Category Archives: history

Mt. Zion and Civil Rights

As promised when posting Barbara Thomas’ remarks, here is a very brief primer on Mt. Zion Baptist Church and involvement in Seattle Civil Rights history.

Mt. Zion Baptist Church was founded in 1894 with 8 founding members who met in a building on the University of Washington campus. In its early years it moved several times and had a number of pastors. Buying property at 19th and E. Madison in 1918, it remains there today.

Between 1920 and 1957, there were only 5 pastors and several were active in the community as voices for civil rights.

  • Reverend F.W. Pennick (1940-1942) was a civil rights activist
  • Reverend F.B. Davis (1942-1954) ran for Seattle City Council in 1946. There were only 3500 registered African American voters in the city but he got 27,000 votes.
  • 1948-1958 brought Reverend Samuel Berry McKinney to Mt. Zion.
    • 1961–McKinney hosted Dr. Martin Luther King at Mt. Zion. This was King’s only visit to Seattle.
    • 1963–McKinney led a march of 400 to promote and end to Seattle’s housing segregation.
    • 1966—500 children attended a Freedom School at Mt Zion during the Seattle schools boycott. This Freedom School was one of 7 churches and 2 YMCAs participating, for two days (3/31 and 4/1) when about 4000 children boycotted the public schools, protesting the segregation of the schools and the quality of the education.

Throughout the years Reverend McKinney and Mt. Zion have maintained their activist activities. And for many years we could watch Reverend McKinney, along with Patronella Wright and the Total Experience Gospel Choir perform Langston Hughes Black Nativity at the Intiman.

For more information:

Blackpast.org. http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/mount-zion-baptist-church-seattle-washington-1890

Seattle School Boycott of 1966. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_school_boycott_of_1966

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The Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Key Note at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Seattle

I am pleased to post this guest blog by Barbara Thomas, who I am lucky to know because about 22 years ago we started to work together as doctor and patient. Barbara is a brilliant and creative artist, writer, and so much more.  A view of what she creates and shares is on her web site here. This year, on January 16, 2015, she was the keynote speaker at the Reverand Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Seattle. It is important to note that Mt. Zion has played an important role in the Seattle civil rights movement since at least 1940 (more about that in another post).  For today, here is Barbara’s speech.

          Dream and the Dream Catcher–MLK Day—Barbara Earl Thomas –

January 16, 2015

I am humbled and amazed to be here today to speak in honor of the day and on the occasion when we all pause for a moment to consider what this day means to us and our nation. I thank first Jill Wakefield, Chancellor of the Seattle Colleges for the invitation, Earnest Phillips, Seattle Colleges Executive Director of Marketing and Communications for the great support and Senior Pastor Aaron Williams for continuing the grand tradition of having this address at the Mount Zion Baptist Church.

I am additionally honored to stand at the podium in Mount Zion Baptist Church, led so long by our very own Samuel B. McKinney, who in 1961 arranged and hosted the one and only visit to Seattle that Dr. King would ever make. They stood together two human beings—with all the other human beings stated their case, shaped the vision that has sustained us all of these years. Just imagine: the humanness of their being—mere mortals (like you and me) facing that Mount Olympus-sized dream.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed a dream so eloquently that we are often left speechless in its wake.   When he told us that, “This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality—1963 is not an end but a beginning,” that is where I have to start every day. We stand, each one of us, as a link in the line from that place Dr. King called the beginning. On that day we were given a vision, hope and a star to reach, not knowing in that moment, in1963, all that would befall us as a people or nation. Even as we mourned the assassination of Medgar Evers we could not foresee the assassinations of John F. Kennedy nor take in the possibility that Dr. King would himself be mowed down, his death, killing hope in its wake.   We could not imagine the depths of Vietnam and all the wars that would bring us to September 11, 2001 when the world as we knew it stopped, stunned into the realization that it had come to this. If we didn’t know before, we know now we are in this spaceship together.

At the moment Dr. King delivered those now immortal words—“I may not get there with you,” he faced thousands of hopeful people who helped to make that particular moment possible. I do not diminish Dr. King when I say he (we) would not have gotten here without all of those who took up the seemingly small but crucial tasks. Today we must remember the John Lewises and Fredrick Reeses, the Ralph Abernathys, Ella Bakers and Bayard Ruskins who worked tirelessly off the podium, to the side, out of the spotlight. Dr. King was carrying their torch and he spoke for them. I pay homage to all of those who got on buses, on trains or in their cars to mark that moment. But I also remember the mothers and fathers who were unable to attend but kept the home fires burning, attended their children, kept the school doors open, worked their jobs, and guarded the voting booth or gave a hand to the less strong along the way.

