Pacific Northwest Black History

Logging operation (WF 0462) Opens in new windowPacific Northwest Black History covered in Seattle’s Black Victorians 1852-1901

“Washington never had Black laws as did Oregon, and most of the discrimination encountered by Blacks was largely due to the prejudice of individuals,” wrote Esther Hall Mumford in Seattle’s Black Victorians 1852-1901. Mumford noted the cumulative effect, “The racial views of the white population in the territory were basically anti-black.” Even so, Mumford concludes, “Seattle came closer than most places in fulfilling the hopes and dreams of black immigrants looking for a place where a man could be a man, pursuing business, trade, or labor without harassment or proscriptions."

Some of that employment was in the timber mills and the forests supplying them where, "a few (African Americans) also worked in logging along the Sound, rarely exceeding more than one or two black men per crew," according to Mumford. Such a crew was photographed by Anacortes' C. L. Judd at an unknown location. It was likely up the Skagit River as the July 7, 1907 Anacortes American noted, "Judd is upriver at Rockport and his studio will be closed for a time. He will be taking photos of railroad and mining interests." 

Read a review of Esther Hall Mumford’s essential book, Seattle’s Black Victorians 1852-1901 by Feliks Banel 

Banel writes, “One heartbreaking takeaway from the book is the sense that for the first few decades of the city’s existence, Black people in Seattle – who numbered perhaps only several hundred by the end of the 19th century – could pretty much do what they wanted without facing the segregation and discrimination that would become more commonplace in Seattle by the turn of the 20th century.”

One of the most important days in early Anacortes history had a Black presence. That story also features the earliest Black Anacortes residents known by name.

Anacortes American, Volume 2, Number 3, 28 May 1891 Opens in new windowAnacortes' Earliest Black Residents Celebrated 1891 Incorporation in Song for Mayor Hogan

The earliest Black Anacortes residents known by name—Messrs. Lemon, Barnum, and Echols—were employees of the Anacortes Hotel, a five-story turreted brick structure at 8th Street and J Avenue. They took part in an after-party celebrating the incorporation of Anacortes, contributing melodies that were noted in the Anacortes American’s account,  Mayor Hogan serenaded. 

“Learning that Mayor Hogan had retired from the ratification meeting to the Hotel Anacortes, a few of his friends determined on giving him an impromptu serenade, which turned out to be as great a success as though it had been regularly planned for as one of the features of the meeting. Singing, instrumental music, dancing and refreshments were indulged in, coupled with the customary flow of soul and feast of reason in the line of speeches and toasts. Messrs. Goodman, Looney and Petersen, representing the local talent, brought their guitars and banjos and rendered some excellent music, both vocal and instrumental, while an impromptu trio of the colored waiters, consisting of Thomas H. Lemon, Noah F. Barnum and J. W. Echols, sang some negro melodies in good style and with telling effect.”

The main event earlier featured speeches from a makeshift bandstand, lauding Anacortes Incorporation with a bonfire lit at 4th and P that grew so fast the fire department was called to extinguish it. The boom times were short-lived. After the Anacortes Hotel closed, the next destinations of Lemon, Barnum and Echols are not known.

It is not an unimportant part of this story that Mayor Hogan fought on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Mayor Hogan also appears in the only mention of Anacortes in Mumford’s Seattle’s Black Victorians 1852-1901.

The Seattle Republican, Volume 9, Number 17, 26 September 1902 Opens in new windowHorace and Susie (Revels) Cayton: Black Pioneers of Pacific Northwest Journalism

Anacortes was founded by a journalist. Amos Bowman, who wrote for Horace Greeley‘s New York Tribune newspaper in the 1850s, followed his boss’ advice to “go west” and began publishing the Northwest Enterprise here in 1882. From 1890 onward the Anacortes American covered local news, joined at various times by other long forgotten journals. While we appreciate the historical value of these newspapers, and the context of the reporters of the early days, it is crucial to acknowledge that an unfortunate consequence of the arrival of newspapers on Fidalgo Island was the spread of racist reporting directed primarily at the Coast Salish people, Chinese immigrants, and bias against other ethnicities and creeds. Anacortes newspapers frequently ran articles about race conflicts and violence, as well as descriptions of lynching taking place across the country.

A small number of ethnic and minority newspapers and journalists date back before the 1890s in Washington State. By the 1920s a reader could find Cayton’s Weekly, the Japanese-American Courier, the Filipino Forum and the Jewish Transcript all being printed and distributed from Seattle. Their pages offered a refreshingly humanizing alternative to the mainstream White-bias that dominated the Northwest press. Pioneering African American journalists, Horace Cayton and Susie Revels Cayton, presented civil rights advocacy in print from 1889 to 1921 in Seattle; community news was interspersed with alarms sounded about the increase of discrimination that Blacks had hoped to escape when settling on Puget Sound.

Miscellaneous Anacortes news turns up in the pages of Cayton publications, from the Seattle Republican through their weekly, including coverage of Anacortes issues such as the city’s status as both a “wet city” (where alcohol was legal) and one in which women gained suffrage in 1910.  A humorous poke at the former issue noted, “That sea serpent story from Anacortes would indicate that a number of new brands of whiskey are on tap up there and those fellows who saw the wonderful serpent seems to have sampled those brands once too often.” [The Seattle Republican, Volume 9, Number 17, 26 September 1902] 

Two Newspapers in Early Anacortes (Northwest Enterprise and Anacortes American) Opens in new windowTwo Different Northwest Enterprise Newspapers

The earliest Northwest Enterprise was published in Anacortes from 1882–1887. A very different Northwest Enterprise was published from Portland and Seattle between 1920 and 1952. This later Northwest Enterprise was produced for and read by African Americans throughout the Pacific Northwest and was dedicated to the fight for equality.