by Chardonnay Beaver
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, legacy is defined as “the long-lasting impact of particular events, actions, etc. that took place in the past, or of a person’s life.” Black history and culture encapsulates the legacy of Black people. I celebrate those who dared to dream and those who survived despite injustice.
The contribution I celebrate begins with the legacies within my own family. When considering Seattle’s local Black history, I trace the impact of those who came before me.
My Black history begins at an intersection where two bloodlines of Seattleites meet.
The first sequence of events began with my great-great-grandfather Albert. I imagine him to be a sturdy man, grounded in his faith and determined to rise above the racism of the South. Albert had dark blue eyes like the ocean, skin the color of caramel, and a grin that told a story of resilience.
He grew up in Tennessee during the formation of the Jim Crow laws. As a domestic refugee, he left Tennessee and walked the railroads to Seattle. As a teenage orphan, Albert escaped the lynchings in the South.
Albert and my great-great-grandma Bessy met in Seattle. From their union came my great-grandma, Vera. Vera, who I called “granny,” was grace and strength personified. As the eldest of five siblings raised during the Great Depression, she had to be strong.
What helped me to remember her birth year was recalling that she and Martin Luther King Jr. were eight months apart.
She and her family lived on East Olive Street, near Mount Zion Baptist Church (“Mt. Zion”). Albert and Bessy were early members of Mt. Zion. Albert served as a deacon and Bessy was an acclaimed vocalist in Seattle’s gospel circuit.
Vera and her siblings were Central District born and raised. They attended Garfield High School, where Vera’s classmate was Quincy Jones.
Vera’s wedding would be one of the largest ceremonies to take place at Mt. Zion during the 20th century. As a result of her first marriage, she would birth two daughters. Her eldest child, Vicki, was my grandmother.
Vera’s first marriage was an interracial relationship. As a chocolate-toned Black woman, she was often mistaken as Vicki’s nanny. She bore the brunt of de facto segregation that Seattle unfortunately wears well.
Vera would later remarry and have three more children. The eldest of five like her mother, Vicki had to be strong, too. She graduated from Cleveland High School and briefly continued her education at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. She was a service enthusiast, organizing outreach programs with her church.
Vicki was accomplished in more ways than one, but her proudest achievement was her daughters. Although Vicki passed away before I was born, her legacy lives through the lives she impacted.
The eldest of Vicki’s two daughters is my mother.
As this reads, my mother’s lineage in Seattle goes back five generations.
The second sequence of events began with a letter. Relatives allege that my great-grandmother Sarah Finister wrote a letter to President Roosevelt during the Great Depression. At the time, Sarah was a mother of seven children and was living in her husband Roscoe’s hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. The couple were seeking economic opportunities for a better life.
Roscoe’s brother had migrated to Bremerton, Washington, by way of the military. Sarah — determined to secure a promising job for her husband — wrote a letter to the president of the United States requesting job security for Roscoe in Washington. Relatives alleged she received a response letter from the Roosevelt administration informing Sarah that a position would be secured for her husband in Washington, D.C. — to which Sarah replied, “Wrong Washington.”
Eventually, the family of nine joined Roscoe’s brother in Bremerton. They later settled on Dearborn Street in Seattle’s Central District. The family grew an additional five children, the youngest of the last set of twins being my grandmother, Elizabeth (“Liz”).
All 12 of the Finister siblings attended Garfield High School. They would go on to become parents, educators, painters, and more.
Liz went on to marry Fitzgerald Redd Beaver.
Fitzgerald was a pioneering journalist as the founder and chief editor of The Facts Newspaper (“The Facts”). Although he was not from Seattle, his impact on the craftsmanship of publishing and the local Black media circuit has surpassed his lifetime.
Fitzgerald was born in Martinsville, Virginia, in 1922, into an interracial relationship. His mother was Irish American and father was Black. While his father and mother were forced to walk on opposite sides of the street, Fitzgerald, divided by the racial segregation, walked in the middle.
Fitzgerald came to Seattle by way of Portland, Oregon. In the 1950s, his radio show Eager Beaver played throughout Portland’s urban community.
In 1961, Fitzgerald moved to Seattle to manage KZAM-FM (“Kay-Zam”) — the first Black-owned radio station in the Northwest. Kay-Zam was a small, quaint building at 24th and Union, in Seattle’s predominantly Black Central District. However, he soon recognized “the job wasn’t for me,” Fitzgerald said.
In September 1961, the first edition of The Facts Newspaper was published, and, as they say, the rest is history. My grandfather’s vision for The Facts: “to pick up where the daily news leaves off.”
Liz and Fitzgerald raised their three children next door to The Facts’ office, at 26th and East Cherry and (then) Empire Way South — later renamed to Martin Luther King Jr. Way, thanks to grassroots activist Eddie Rye Jr.
The youngest of Liz and Fitzgerald’s children is my dad.
As this reads, my dad’s lineage in Seattle goes back three generations.
These two bloodlines eventually cross at an intersection. This metaphoric intersection was the infamous Earl’s Cuts & Styles, located at 23rd Avenue and Union Street. This is where my dad met my mom.
As a Black woman, when I think of Black history, it can often feel overwhelming. If we examined the accomplishments of everyday Blacks in Seattle alone, the diversity in accolades and talent would be innumerable.
Yet, the talents of Black Seattleites are rarely showcased in local mainstream media organizations. They want a Black readership, but very few stories are told by us, about us.
For this reason, the existence of independent Black-owned community media is imperative.
As a storyteller, I believe one of the greatest ways to serve others is to tell your stories. The legacy I embody represents the sacrifice, tenacity, and faith of those before me. Black history is all around me. My lived experiences, the intersection of my bloodlines, and the stories untold — all of this is my Black history.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated to correct a typographical error.
Chardonnay Beaver is an influential speaker, storyteller, and writer for The Facts Newspaper. Chardonnay partakes in an undergraduate experience at University of Washington. In 2019, she established Words of Wisdom by Char (WOWbyChar): a platform designed to empower individuals in their pursuit of authenticity. To learn more, visit her website.
📸 Featured Image: Chardonnay Beaver poses beside a power box that has been painted with a portrait of Fitzgerald Beaver, her grandfather. The power box was painted by local Seattle artist Desmond Hansen. (Photo: Yon Ekoto, 2021)
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