Black History Month in Seattle

National and Regional Observance

February is Black History Month! It was originally declared as "Negro History Week" in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson (historian and a founder of the Association for the Study of African American History), who selected the month to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and Frederick Douglass on February 14. Woodson's initiative originally was intended to inspire teachers to incorporate Black history into their lessons, and to urge Americans to learn more about their own heritage. At the time, Woodson said, "If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated."

Annually, individual governors and mayors designated the second week in February to honor Black history. In the 1960s, as the civil rights movement fostered awareness and pride in Black identity, the traditional week had evolved into Black History Month at many colleges across the country. In Washington State, by 1971 the title was changed to Black History Week in Governor Dan Evans's declaration of the holiday, and the Thurston County Urban League expanded the celebration to a full month. The federal government officially changed their designation to Black History Month as part of the 1976 Bicentennial celebrations, as President Gerald Ford encouraged Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history." As the holiday expanded, celebrations evolved to honor the history, achievements, art, music, and culture of the American Black community.

Local Observance

Washington State and Seattle began honoring Black History Month as part of "National Negro History Week" on February 6-12, 1927, sponsored by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (later the Association for the Study of African American History). In the early years, celebrations were sponsored annually by community and religious organizations in the local Black community including Mount Zion Baptist Church, the Seattle Urban League, Washington Federation of Colored Women’s Organizations, the local chapter of the NAACP, Christian Friends for Racial Equity, and the Washington State Council of Churches. On February 14, 1936, Mrs. Homer Harris hosted a celebration for Black History Week in collaboration with the Historical Society.

Notably, the Seattle Public Library collaborated with the Seattle Urban League as one of the first local government institutions to establish an annual tradition of hosting events celebrating Black Americans and the history of the Black community in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Urban League would procure artifacts, books, artwork and other educational materials created by Black Americans that were exhibited at the library and used in Seattle Public Schools curriculum. Since 1937, SPL has invited the public to celebrate by attending events including speakers, musical performances, film festivals/screenings, theatrical performances, authors, poets and historians. The first display of books was curated by Nettie J. Asberry, President of the Washington Federation of Colored Women's Organizations. In 1965, SPL's African-American collection was seeded by a donation of books from the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority to the Yesler Library branch in the Central District. In 1975, the branch was renamed Douglass-Truth in honor of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth.

Mayor Gordon S. Clinton proclaimed "Negro History Week" the second week in February each year from 1959-1961. Mayor Braman declared February 12-20, 1966 the week to celebrate Black history in Seattle. The Mayor said that "the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History had take a leading role in acquainting" the community with the history of Black Americans. The Seattle Human Rights Commission promoted the proclamation in their February 1966 newsletter.

On February 6, 1995, the Seattle City Council unanimously adopted Resolution 29075 "proclaiming February, 1995 as African American History Month." Similarly on February 22, 2000, the Council passed Resolution 30124, "acknowledging Black History Month and celebrating the inestimable importance of African-Americans in American History." An annual proclamation by the Mayor and resolutions from City Council have continued since then.

Resources

Seattle Municipal Archives

Black History Month in Seattle is a virtual collection of textual resources, photographs, and moving images relating to the City of Seattle's annual celebration.

City Light Advertising Scrapbook V, 1967-1974: 1970s advertisements reflect growing awareness of diversity and include sponsored ads for Black History Month (detailing the lives of prominent African-American leaders) and promoting City Light's equal opportunity hiring practices.

Local Newspapers

Historic newspaper articles on Black History Month in Seattle: The Northwest Enterprise was published every Friday from 1920 to 1952. The newspaper was dedicated to honest journalism and, above all, the fight for equality for African Americans in the Northwest, across the nation, and throughout the world. Based in Seattle, the Enterprise had loyal readers all over the region, incorporating news and features from Portland, Oregon, to Helena, Montana, and served a mostly middle-class African American readership. Edited and published by John O. Lewis, the Northwest Enterprise billed itself as "A Newspaper the People Read, Love and Respect."

Black History Month articles in the South Seattle Emerald