When I think of the small steps, I start with my very own existence by way of my grandparents, Doc and Ethel Lee, and people like them, who came here in the early 1940s would eventually send for the daughters – in my case, Lula Mae who would become my mother and, her sister, Annie. They, like the grandparents and parents of so many, migrated here from Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas and all parts south to start anew.  They came looking to work hard and find that American Dream. My father would arrive by way of the military, having completed the 9th grade and my mother the 11th. One might say why did she quit? She was so close, only a year away from graduation. Ah, that was a subtle custom, a brutal dream killer. If you were Black, in that place, the 11th grade was as high as you were allowed to go. She was stopped, sure enough, but she did not quit. She simply lifted her dream and moved it forward to her children. Little did I know that I was her/their dream-catcher. I held their dream, never knowing how full I was of their hope. I, and most of my classmates, could not in our young lives appreciate or imagine the gravity of what we represented to those people who sent us out of the house everyday. We could not decipher the pride on their faces, the lilt in their voices as they spoke among themselves about us.

When we graduated it was not an individual accomplishment but a family triumph. Only years later would I understand and feel the magnitude of what now seems like such a small thing to hope for a child. I did not suffer the hardscrabble, sharecropping, cotton-picking life of my parents and grandparents. This was, by no means, luck on my part, but a well-laid plan, seeded by a grandfather’s courage when he struck out into the unknown. I did not experience the segregated south or Jim Crow trains but I understood, as many of you here do, that my small accomplishments were part of a larger hope passed onto me, not always in words, but through a look, a sigh, and the embodiment of their hard work.   It was my/our job to get the goods, grasp the knowledge, the word, and the secret of the system and bring it home and share it with whoever needed to know.

Today with the ubiquity of the Internet, Facebook, Instagrams and Tweets the big moments now come to us in an instant, cause a momentary explosion of comment, only to be replaced by another startling world event. The good news is it is ever more clear that we are bound together and responsible to each other. As we share the human spectacle no transgression is hidden for long. The bad news is that the repetition of the images can cheapen even the most fantastic human event. We stand stunned in the face of impending environmental disaster; global and local terrorism; the images and sounds of the suffering confront us. As they happen, we are dwarfed in the shadow of their enormity.

What can we in our smallness do? We who glean the fields today gather those shafts of wheat left behind. In grief from so much loss, this work may be our salvation.   Our job, in these days of “endless blogs” and “lives gone viral”, may be again to find the sacred in the mundane act of everyday living.   As ordinary as it sounds when we send our children off to school each day—we re-enact a sacred ritual for which people have risked beatings and death to achieve. It is an impulse rooted deep in our human make up to embark on this eighteen year commitment –where one day builds the week, month and years that culminates in the moment when all the small steps add up to one well-prepared life. As each educator stands in front of the classroom he or she will struggle with the inadequacies of the resources, but daunted as that teacher is he/she finds a way to connect with the student who is somebody’s child and the future of us all.   When we resonate, as we must, during brief flashes of clarity, we grasp that each and every one of us matters, because without the work, hope, love and dedication of the many, that moment in 1963 would never have happened.   Who knows, if we will in our life times, have that kind of moment again? But I say, maybe this is the time not of the one, but of the many.

I am grateful to those of you who have raised your families when you might rather have been doing something else; those of you who helped a young person who was not your own child; given money and time for the betterment of your community even when you got little or no notice—you may not be thanked but you will do it regardless. I want to thank those of you who have gone into teaching when it was clear that it was no place to make a fortune, but it remains one of the most important professions for any community who knows what is truly at stake.   Our next big challenge as a community and nation will be to reclaim higher education as an affordable right for the many, not a luxury for the few. We have to take it back from those lending institutions that would bankrupt our families and children, mortgage their futures.

My first venture into college was at what was then called Seattle Community College—as an evening student, where I took my very first English class. My mother and her best friend Viola who was also my hairdresser, dropped me off on Summit Avenue Annex at 6pm and picked me up at 9pm. I don’t know what those two young ladies did when they left. I know they didn’t sit outside and wait for me for 3 hours–but I never asked. It never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be there.

Today I ask you to remember the aspiration, the small steps needed to arrive. It’s not okay to say that because we can’t do the monumental that our individual contributions don’t matter. Who are we to say that our “one” vote means nothing? Who are we to overlook the life of even one child lost in violence or despair? In these days when we are overwhelmed by the wave of the Michael Browns, Trayvon Martins or the child who kills himself or another, none of it is okay and I say that every small thing matters.

