Editorial, by Marianne (Scott) Lincoln
In August 1963, I was only 6 years old and about to enter first grade at Central Avenue Elementary. I do not remember Dr. King giving his famous I Have a Dream speech, but I do remember a conversation my mother had at Mrs. Brown’s house next door. That conversation was likely inspired by events taking place that year.
Pearl Brown was 93 years old. She was born in 1870 in the south, but only lived there until she was 10. She ended up in Tacoma around 1910 and she ran a boarding house that catered to the Pullman Porters from the Northern Pacific Railroad. She was a woman of African-American descent with her own business. She retired in the 1940’s and bought her house in Summit on Canyon Road. She lived to be 101.
Mrs. Brown was in the hospitality business and well-trained to ‘know her place.’ Having been born a very few years after the Civil War, she was an older generation of Negroes that didn’t subscribe to what she called the “uppity” ways of Dr. King, Malcolm X and others. Her rant included not liking the term “Blacks.” Which my mother, a Spanish teacher, explained to me at the time, was the translation of the Spanish word negro. At 6, I wondered what the difference was.
We lived in Washington state, far from the KKK riddled south with its segregated water fountains, buses and restaurants. My school had very few people of African-American descent. There was only one family of color in my church and we adored them. They were a little shy, but kind.
When we went to our pediatrician or shopping, we had to go into downtown Tacoma. In those days, all the big stores were downtown. When we drove along Pacific or Yakima and Avenue, my mother told us to lock the car doors. Pacific Avenue had a lot of adult book stores, bars, pawn shops and other seedy businesses. Yakima Avenue had a lot of very old houses, often with families of color sitting on the front porches on days with good weather. Most of the houses were in disrepair and the yards, not well-kept. Occasionally, there was one trimmed and painted. They were actually lovely older houses, just run down. Lock the doors was all I remembered, not much more. Today many of those houses are gone, replaced by government housing projects.
Here in Pierce County, the most dramatic change I remember after the Civil Rights Laws was more of the people of color started moving into the suburbs. The demographics of our Pierce County communities were becoming more diverse. In high school, there still were only a few kids that were African-American. In my sister’s class, Mavis Duckworth, was sweet and jovial, everyone adored her. She became a talented photographer. Kelvin Westbrook, went on to college and decided to go to Harvard Law School. He is now on the board of directors for major companies like T-Mobile. Greg Hearns is a tech director. Tony Phillips, I‘ve lost track of, but I remember how good he was in speech and debate. Reggie and Raoul Brown from my class became a nuclear physicist and an architect. I like to think the “Dream” of Dr. King and millions of others were part of their success. Hard work, of course, was also a very important factor.
The invisible, but painful barriers or racism were lowered. I will not say removed. There are still things I witness even today that make me rankle. More than once, I have heard the Superintendent of Bethel mention activity of the KKK in the Graham Kapowsin area. It has not gone away. We need to remain vigilant and speak up and speak out when we see it, calling it what it is.
In Spanaway, I studied demographics because I was writing grant applications. In 1980, only 5% of the population was non-white. In 2000, it was over 30%. Spanaway Lake High School is a great contrast to the Bethel High School where I graduated. But here I must say that from my experience on the school board, when Spanaway Lake is compared to the other two high schools in the district, you don’t see a school with racism and discipline problems, you see a school with diverse people making it work and being respectful. One district administrator, who directed her child to go to Graham Kapowsin lamented that she didn’t have her child attend Spanaway Lake, noting the school was a better place to raise a child to be respectful of others.
Whether it is Dr. King’s “Dream, or Rodney King’s “Can’t we all just get along?” The goal of living in harmony is a noble one. We are not all the way there, but there is certainly much more opportunity than there was in the early 1960’s. Discrimination has not gone away, at 56, I see it in the hiring process, even though age discrimination is supposed to be illegal. People still sneak around and do these discriminatory things when and where they can. And they do it from both sides. Those who have struggled have developed their own prejudices as well, leftovers from the hurt they felt.
Keep pulling, keep trying to be better. As humans, we all go through the same very basic life experiences: growing up, loving, having children, making and eating really great (ethnic) foods, laughing, crying, singing and some day, dying. Celebrate that circle of life we all have in common, today. It is the things that make us different that can truly make us stronger. Dr. King was a person. He wasn’t perfect, Mrs. Brown gave me an earful of that. But the movement he reinforced was incredibly important to each of us, in every color and background. Fairness and evenhandedness are always a virtuous path.
I love and miss you Mrs. Brown. I wish I could have known you even better.