The Seattle Open Housing Campaign, 1959-1968
Seattle's African American population increased dramatically between 1940 and 1960, making the community the city's largest minority group. Like other minorities, African Americans experienced discrimination in many ways, including in housing. Until 1968, it was legal to discriminate in Seattle against minorities when renting or selling real estate. Establishing fair and open housing in Seattle proved to be a long and difficult task.
The enforcement of restrictive covenants was one method used to keep black families out of white neighborhoods. These covenants are deed restrictions that apply to a group of homes or lots in a specific development or 'subdivision.' An example of a restriction based on race is: "No person or persons of Asiatic, African or Negro blood, lineage, or extraction shall be permitted to occupy a portion of said property." This and other acts of discrimination, such as realtors agreeing not to show houses to people of color, and red-lining, where banks denied credit to minorities, largely confined black residents to the Central Area in Seattle.
One avenue taken in fighting housing discrimination was the attempt to change the law to make it illegal to discriminate when selling or renting. In December 1961, the Seattle City Council held a public hearing in response to a request from the Seattle branch of the NAACP for passage of an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing. Many groups spoke in favor of the ordinance; representatives of the Seattle Real Estate Board and the Seattle Apartment Operators' Association spoke against legislation.
The Mayor's Citizen's Advisory Committee on Minority Housing, appointed in July 1962, recommended in December 1962 that "a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination in the sale or rental of housing accommodations on the basis of race, creed, color or national origin is an essential tool..." The Mayor and City Council declined to act on the Committee's recommendations.
In July 1963 a protest march led to a sit-in at the Mayor's office to bring attention to the inaction on open housing legislation. The Seattle Human Rights Commission was created in response to this and other protests. The Commission drafted an open housing ordinance before the end of the year and referred it to City Council. The Council held public hearings on the issue but declined to pass the ordinance as proposed by the Commission. Instead, Council placed the issue on the ballot for a March 1964 vote. Opponents of the issue called it "forced housing" legislation, and claimed it violated their property rights. Voters turned down the open housing ordinance on March 10, 1964, by a vote of 115,627 to 54,448.
Between 1963 and 1968, there were voluntary efforts to establish fair housing practices. Organizations such as the Fair Housing Listing Service and Operation Equality worked to match buyers with sellers. National legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public places and in schools, helped change people's attitudes.
Finally, on April 19, 1968, three weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., an open housing ordinance was passed unanimously by the City Council, with an emergency clause to make it effective immediately. It was signed by the Mayor the same day.
The open housing legislation was broadened in 1975 to make it illegal to discriminate based on sex, marital status, sexual orientation and political ideology, and in 1979 age and parental status were added. In 1986, creed and disability were added to the law and in 1999 gender identity was added.
- Restrictive covenant from Windermere neighborhood (April 1, 1929)
- Letter from Mayor Devin to City Council with regard to legislative action concerning racial equalities (January 28, 1946)
- City Council Resolution 14192 regarding discrimination in employment (January 28, 1946)
- Letter to City Council from Christian Friends for Racial Equality regarding plat with restrictive covenants in Windermere plat (May 12, 1949)
- Letter to City Council from Civic Unity Committee of Seattle regarding covenants (June 12, 1953)
- Response from City Council regarding restrictive covenants (June 18, 1953)
NAACP Request for Passage of Ordinance Prohibiting Discrimination in Housing
- Letter to City Council from NAACP regarding ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing (November 30, 1961)
- Statement of Caroline Root against open housing legislation (December 5, 1961)
- Letter from John Huttman in favor of NAACP request for passage of ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing (December 7, 1961)
- Comments of Edwards E. Merges on behalf of Apartment Owners Association regarding open housing legislation (December 11, 1961)
Lake Washington Realty
- Letter from E. June Smith to Better Business Bureau (April 26, 1962)
- Letter to Mayor Clinton from E. June Smith on behalf of NAACP (April 26, 1962)
- Letter from City Corporation Counsel A.C. Van Soelen to E. June Smith (May 2, 1962)
Citizens' Advisory Committee on Minority Housing report
- Selections from report of the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Minority Housing (December 1962)
- Letter from Mayor Clinton to City Council regarding the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Minority Housing report (December 24, 1962)
- Letter from Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to Mayor Clinton (December 28, 1962)
- Letter from Sidney Gerber to Mayor Clinton (January 11, 1963)
Proposed 1963 Open Housing Legislation
- Proposed Open Housing Ordinance pamphlet (1963)
- Audio clips and transcripts from Committee of the Whole hearing regarding open housing (October 25, 1963)
- Petition of Seattle Japanese Hotel and Apartment Association in favor of proposed Open Housing Ordinance (October 25, 1963)
- Paid advertisements in newspaper for "no" vote and "yes" vote (1963)
- Fair Housing Listing Service flyer (1963)
- March for Open Housing flyer (March 7, 1964)
- Letter from CORE to Mayor Braman regarding Picture Floor Plans, Inc. (April 18, 1964)
- Correspondence regarding appointment of Charles Z. Smith as Judge of Municipal Court
- Seattle Human Rights Commission meeting minutes (September 19, 1967)
1968 Open Housing Ordinance
- Proposed Open Housing Ordinance pamphlet (1968)
- Letter from Bill Sourwine to Mayor Braman (April 5, 1968)
- Letter from Mr. and Mrs. Winfield S. King. to Mayor Braman (April 6, 1968)
- Letter from Caroline Root to Mayor Braman (April 7, 1968)
- Letter from Apartment Operators Association to City Council (April 11, 1968)
Bauman, Robert. "Jim Crow in the Tri-Cities, 1943-1950." Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Summer 2005, Vol. 96, No. 3.
Davis, Kate. "Housing Segregation in Seattle : An update of A Study and Data on Segregated Housing in Seattle . Seattle Human Rights Department, 1976." 2005.
Taylor, Quintard. The Forging of a Black Community: A History of Seattle's Central District, 1870-through the Civil Rights Era. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994.
Schmid, Calvin F. and McVey, Jr., Wayne W. Growth and Distribution of Minority Races in Seattle, Washingon. Seattle: Seattle Public Schools, 1964.
"Case studies on process of integration in neighborhoods of Seattle, Washington : A Report." Greater Seattle Housing Council, Research Committee, 1960.
Watson, Walter B., and Barth, Ernest A. T. "Summary of recent research concerning minority housing in Seattle." Institute of Sociological Research, Department of Sociology, University of Washington, 1962.
"A study and data on segregated housing in Seattle, Washington (H-3721). Seattle Human Rights Department for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1976.
Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project Especially useful for information on restrictive covenants
African Americans in the West Professor Quintard Taylor's website - Contains information at the national level about civil rights, including a timeline and primary source documents.
Primary Sources at the Seattle Municipal Archives
Seattle Office of the Mayor Records Search for folders on housing, human rights and civil rights.
Office of the City Clerk Comptroller/Clerk Files Index Items filed with the Office of the City Clerk. Use Index Terms "civil-rights, housing" or "housing, discrimination."