In this light, Dr. King’s speech is a love letter sent to a future that he would not see. And, it is a message, for all of humanity. In 2015 when the gravity of poverty yet exists— and societal injustice brings no relief from the violence we heap upon each other—we wonder if we have moved the needle of progress at all. When in doubt, take the harvest from your fruit trees to the food bank—volunteer at your local school whether you have children or not.

When my grandfather decided in the 1940s to move his family from rural Shreveport, Louisiana to Seattle, it was no small move. These former sharecroppers and cotton pickers were the sons and daughter of those who passed on a direct memory of slavery. They were the many un-graduated from any high school with no diplomas offering up hands in labor and arms in defense of the only country they knew.

Today let us remember the individual stories, the small kindnesses of he who opens the door, holds the train, shares the food, the knowledge, the kind word— In 2015, I am charged with remembering the gifts of all those who came before me. These individuals were part of the raw stuff of the dream to which Martin Luther King, Jr. would refer. As I stand in Mount Zion Baptist Church, I must speak of Reverend Samuel B. McKinney, who in 1961, met with Martin Luther King Jr. right here in Seattle. He, himself a 1949 graduate of Morehouse College, was exemplary to all in his parish of the value of education, the power of voice matched with reason. As the church was one of the pivotal symbols of unity in Seattle’s Central District, the core of the African American community and continues to be that for many. We were neighbors who held a tightly knit community together and the businesses that served them and us. In 2015 we lament many of the changes but we also take heart and are charged with naming the successes of those who have caught the dream and moved it forward. We still stand for uplifting the race, community and the country. My grandfather used to say “If you live long enough you gonna see some of everything.”

Many of us have lived long enough to remember Sam Smith, the first Black City Councilman; the election of Norman B. Rice as our the first Black Mayor of Seattle; Ron Sims first King County executive; Larry Gossett, County Council; Dr. Charles Mitchell a Seattle Colleges Chancellor; Judge Charles Z Smith and Charles Johnson and Richard Jones all exemplary leaders; and Dr. Ben Danielson at Odessa Brown; Charles Johnson, author, National Book award winner and MacArthur Genius; Octavia Butler, award-winning science fiction writer; and August Wilson, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright spring from our culture to live among us to tell their and our stories. And, yes there is Barack Obama, the first Black president of the United States of America.

I pray, let me never be so overwhelmed or habituated to the grand gesture that miracles such as these no longer impress me. I say we are here today to engage in the “mindfulness” that recognizes these are still events for which we should and can be grateful every day. There is a place for, and merit in being the second, even third or fourth–Mayor, City or County Council person, community leader and National Book Award winner, scientist and doctor. These achievements remind us that there was a time, not so long ago, before that first, when we never thought we would live to see the day. Our job now is not just to pass the dream on, but to take it out, brush off the tarnish of any personal disappointments and pass it on as we ourselves receive it, in all its fresh wonderment. Today let’s remember to re-appreciate and re-engage and be amazed. This may not be the moment for the one—but it just might be the time for the many.

Women Authoring Change

my 2012 abode

my 2012 abode

In the past I wrote about Hedgebrook. (radical hospitality) And I shared about the women who were there when I was. women writers  And their cook book (here) is amazing, reminding me of the weight I gained during my residency in 2012. Well now it is time for YOU to apply for a residency.  Check it out here!  If granted, it is like nothing you will have ever had given to you.  One constellation of six who were there when I was are pictured below, representing several nations, multiple genres, and huge heart. Also, throughout the year, they have master’s classes as well.  For a weekend or longer, you will have your own little cottage, 5 other writers, solitude, amazing surroundings, and a master teacher. https://sharondobiedotcom1.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/post-debate.jpg An 2011 article in the Guardian   showed that in Britain and the US, male authors are reviewed 3 times more often than women. And guess what?  Who do you think the reviewers are?  Yes, similar proportions for reviewers: men: women 3:1. VIDA does an annual evaluation.  In 2013 the NY Times and The Paris Review made big progress, but check out the tables.  We still have a long way to go to have women’s voices heard in print. (VIDA) Hedgebrook supports women writers.  In particular it wants to support women authoring change.  My three weeks there in 2012 were life altering thanks to the vision of the place, the belief in the work I was/am doing, the amazing nurturing of the staff and the place, the women who were there with me, and the space to be there. Please do check it out:  Go there for a master’s class.  Apply for a residency.  Support them.  Go to their events.

