Restrictions dictated where they could live, but it didn’t stop them from creating a community.
African Americans who came to Seattle during the last century were redlined into limited neighborhoods, which they made their own.
On Oct. 15, residents from throughout King County gathered near the Northwest African American Museum and Jimi Hendrix Park to celebrate a photographic history of African Americans in Seattle’s Central District—memories now on display throughout the heart of the historic neighborhoods.
In a collaborative project, community activists, the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, and King County Metro created 40 photo murals installed in seven bus shelters in the Central District recognizing the history and living legacy of African Americans in this community.
“Knowledge of history enables an understanding of how we got here and what we created, even when the people and places change,” said Marie Kidhe, Co-owner and Principal of Engagement for RieImagine Solutions. “If history rides on community shoulders, then it is our duty as residents of this community-and my duty as a member of it-to ensure that the narratives, accomplishments and legacy of the Black people who proudly served and cultivated the Central District are shared to enlighten and inspire the next generation.”
“At the heart of a neighborhood is the vital beat that is central to its origin and significance,” said Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, President of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State. “A healthy community is one that acknowledges the people, places, and events that helped to build it. The history of Seattle’s Central Area cannot be told, recognized, or documented without full appreciation for the Black residents whose tenacity pushed them to coexist and lay a legacy that we should honor today.”
The mural project—“Routed in History: History Rides on Community Shoulders”— is a celebration of history, resistance, entertainment, education, and information. The 7 locations, and what they symbolize, are:
- The Colman School (Martin Luther King, Jr Way S. & S. Irving St) —The historic site of the longest act of civil disobedience on record in U.S. history and now the location of the Northwest African American Museum.
- Seattle Central College’s Wood Technology Center (23rd Ave S. & S. Lane St) —Which displays the iconic Judkins Park Labor History Mural celebrating the city’s history of labor union activism.
- Seattle’s Jazz scene on 23rd and Jackson (23rd Ave S. & S. Jackson St)—A celebration of the rich history of Seattle’s early jazz performers and the club scene.
- A history of Black-owned newspapers (S. Jackson St & Martin Luther King, Jr Way S.) –Recognition of newspapers past and present that helped keep the community informed.
- Seattle’s historic Garfield High School (23rd & E. Jefferson St) —Bulldog Pride! And the home of the Medgar Evers Pool and the Quincy Jones Performance Art Center.
- The Douglass-Truth Library (Yesler Way & 23rd Ave S.) –Named in honor of two abolitionists, it is the home of one of the largest collections of information and stories by and about African Americans on the West Coast.
- 34th and Union (34th & E. Union St)—Recognizing the neighborhood where the headquarters of Seattle’s Black Panther Party and Seattle’s Black Arts/West Theater were located.
“At a time when African Americans had no choice on where we could live, we planted our seeds in these neighborhoods, and what bloomed was something special and unforgettable,” said Metro General Manager Terry White. “The Central District was our home and our heart. These murals, which are as vibrant as the people they represent, are a reminder and a recognition that while there have been changes, the Central District holds a special place for the African-American community, back then, right now, and into the future.”
Project team members Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, Marie Kidhe, graphic designer Juan Aguilera, and Metro project coordinator Dale Cummings selected the photos. The murals were assembled by Metro for installation in the bus shelters.
“It is important to honor stories and voices that have not been heard, as they provide a fuller picture of our beloved community and provide a source of inspiration for all of us,” said Cummings, the program manager for Metro’s Bus Shelter Mural program.
“Routed in History” is the newest addition to the photographic and painted artwork that are part of Metro’s Bus Shelter Mural program. The program beautifies neighborhoods and connects communities to public art.
You can learn more about the bus shelter mural program at: https://kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/programs-projects/transit-education-outreach/bus-shelter-murals.aspx