#TBT - Meet Eugene Moszee: CD business owner and Civil Rights Activist killed by the SPD in 1945.
Moszee is a throwback to an era when Black people in Seattle's Central District owned their own gas stations and services were self contained in the community.
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.
While perusing a 1940s edition of The Negro Travelers’ Green Book for a history search of recommended establishments in Seattle’s Central Area, a service station at the corner of 19th & E. Madison with the name of Moszee’s stands out to recall the story of Eugene Moszee, owner and Seattle civil rights activist who was shot and killed at his place of business seventy-four years ago this week.
The troubling circumstances associated with his death were questioned throughout the community, and the double down by Seattle police, the prosecuting attorney’s office and the appointed African American deputy prosecuting attorney caused friction and doubt.
Here’s what history tells us.
Eugene Moszee (1914-1945)
Eugene Moszee was born in Floresville, Texas, in 1914, the first of ten children of illiterate farm laborers. Moszee moved to Seattle during the 1930s and by 1937 he owned and operated a gas station on 19th and E. Madison.
Moszee left the Jim Crow south to arrive in Seattle and be disillusioned by what he found awaiting him with City’s restricted neighborhoods, closed job opportunities and obstacles to pursue private business. Even with wartime labor demands, many African Americans were still restricted to jobs in low paying laborer positions as janitors, shoeblacks, waiters, or domestic servants.
During the early 1940s, Moszee began to plan and orchestrate sit-ins at Seattle hotels and restaurants that refused to serve nonwhites. Paul Robeson came to Seattle in 1942 and he was refused service at the Olympic Hotel. Moszee actively participated in a “sit-down” protest and was very vocal against the segregationist policy. He organized protests mainly in downtown Seattle based on peaceful tactics where police were usually called but arrests were seldom made. The white business owners became frustrated with the demonstrations and this put Moszee in the cross hairs of Seattle police.
A Fateful Night
On November 15, 1945, Moszee went to a tavern after work where he was provoked into a disagreement and brawl that led to police being called. Moszee, not wanting to be taken into custody for creating a disturbance, left the premises, returned to his gas station and locked himself in.
Police officers followed him to the gas station and ordered Moszee to come out, he refused to open the door when they could not present a search warrant.
Shots rang out and both Moszee and one officer were killed in cross gunfire. The account of the incident differed between police and community observers. The City’s Prosecuting Attorney appointed an African American deputy prosecutor to present the facts in an inquest that resulted in a justifiable homicide verdict in closed proceedings.
In response, the Eugene Moszee Committee for Equal Justice was formed, and the decision was protested. Progressive organizations and community members participated in the movement. Large meetings were held, the community alleged “bad” Police Department policy and carried out a petition campaign to oust the Chief of Police. The petition was submitted to the prosecuting attorney’s office who dismissed the claim and shortly thereafter, the committee dissolved.
Moszee’s death was disputed and debated both inside and outside the Central Area African American community. It’s sadly ironic how the shooting controversy overshadowed the legacy of Moszee’s effective and peaceful activism that he led with deep conviction and purpose to bring attention to equitable treatment under the law for Seattle black people.
Remembering this week, the activism of Eugene Moszee, and acknowledging the diligence of Mother's For Police Accountability who continue the mission of police accountability and oversight today.
1) Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Inc. www.bhswa.org
2) Blackpast.org, Eugene Moszee, contributor, Melanie Austin
3) Seattle Edition, COUML, July 28, 1975, pg. 7