Storyteller Brings Tale of Racism’s Defeat to South Seattle

by Virginia Wright

The Rainier Valley Historical Society in partnership with Humanities Washington will be bringing Eva Abram’s presentation, “Defeating Racism Today: What Does it Take?” to the community. The event offers the public a second opportunity to attend this riveting talk; The Northwest African American Museum offered this same presentation earlier this month.

Ms. Abram will speak about the history of racism and its impact on today’s communities. She will also discuss the persistence of institutionalized racism even after decades of progress and efforts aimed at eradication. This is an excellent opportunity to connect history with current events, and to explore ways forward that will be more effective at lessening the destructive impact of racism in our communities.

The 98118 zipcode prides itself on its ethnic diversity, and many of its residents experience the direct and indirect impacts of racism as daily lived experience. Naturally, discussions of racism emerge from within the local community regularly, in various formats and situations, including online.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the wealth of diversity in Southeast Seattle, including the legacy of racism expressed through housing discrimination, as described in “Racial Restrictive Covenants:  Enforcing Neighborhood Segregation in Seattle,” by Catherine Silva, as part of the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, excerpted below:

“Racial restrictive covenants have had a profound and lingering impact on the Seattle area, reflected even today in the distribution of minorities through the city and its suburbs.  A look at the demographic maps from 2000 on the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project website, demonstrates that the majority of African Americans continue to live below the ship canal, primarily in the Central District and sprawling southward through Rainer Valley and into the southern suburbs.  Asian Americans are more widely distributed, but are also more heavily concentrated in Central and South Seattle rather than in the North, which remains, along with Queen Anne, Magnolia, and West Seattle, largely White.”

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Photo Credit: Rainier Valley Historical Society
Photo Credit: Rainier Valley Historical Society

This photo of the 1928 graduating class of Whitworth Elementary School reflects the early, largely white population of the surrounding communities. During the years of the “Boeing Bust,” the school’s student body shifted from 89% white and 1% black in 1964 to 39% white and 45% black in 1975, changes in demographics that were typical of many parts of Southeast Seattle.

Anti-racist activism during the Civil Rights era is an important part of our history as well. Highlighted by the Franklin High School protest in 1968, which was sparked by an incident in which two female students were sent home for “Afro” hairstyles, segregation and unequal educational opportunities within the Seattle Public School system have contributed stories to the narrative of local history. In the Franklin incident, under the leadership of members of the Black Student Union of the University of Washington, 200 students staged a walkout, and presented demands to the principal which included adding black history to the curriculum and the addition of black teaching staff and administrators. (See “From Memphis and Mogadishu: The History of African Americans in Martin Luther King County, Washington, 1858-2014”)

Any discussion of racism in the United States invokes history, and Eva Abram’s talk will make the correlation explicit. The following is the Humanities Washington introduction to the presentation:

“Does the eradication of racist laws really combat institutionalized racism? How does subtle and sometimes hidden institutionalized racism affect the citizens, economy, and future of Washington state?  Abram talks about the history of racism, and how it affects specific groups in our society today. She explores how the painful experiences of Jim Crow laws and slavery might ultimately support the pride and achievements of contemporary generations of African Americans. And she discusses how the invisible divide of racism – fed by both knowledge and ignorance – continues to exist despite progress to eradicate it made in recent decades. Conversation and cooperation can inspire progress and action to defeat that divide, and during this discussion, Abram makes suggestions on how to achieve that goal.”


About Eva Abram:

“Eva M. Abram has performed in schools, theatres, and history museums throughout the northwest. As an actor, public speaker, and avid lover of history, Abram writes and performs stories about people and events that have shaped our state and our nation. Using the crafts of acting and storytelling, she creates dramatic presentations that explore race and race relations.  She presents compelling, little-known stories of African Americans as well as stories that examine how business, government, and public policies affect social practices.Ms. Abram holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Policy/Public Policy from the University of Washington.”