Upon my recent relocation to Seattle, I harbored concerns about opportunities in the field of Historic Preservation, unfamiliar with the city’s rich history. However, since settling here, I immersed myself in the Black Historic Sites Survey Project. The experience has been an eye-opener, revealing the immense cultural and historical significance of the sites that surfaced during this survey.
My collaborative expedition in Seattle, alongside the Studio TJP team members Ellen and Audrey, guided by Monette, the Project lead, was nothing less than an adventure uncovering the layers of the past through meaningful interactions with individuals advocating the importance of these structures.
Our first site was the Dr. James Washington Cultural Center in Seattle’s Central District. This beautiful Craftsman-style bungalow was designated as a historic landmark in 1991. It once served as both home and studio to the eminent African American painter and sculptor, James Washington Jr. and his wife. The basement hosted a remarkable collection of Washington's books covering topics ranging from art and philosophy to religion and natural sciences. Notably, the former greenhouse and living room featured intricately carved stones resembling birds and eggs. Additionally, the preserved broken eggshells, branches, and millstones in the backyard unveiled Washington's deep spiritual connection with nature, manifesting life in stone. His artwork conveyed a spiritual essence, transcending language and cultural barriers with a transcendent quality.
Our journey led us to the Oracle of Truth by Dr. Washington Jr., located at Mount Zion Baptist Church. This church boasts the state’s largest Black congregation and holds the distinction of being the first and only Black Baptist church to own a credit union catering to the Black community. While the function of the building evolved, the legacy persisted. What struck us on the site was the sanctuary of the church which we discovered had faces of the African American pioneers at its eighteen stained glass windows. These were manufactured by Douglas Phillips, the only Black owner of a stained glass studio in the United States at the time. The team had so many stories to share of each of the pioneers whose profound impact resonated through society, such as Martin Luther King Jr., a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and civil rights leader, Nannie Helen Burroughs, President of the Women’s Auxiliary of the National Baptist Convention and educator, etc. At the church, Monette found the Seattle Medium newspaper. Seattle Medium and The Facts Newspaper are the only two newspapers started by the Black community that are still in existence today.
On the way, Monette guided us to the original office of The Facts newspaper at 2765 E Cherry Street. It was very evident from the area that each building and person in the neighborhood had a story to convey. This establishment, founded by Fitzgerald Redd Beaver in September 1961, holds the distinction of being the pioneering Black-oriented newspaper in the Pacific Northwest. While it subsequently transitioned to a new location a decade ago, our encounter with Mrs. Elizabeth Beaver Jackson—widow of the late Mr. Beaver—resonated with the newspaper's ongoing legacy under her stewardship alongside her children helping her run the business.
Another of Dr. Washington’s sculptures in Seattle, “My Testimony in Stone,'' drew us to the Odessa Brown Clinic. The clinic is named after an earnest Black woman who advocated for Black children’s health and established the clinic after receiving funding from the Model Cities Program (1966-1971), making the site significant in African American history. In 1944, the Carolyn Downs Family Medical Center also moved to the same site at 2101 E. Yesler Way, where both clinics now coexist. Following recent remodeling, the front of the building now prominently displays the Carolyn Downs name.
Our day of discovery concluded after exploring these sites, with anticipation for the forthcoming chapters of our exploration.
Captions for images:
1-4. Artwork and collection of Dr. James Washington Jr. and the hat in the image is of the artist. He is seen wearing this hat in many of his photos available online.
5.The old Credit Union building at Mount Zion Baptist Church.
6. "The Oracle of Truth"- sculpture by Dr. James Washington Jr. at Mount Zion Baptist Church
7. Stained Glass windows at the sanctuary of Mount Zion Baptist Church
8. The team meeting with Rev. Dr. Paris Smith at Mount Zion Baptist Church
9. The old Facts Newspaper office.
10. New Office of the Facts Newspaper
11. Mrs. Elizabeth Beaver, owner of the Facts Newspaper and Monette, Project lead of Black Historic Sites Survey
12-14. Article, painting and certificates awarded to Mr. Beaver at the Facts Newspaper office