Remembering Beverly Sims: A Lifelong Advocate

by Kayla Blau 

In late July, we lost a pillar of our community: Beverly Sims. Affectionately known as Ms. Bev, she was a strong, compassionate social justice advocate from the South End, and I was lucky enough to discuss the history of her activism with her before she passed. Despite her relentless community organizing efforts together with her late husband, Tyree Scott, Ms. Bev wasn’t in the habit of boasting about their legacy.

“Oh, Tyree was the same way — he was never one to brag or have a big ego. He was always about sharing ideas over taking credit for them,” Ms. Bev explained.

The activist power couple worked tirelessly over the past four decades fighting for equal rights for People of Color in trade unions. They had two children together, Seth and Eula, and they raised their children in the Central District.

Beverly Sims with her grandson Livi (Photo courtesy of Eula Scott Bynoe)

A Seattle native, Ms. Bev was raised in a working-class family, which helped inform her early work organizing for labor rights. She went on to work at Centerstone (formerly known as CAMP), at King County Public Health as a health educator, and at Broadview Shelter and Transitional Housing Program as a substitute case manager. In her workplace and personal life, Ms. Bev always spoke up in the face of injustice and encouraged everyone to do the same. She was the first Black woman to complete the electrician apprenticeship in Washington (the third to start), and she traveled to Cuba in 1975 with a solidarity organizing collective. She lived in the same house in the Central District for over four decades, and her home became a core organizing hub over the years.

“Neighborhood folks knew our door was always open. Even if someone knocked at two in the morning, Tyree would welcome them in with a smile, asking, ‘What do you need?’ Our kids got used to people coming in and out, having organizing meetings until the wee hours of the morning — they grew up in that. They were so tired of going to organizing meetings!” Ms. Bev shared with a laugh.

She met Tyree in 1973 at Legacy of Equality, Leadership, and Organizing (LELO), a grassroots organizing body fighting for workers’ rights for People of Color. 

“I thought he was mighty cute,” Ms. Bev said. “He was always so charismatic, a really good negotiator, and stayed mellow even when he had to assert himself.”

Co-founded by Tyree, LELO was composed of Black workers from the United Construction Workers Association, Asian workers from the Alaska Cannery Workers Association, and Latino workers from the Northwest Chapter of the United Farmworkers of America who came together to work for racial and economic justice. They fought for equal pay, fought against discrimination in the workplace, and forged a strong presence in trade unions. LELO used class-action lawsuits combined with direct action as a means to empower workers of color and fight against workplace discrimination. In the 1970s, Tyree and Ms. Bev led a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Black construction workers. Through LELO’s legal action and grassroots organizing, the number of Black workers in the Seattle construction trades rose from fewer than 10 in 1970 to more than 600 in 1979.

“Even when Tyree was told the trades were impossible to change, he always believed we could make real change — he was always an optimist,” Ms. Bev said. “I know if he was alive right now, he wouldn’t be discouraged by all this Trump mess. He’d be saying, ‘We’ve got to organize.’”

Ms. Bev and Tyree worked in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 46 union together, where they quickly realized how anti-integration unions were at the time. Many skilled workers of color couldn’t get into the unions, and they weren’t being hired for jobs in the field.

“A union is only as strong as its hiring hall, and back then they weren’t too good,” Ms. Bev explained. The couple would attend union meetings, and they became frustrated when union representatives wouldn’t take complaints seriously.

“They had something at the end of meetings called the State of the Union where they opened the floor to questions and comments. It basically became a venting session, which was frustrating because no change would come from it. Tyree and I went home and researched the Robert’s Rules of Order, which guided union meetings. We found out you have to make a motion before the meeting even started before anything could be changed, so we became more strategic during those union meetings,” Ms. Bev recalled.

“So you had to organize before the organizing meeting … you had to learn their rules,” Eula, Ms. Bev and Tyree’s daughter, pointed out.

“Exactly — you have to speak their language, learn their rules. Nowadays, you have to learn Robert’s Rule of Order wherever you go, in a sense, to make effective change. People have to get educated on how the government works, how you fit into it, and how to play their game to make change,” Ms. Bev said.

