#TBT - 60 years ago when James Baldwin came to Seattle on a mission of Civil Rights and Equality.
CORE hosted Baldwin at a sold-out event in 1963.
The #TBT series is a collaboration between the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and Africatown Seattle to give historical insights and perspectives into Black history and Black contributions in the Seattle area and Washington State as a whole.
By Stephanie Johnson-Toliver
On May 6, 1963, the dynamic poet, author/essayist, and activist, James Baldwin, was speaking in Seattle by invitation of the local Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to benefit their mission and boost a call to action.
Baldwin’s honest and passionate writing translated throughout the truth in his speeches to resonate with crowds who were unsettled and effected by the racism and inequities that were being challenged as the Civil Rights Movement was building momentum. The Fire Next Time*, recently published and heralded as a historical document that galvanized the nation and gave voice to the disturbing consequences of racial injustice made Baldwin’s visit timely and provocative.
*See the Seattle Best Sellers Book List that was torn from a local newspaper in May,1963. At the time of Baldwin’s visit, The Fire Next Time was on the non-fiction list and his 1962 fiction, Another Country was also on the list. The “tell” in this bestseller list makes me say, “Seattle I see you.”
CORE adopted the non-violent principles of Gandhi to bring about equality for African Americans and all oppressed people. The organization stood its ground and was unrelenting in its purpose to demand equal and human rights throughout the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Seattle CORE concentrated on numerous local issues and their national affiliation was strong and hugely supportive of efforts that included the 1962 southern states Freedom Riders protests, and without hesitation they rallied for turnout at the 1963 March on Washington.
Preparing for the Event
Seattle CORE leaders and volunteers saw Baldwin’s visit as a huge opportunity to bring awareness to their work and recruit new members. It would also demonstrate their allegiance to national CORE who were in talks with organizers A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin for a summer ‘63 protest in Washington, D.C. that they called the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs.
The month before Baldwin’s appearance, Seattle CORE chairman, Reginald Alleyne was encouraging citywide support for the event. He wrote a letter that was shared with all who were sympathetic to their causes. The outcome was a sold-out venue at the Masonic Temple (later named The Egyptian Theatre) at Harvard & E Pine Street. Among event patrons were notable religious leaders, U of W professors and Mr. & Mrs. Frank Hanawalt. Mr. Hanawalt was principal at Garfield High School and just two years prior, despite negative feedback and threats, he was a strong advocate for hosting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a speech to students during his one-and-only visit to Seattle.
Day of the Event
CORE members were enlisted as volunteers to support event day logistics. J. Maid Adams, CORE member and co-author of Seattle in Black and White that recounts the actions of Seattle CORE was designated as driver for Baldwin on May 6, 1963. Adams donated memorabilia from the day that includes the itinerary she was given as a guide to getting Baldwin from one destination to another. She was told to place the hand printed piece of paper (3”x4”), a “parking pass” that simply said At JAMES BALDWIN LECTURE on the dashboard of her vehicle when they arrived at the entrance to the Masonic Temple. Adams chuckled at how if she were to do something like that in today’s world, she would surely be towed, I agreed.
Adams drove her personal vehicle to Sea-Tac Airport and met Baldwin. He immediately put her at ease. There was some pleasant small talk, but he was mostly quiet, and she took it to mean that he was anticipating interviews and his speech later that evening. The itinerary was specific about routes and arrival/departure times. Baldwin had a whirlwind of interviews and finally a break for a couple hours to unwind at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Hugh Miracle. Hugh Miracle was an accomplished attorney and partner with Howard Pruzan who was a prominent Seattle attorney who early in his career successfully represented a Black police officer in a discrimination case against the SPD. It is clear as you run through the list of forty-seven patrons, they were all progressives and interested in advocating for fair and equal rights.
Baldwin’s Seattle Message
Baldwin stood before a packed house at the Masonic Temple. He wore a CORE button on the lapel of his suit jacket that said, Freedom Now. Baldwin delivered an impactful message. He talked about the Negro who was no longer willing to accept endurance as his fate. Speaking in no uncertain terms, Baldwin referenced concessions, malicious obstacles around voter registration and rights eked out by courts.
He did not mince words about self-importance and moral superiority as a right to dispense the benefits of civilization to black people, a bit at a time. Baldwin then commented that not all Negroes embrace the non-violent ideology of Gandhi which clearly was fundamental to CORE. He went on to say that Negroes know that violence perpetuates violence, it’s not the answer but there lies the courage in the cause. “Causes, as we know, are notoriously bloodthirsty.”, said Baldwin.
1963: The Fire Next Time
When Baldwin left town, he knew what was being discussed regarding a protest in D.C. for summer, 1963. Did he know that he would grace the cover of Time Magazine shortly after leaving Seattle? Surely, he did not know that Bobby Kennedy would request to meet with him in late May for a candid conversation on race in America. Baldwin brought along his brother David, Lorraine Hansberry, Harry Belafonte, Clarence Jones who was advisor to Dr. King, and Jerome Smith a Freedom Rider aligned to CORE. It did not go well. And, tragically, he could not have known that on September 15 the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL would be bombed, killing Black children and injuring others. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Sometimes I think about that game, If You Could Invite Someone to Join You for Dinner – Living or Dead, Who Would it be? James Baldwin is my “one”.
I’ll share this last thing. Here is a clip from a spring, 1963 conversation between Baldwin and Black teenagers in San Francisco. He was invited to travel throughout SF to gather information and have discussions with various ages around racism and the future. It made me smile but also made me a little sad because the young men could not see their future.
Fifty-seven years later, Baldwin is timeless.
QUESTION: If you attended the James Baldwin event on May 6, 1963 at the Masonic
Temple in Seattle, WA, please reach out to BHS. We would like to record
and archive your thoughts and impressions as part of the Baldwin Visits
Reach out to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject line: Baldwin in Seattle
Time Magazine cover_May 17, 1963.
-Property Black Heritage Society of WA State, Inc./J. Maid Adams
1. Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Inc., Seattle, WA www.bhswa.org
2. HistoryLink, essay, Murray Morgan, 2016 https://www.historylink.org/File/11247
3. Interview: Stephanie Johnson-Toliver with J. Maid Adams, Seattle, WA, 2018