Josephine Ensign wrote about Elizabeth Austen, her poetry and the event where she read. (see blogs I follow)  Elizabeth is the Washington State Poet in Residence, truly gifted and a Hedgebrook Alum. Check out her blog and her work here. Go to one of her events.

Support women authors! Our voices matter. In the farmhouse at Hedgebrook, where we gather for dinner with our amazing chefs, there is a living room with floor to ceiling and wall to wall (except for the fireplace) bookshelves, all full.  Every book in the shelves is by or includes a Hedgebrook alum.  Let us work together to publish so much that we must support Hedgebrook building a new building or modifying some of their other buildings to house all the works of the women who pass through there.

Single Story continued

It is the night before Thanksgiving, and here I sit eating potato chips and promising myself a glass of wine when I finish this post (neither of which is good for my blood pressure or my cholesterol, speaking of the choices theme), needing to make stuffing and cranberry sauce tonight, shallots and brussel sprouts tomorrow,  one son downstairs viremic, the other just here from SoCal out on the town, and me, trying to sort out what has been swirling in my mind.

What to post?  Oh yes, and Allie the aged dog is scratching at my study door.  If I let her in, she will whine for attention.  If I don’t she will not go downstairs and bug the 25 year old. I could post about how my sons already see me as a daft old woman.  NO that is for another day.

Keeping it simple, I’ll stay with the theme of the single story.

I have a lot of friends who are anti military. I don’t agree with many of the actions we have taken in the world either.  And I want there to be more than the military as paths towards maturity and upward mobility available to poor, struggling in school, and minority youth. If it were on an equal footing with college, vocational training, being an entrepreneur, and if it did not involve a higher risk of dying, well, I might feel differently.  Point is, as I see it, though  no country is without a military.  So I’m not going to dis its existence; it seems to me it has to be.  I have many thoughts about war and its consequences and about our politics that have led us into war, but that too might be for another day.  I do accept that we will have a military. Do I want my kids choosing it given the recent decades of engagements?  no. Would they have my support if that were their choice?  A reluctant yes, because I do not live their lives.

Second point is:  how do you see people in the military?  Regardless of your political positions, how do you see them?  Do you have a story for the soldiers? the marines? the navy? the enlisted vs the officers?  the policy makers vs those who follow the orders? How does it break down for you?

I suspect many of us have a single story, whether it is pro or con.

Try to put yourself back to the early 1950s.  Picture a navy ship, a destroyer.  Ship and MascotIt’s during the Korean conflict.  Many if not most of the sailors on this destroyer are 18-20 years old, their first time away from home.  Sure, they had their basic training, but this is really away, three months “at sea.”  There is a captain of this ship.  His job is to get them to the part of the Pacific where they can do what the Department of Defense tells them to do.  It is a war in the eyes of the US Government and the military.

Draw a picture in your mind and start with the story of these young sailors and life on the ship in the middle of battle.  Do the same for the guy at the top, the captain.  His job is order, following orders, keeping everyone on task and the ship afloat. Maybe jot down your thoughts.

My father was the captain, in his thirties. dad3 Fast forward to 1969, and he was in some major position and stationed in Newport RI.  I could not drive my car on base (where my parents lived) with my anti-Viet Nam war stickers on my car. People hearing I was raised in the navy often gave me a single story: how I could come from that family?  They gave my dad a single story:  military brass are authoritarian and militaristic. On the other side, some could not understand the complexity of my beliefs. I was not anti-American  The contradictions and the huge space between two absolutes are sometimes so hard for people to handle, when in reality they are what define and embrace us all.

How could my father, this person who was in Pearl Harbor when it was bombed, on the USS Minneapolis when it was torpedoed, losing many men (and limping into a harbor to rebuild the hull out of bamboo and sailing back to mainland) be anything more than a true military man? How could he then go on to serve in both Korea and Viet Nam and not be locked into one view? Both ends of the spectrum would see it that way.  Do you inhabit the ends of the spectrum? And how many actually do?

I have many stories that round him out to the complex person he was. He was a true military man who loved his profession, not war, his profession—and he was more.  A few years ago, some of those 18 year old sailors, now in their 80s found my sibs and me.  One shared a letter that his parents had saved, sent to them back in those Korean War days.  It is below and I hope it shifts your lens from the picture you had. If you click on the image, it should enlarge so you can read it. As we approach Thanksgiving, my hope is that we all will be thankful we have the capacity to use our lenses to be wide angled.

