. It was defeated by a more-than-2-to-1 margin.
Community activists made inroads, chipping away at discriminatory practices, including “race relations” training for police, after an off-duty officer shot Robert L. Reese, an African-American man. Meanwhile, Congress passed the federal Civil Rights Act in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, after state police brutally attacked protesters in Selma, Ala. Race riots in Los Angeles and Detroit raised concerns about riots in Seattle. But it was only after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968 that the City Council finally outlawed housing discrimination. The vote, taken three weeks after King’s death, was unanimous. The ordinance was credited to first-term councilman Sam Smith, the first African American to sit on the council.
“The Birth of a Nation” sparked protests, led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, when it first came to Seattle in 1915.
The silent film, with its racist depictions of African Americans, some of whom were played by white actors in blackface, was used as a recruiting tool for the Ku Klux Klan, which was portrayed heroically. “Birth of a Nation” also was the first film screened at the White House under President Woodrow Wilson, who had introduced a policy of segregating federal employees.
The NAACP’s Seattle branch did not succeed in shutting down the film when it first aired, but when it returned six years later, its members persuaded the City Council president to order the police chief to block its showing.
Eddie “The Sheik” Gardner was working at Puget Sound Power and Light Co., maintaining its steam boilers in 1921, when he entered his first long-distance race, the Washington State 10-Mile Championship. According to BlackPast.org, he trained for the race in his “trademark outfit, a white towel tied around his head, a white sleeveless shirt and white shorts. To his Seattle fans, he looked like the desert sheik made famous by matinee idol Rudolph Valentino. They cried out ‘Oh, you sheik!’ ” and the name stuck. Gardner won the annual 10-mile race three times, and branched out to national races, often as the only black runner. The magnificent story of his triumphs, his grace and his courage is one you definitely should read.
Isaiah Edwards (1913-94) never missed a workday in 40 years as a maintenance dispatcher at Boeing. As an activist, he protested the construction of a police precinct in Seattle’s Central District, a predominantly black neighborhood; the closure of schools in the region; and controversial choke holds that were responsible for the deaths of two African Americans in the King County Jail. He also helped integrate Seattle City Light and the Seattle Fire Department, which, in 1963, had only one black employee. In 1962, Edwards became the first African American nominated as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.