HistoryLink: Every month is Black History Month

Friday, February 5, 2016

HistoryLink, Washington's online encyclopedia, notes African American "firsts" in Washington history.

Every month is Black History Month at HistoryLink, and this week we note some of the many African American "firsts" in Washington history. We begin with George W. Bush and his family, who in 1845 were among the first Americans to settle north of the Columbia River in what is now Thurston County. Seven years later, Manuel Lopes became Seattle's first black citizen and businessman, and in 1883 John Conna moved to Federal Way and would later become Washington Territory's first black political appointee.

In 1899 the University of Washington School of Law admitted William McDonald Austin, who would become its first black graduate. Fifty years before Seattle hired its first black teachers, Kitsap County hired Jane A. Ruley in 1897, the same year that Mary B. Mason became the first black woman to seek her fortune in the Klondike gold rush.

In 1913 Seattle got its first national civil-rights organization with the founding of a branch of the NAACP. In the early 1940s, Yesler Terrace opened and was believed to have been the first racially integrated public-housing project in the United States. In 1942 Florise Spearman became Boeing's first African American employee, and in 1947 Willetta Esther Riddle Gayton became Seattle's first black professional librarian. In 1950 Charles Stokes became the first black legislator from King County, and Zoƫ Dusanne opened Seattle's first professional modern-art gallery.

John Prim became Washington's first African American judge in 1954, and in 1963 Carver Clark Gayton was appointed the state's first African American FBI special agent. Carl Maxey was Spokane's first black attorney, James Chase was Spokane's first black mayor, and Benjamin F. McAdoo was the first African American architect to maintain a practice in Washington. Dr. Earl V. Miller was the first African American urologist west of the Mississippi, and Dr. Rosalie Reddick Miller was the first African American woman to practice dentistry in the State of Washington.


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