Untitled 2If you missed it yesterday, I still recommend the talk by Chimamanda Adichie.

Awakening in the USA

Some ask, what do all my posts,  health policy mixed with family, memoir,  have to do with moments?  We live in them!  Moments have content.  These current times will be remembered when most national elected officials from both parties share some of history’s lowest approval ratings. Moments, where we live, how conscious and intentional we are, how we use them, are really all we have.  Relationships happen within them.  Relationships end within them.  Both lead to change and either forward or backward movement. I am a generalist and have many domains in play at any given moment.  There are many who can attest that I cannot be narrowed: my parents and grandparents, my college advisor, my grad school advisor, the specialists who wanted me to pick their field during med school, and on and on and on.  For me the threads connect. My hope is that readers will see what the moments mean when I write (and maybe want to read the book if someone takes it and it moves from manuscript to book, Life Lessons, What Our Patients Teach Us)

Today and this week  the press is reminding us of 1863 and 1963.  The events they remember were touchstones in my life. 1863 was having its hundredth anniversary in 1963 when many moments were pivotal for me.

There I was, a recent transplant (August 1962) from California to Virginia, sophomore in high school.  Me: a pudgy teen with acne and a decent brain in the throes of who am I, though I did not know it.  There were existential crises like when I found out my friends would think I was a snob when I did not recognize them because I was too vain to wear my new glasses.  I had my first real boyfriend, a congressional page.

My world turned on the events of 1963 in ways that shaped me.  I am sure there were the foundations laid by other circumstances in our lives, like having an older brother whose brilliance I accepted and being a young girl in the 60s whose guidance counselor told me, because I was female, that my aspirations should aim at state teachers college “and not higher” or my mothers flight of fury to take on this woman for trying to limit my dreams.  I can write more about all of that and my development in those contexts, but tonight is about 1963.

To get there we need to fast forward to 1964.  It was the World’s Fair in New York.  My brother was off to college. My parents, my two younger sisters, and I boarded a bus to NY to meet my mother’s parents, see New York, and do the World’s Fair. On the bus, I was working on a talk for my “expository speech” in debate club.  Titled “Building Bridges,” I called for racial equality and inclusivity. I showed it to my mother.  She actually asked if I had written it or copied it from somewhere.  I was taken aback, furious, and with a typical 15 year old posture, I cried, “How could you even think that?” silencing those in the seats nearby. This was the most original piece I had ever written. How dare she? Did she know me so little that she could not understand from where this came?  She imagined I plagiarized it?  Really? It came from her upbringing of me…and 1963.  She raised us with  “all are equal; we are the same.” The 1963 opened my eyes.

1963

January of 1963 was the 100 anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863).  We were studying the civil war in class.  It was on the news.

I was that teen with my first boy friend, that Capitol Hill Page whose dad was a congressman from somewhere.  We would go to DC for dinner, me with my fake id, have steaks and wine and cigarettes.  There was the luau at LB Johnson’s house, then Vice President, because Lucy Bird was also dating a Page. That made me a grown-up, right?

June of 1963: John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation ordering the Governor Wallace of Alabama to comply with the 1954(!) law of school desegregation. When Wallace blocked the entrance to the University, JFK brought in the National Guard and Wallace stepped aside.

Dulles Airport had been built and sometimes my friends and I would drive out there, all dressed up, just to be in that space, new with driver’s licenses, acting adult.

August of 1963, with the 100 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation (1/1/1863) and of the Gettysburg Address (11/19/1863), Martin Luther King and 200,000 others marched on Washington.

August of 1963, my brother was leaving for college on the left coast and I was convincing my parents that I could have his room and paint it pink, (which by the way was on a different level, allowing me to both sneak out and smoke cigarettes with the window open and, I thought, be undetected.)

Also in 1963 the Beatles hit the US.  They were not on Ed Sullivan until 1964, but as my musically talented brother validated my more visceral very positive response and said:  “this is very talented and complex music.”

November of 1963: I was sitting in a class when the announcement came.  “The President has been shot.” JFK was dead, just weeks before he could have hoped to have the civil rights bill passed, or would it have been?  How did that moment bring history forward with a big tradeoff?

Regardless of that answer, for me it was a year of awakening to a larger world, to the imperfect union we have, to the work we still face, as Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg address. In this week and year 2013, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address and the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, I sit here knowing what the cumulative moments of 1963 did to grow me and they feed me still.  And you?