Tyree became the leader of the group known as the Central Contractors Association (CCA). Its goal was “a cooperative moral quest for equal compliance in Federal building projects.” In 1969, he led the CCA in shutting down every major federal construction site throughout Seattle to protest the discrimination of minority workers. They ran a bulldozer into a large open pit at the University of Washington, and 100 protesters marched on the flight apron of SeaTac Airport to halt traffic. There were shutdowns at Harborview Medical Center, Medgar Evers Pool, and the King County Administration Building.

Tyree’s activism drew the attention of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a “Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice.” AFSC created the United Construction Workers Association (UCWA), which Tyree later directed. Its original mission was to support People of Color in the workplace with activism, social work, and political advocacy. UCWA later organized lawsuits, led protests, and strongly enforced court rulings.

The Tyree Scott Freedom School, named in his honor, is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). It is a nine-day summer educational program for young people aged 15 to 21 in South Seattle and explores the history of racism, social justice issues, and community organizing techniques. While Freedom School is no longer affiliated with AFSC in Seattle, it continues to operate in the South End to this day. 

From 1975 until 1978, Ms. Bev, Tyree, and others published a community-based left-wing monthly, No Separate Peace. The paper set out to encourage people interested in building unity in diverse communities to understand that there is only one struggle and there can be no separate peace. The struggle was against the divisiveness of racism, sexism, and imperialism. The publication took an intersectional analysis to justice before the word “intersectional” was coined.

During the 1980s, the couple’s organizing efforts went abroad as they worked with locals to form organizations to help laborers in developing countries. The couple met with community leaders from around the country and the world to discuss how they could use what they had in common to make better conditions for them all. Ms. Bev and Tyree moved their family to Mozambique for a year to meet with local community leaders and try to improve infrastructure there. 

“Tyree worked for months to fix up this machine that would make bricks out of the hardened dirt in Mozambique. We were so proud of it, but once we shipped it out there, we found out that wasn’t what the community needed. They really needed an irrigation system, but we thought we knew what they needed before going over there and asking them. That thing has probably never been used to this day! It’s probably in some junkyard in Mozambique still. Just goes to show how problematic it is to go into a community and think you know better than the people that live and lead there,” Ms. Bev humbly shared.

Fran Davidson, close friend of Ms. Bev, recalls meeting Ms. Bev and Tyree when their son, Seth, was enrolled in a co-op preschool she worked at.

“I remember them telling me, ‘If you’re gonna be our son’s teacher and you’re white, you’ve got to read this.’ They recommended “White Teacher” by Vivian Paley — this was in the early ‘80s — and from there we started prioritizing anti-bias curriculum,” Davidson says, adding that Tyree and Ms. Bev were instrumental in anti-bias work in the school. “I was always so grateful to Bev for challenging me to learn more. … she’d always hold me accountable by saying, ‘That don’t make no damn sense!’ Or ‘Oh, that’s so white.’” 

Eula Scott Bynoe, is carrying her parents’ legacy on through, in her own words, being a “community-creating activist with a focus on bringing people together in order to create social change through love and fun.” She started a prominent podcast with friends called HellaBlackHellaSeattle and is a former co-host of KUOW’s podcast “Battle Tactics for Your Sexist Workplace.” She is starting a new podcast with Jeannie Yandel which will discuss how to “tear down sexism, racism, bias and discrimination in all workplaces everywhere.” You can support their important work here

Those who know her aren’t surprised she’s taken up the mantle. “… Eula had a strong sense of justice at a young age,” Fran Davidson recalls. “Even as a 4-year-old, she’d speak up when things weren’t fair.”

Tyree passed away in 2003 from prostate cancer, likely due to his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. As one former client of Ms. Bev shared, “At least she is with her husband now. She loved him so much, and they are finally reunited.” Ms. Bev left a bold impact on our flawed world, and everyone that came into contact with her and her vibrant smile is better for it. 

Rest in power, Ms. Bev. 

A memorial fund to support Ms. Bev’s daughter and grandchild can be found here. Eula Scott Bynoe’s husband passed in March, so the fund is in his name. A Celebration of Life event will take place on Sept. 21, which is Ms. Bev’s grandchild’s birthday as well as International Day of Peace.

Kayla Blau is a Seattle-based writer and poet.

Featured image is attributed to Umar Nasir under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.