by Ari Robin McKenna with photography by Chloe Collyer
For those who may find themselves within a sustained moment of historical hopelessness, recent Teach the Truth protest organizer and educator Bruce Jackson would like to point your attention back to the year 1919.
More of a “jumping-off point” reminding us of a need for action than a comparison, Jackson points to themes that are both “massive and consistent.” In 1919, the United States was coming out of a terrible pandemic (the Spanish flu) and blowback about masking had led to unnecessarily high death tolls during the third wave. There was a rash of horrific race riots called “The Red Summer” across the country in over three dozen cities, terrorizing communities and galvanizing resistance. Prohibition also began that year, and World War I had just come to an end. Women gained the right to vote after decades of struggle. Post-war labor tensions led to one-fifth of the nation’s workforce participating in strikes, and locally there was a general strike in Seattle that lasted five days. In the Chinatown-International District (CID), where the Teach the Truth rally was held June 12, 2022, the 2nd Avenue Extension was being built, displacing Chinatown from Pioneer Square to the CID’s current location.
The Teach the Truth rally was part of two nationwide days of action the second year running. It sprang up in response to what the Zinn Education Project says is legislation in 42 states that requires “educators to lie to students about the role of racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, and other forms of oppression throughout U.S. history.”
Seattle’s version is organized by a broad coalition of students, educators, and activists, and involves a walking tour of a neighborhood with frequent stops at sites of historical significance. June’s CID rally followed a March historical tour of the Central District, both involving a guide with a mic followed by a speaker wheeled through the streets.
Organizers put together an information-packed 2-mile route, taking just over two hours to walk, that weaved through the CID, Pioneer Square, and down to the Marion Street Bridge before turning back towards the CID. The crowd, protected at street crossings and during speeches by the Seattle Bike Brigade, did not thin when someone shouted menacing obscenities from a pickup truck, or when they were heckled from an outdoor bar table, or as the afternoon shadows began to elongate. Instead, passersby temporarily swelled their ranks — stopping to listen as the cavalcade paused at a corner near them.
Jennifer Hogue, who teaches elementary school at B.F. Day Elementary School in Fremont and who brought her first-grade daughter along, said, “I’m just happy to be here. I teach fourth grade — which is Washington State history — and so I think it’s really important that our youngest kids learn the truth from the very beginning. That’s why we’re here.”
Here’s a recap of the stops and speakers, with highlights from a couple of the speeches:
A. Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, 719 S. King St.
“In the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson blamed the shooting on anti-racist teaching. He said, ‘We’ve stopped teaching values in so many of our schools. Now we’re teaching wokeness. We’re indoctrinating our children with things like [critical race theory], telling some children they’re not equal to others and they’re the cause of other peoples’ problems.’
“This desperate attempt to shield the weapons manufacturers and gun lobby from any culpability while attempting to blame the massacre on anti-racist education is a particularly vile kind of sophistry given that gun violence is now the leading cause of death for young people.”—Kaley Duong, a recent graduate of Meadowdale High School in Lynwood, reading a speech written by educator and activist Jesse Hagopian
B. Hing Hay Park, 6th Avenue South and King Street
“America in the summer of 1919 ran red with blood from racial violence, and yet today, 100 years later, not many people know it even happened … It was branded ‘Red Summer’ because of the bloodshed and amounted to some of the worst white-on-Black violence in U.S. history. Beyond the lives and family fortunes lost, it had far-reaching repercussions, contributing to generations of Black distrust of white authority. But it also galvanized Blacks to defend themselves and their neighborhoods with fists and guns; reinvigorated civil rights organizations like the NAACP and led to a new era of activism; gave rise to courageous reporting by Black journalists; and influenced the generation of leaders who would take up the fight for racial equality decades later.”—Bruce Jackson, educator at Aki Kurose Middle School and board member of Washington Ethnic Studies Now (WAESN)
C. Potential CID Link Stop, 4th Avenue South
D. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 37, 2nd Avenue South and South Main Street
E. Old King County Courthouse, 410 2nd Ave. Ext. S.
G. Skinner and Eddy Shipyard, Marion Street Bridge
H. International Workers of the World Hall, 117 S. Washington St.
I. Co-operative Food Products Association, South Washington Street and 3rd Avenue South
J. Japanese Labor Association, South Washington Street and 5th Avenue South
Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and curriculum developer in Brooklyn, New York; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, Washington, before settling in South Seattle. He writes about education for the Emerald. Contact him through his website.
Chloe Collyer (they/them) is a Seattle-born photographer, photojournalist, and photo educator whose work is deeply connected to the history and marginalized communities of the Pacific Northwest. For the past decade, Chloe has taught photography to youth while freelancing for local and national editorial clients.
📸 Featured Image: Seattle’s version of the Teach the Truth rally is organized by a broad coalition of students, educators, and activists, and involves a walking tour of a neighborhood with frequent stops at sites of historical significance. (Photo: Chloe Collyer)
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