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September 2017 - Segregation at the Beach

James Wheeler, president of the Mt. Baker Park Improvement Club, wrote the following letter to the Board of Parks Commissioners in July 1938:

We are writing you this letter to ask you advice and help on a problem that is an extreme source of irritation to many of our residents in the Mt. Baker Park area. The bathing beach at Mt. Baker Park which our people are accustomed to use, is, year after year, attracting more and more Japanese. No Japanese either rents or owns property in Mt. Baker Park proper, nor can they; and the use of the bathing beach in the center of our district by these people is openly criticized.

We recognize that certain civil rights allow the Japanese the use of this beach; however, our property is adjacent to and entirely surrounds it, and we thereby feel that we have prior rights over those who come to this district from non-adjacent areas. Perhaps it is futile to suggest restrictions in the use of our public beaches, and we are not asking that but suggesting the development of some plan that would allow segregation.

We have in mind, the provision of another and smaller float at the beach between the present float and the boat house to carry signs that its use is restricted to residents of the Mt. Baker Park area. The present beach and float would then be left open to the general public. Such a plan without any attendant publicity on the reason would hurt no one and would certainly please our people in this area. We would be glad if you will discuss this with your board members and advise us.

In a responding letter, Park Board president James Gibbs agreed that the two-raft solution was a good one because “the matter of segregation become almost automatic, without the necessity of arousing a certain amount of antagonism and ill feeling by the placing of signs or directions.” His objection to the plan was only with the financing, as there were not city funds available at that time. He asked whether Mt. Baker residents would be willing to raise money to build the raft.

Wheeler wrote back thanking Gibbs for his letter but saying that neighborhood funding was not possible, given the club’s deficit and other considerations. He urged the Park Board to continue to search for a solution:

The oriental problem has become a matter of great concern throughout the district, and the bathing beach is overrun every day of the summer by Japanese. With your cooperation, I feel confident that this problem can be solved in some manner, and I feel certain that it will be one of our principle matters of interest in the future.

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Letters from box 39, folder 10, Don Sherwood Parks History Files (Record Series 5801-01)