Studying Civil Rights and Racial Desegregation in the Pacific Northwest
by Turkiya L. Lowe
Since the authorization of the Racial Desegregation of Public Education theme study by Congress in 1998, the National Park Service has documented historic properties across the nation associated with civil rights and desegregation in public schools. Much of the focus of the early work was on historic properties associated with African-American communities. However, given the multiracial demographics of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, research and identification expanded to places associated with Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Chinese Americans, and Japanese Americans, as well as African Americans. The purpose of the current project is to develop a database of Pacific Northwest historic places that may be eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places or designated as National Historic Landmarks under this theme.
Professor Quintard Taylor of the University of Washington and the author conducted a survey of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington to determine whether there were any previously unidentified properties associated with civil rights and desegregation, and therefore important to African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Chinese Americans, or Japanese Americans. To assist in creating this preliminary list of potential historic places, inquiries were made to State Historic Preservation Offices, state historical societies, preservation organizations, private nonprofit groups, museums, and schools, as well as to knowledgeable individuals. An extensive, although not exhaustive, annotated bibliography was prepared that covers the three states and the cultural groups that participated in civil rights activities in the Pacific Northwest.
The preliminary list of potential sites consists of 4 properties in Idaho, 45 properties in Oregon, and 25 properties in Washington. The periods of significance vary, largely depending on the ebb and flow of civil rights activity as well as the race or ethnicity of the community under review. For example, the most significant period of African-American civil rights activity occurred in Washington during the 1960s and 1970s. The challenges to racial discrimination focused on desegregation of public schools, open housing, and access to jobs. For civil rights activism by Japanese Americans, the most intense activity in the region occurred during the 1940s and 1950s, focusing on the fight against evacuation and internment during World War II and the struggle for a Federal Government apology and restitution after the war.
Portland, Oregon, provided the greatest number of potential historic places, most of which are located in the neighborhood called Albina. Historically, Albina was a majority African-American neighborhood where migrants moved after World War II in search of economic opportunities offered by Kaiser Shipyards. The large number of potential historic properties associated with civil rights and desegregation in the Albina neighborhood suggests the possibility of a multiple property nomination.
Several historic places are already listed in the National Register—like the International District in Seattle, but not for civil rights history. For these, amendments to their original nominations are recommended. However, the majority of the properties are not already listed and some may be significant at the national level. For example, the Shungo and Mitsu Hirabayashi House and Farm in Auburn, Washington, is already listed in the King County Landmarks and Heritage Program Inventory for its association with Shungo Hirabayashi's legal challenge to internment and military restrictions of Japanese Americans during World War II. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his convictions for failing to comply with these restrictions. This court case, along with two other successful Japanese-American challenges to Executive Order 9066, which authorized Japanese-American internment, led to passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The act gave each surviving internee a formal apology from the United States Government and a $20,000 lump-sum payment.
Idaho produced the smallest number of potential historic places due in part to its smaller and more dispersed population. Historical and archeological sources detail the presence of racial conflict in the state, especially between white settlers and the Nez Perce, 19th-century Chinese mine workers, early 20th-century black strikebreakers, Chicano sugar beet workers, and mid-20th-century Japanese internees. However, civil rights activities appear to be centered on individual resistance, rather than organized resistance. Individual efforts have been difficult to document for National Register purposes.
The National Park Service is soliciting comments from State Historic Preservation Officers and other interested parties on the list of potential historic places and the annotated bibliography. The next phase of the project calls for further investigation of identified properties to determine whether the properties have sufficient significance and integrity to warrant National Register listing.
About the Author
Turkiya L. Lowe is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington. Copies of the documents discussed in this report can be requested via email from Lowe at firstname.lastname@example.org or the project coordinator, Gretchen Luxenberg, Pacific West Region, National Park Service, at gretchen_luxenberg @nps.gov.