Seattle Now & Then: In 1952, Terry Pettus

(click and click again to enlarge photos)

THEN: Here the square jaw of labor activist Terry Pettus holds steady like a confident variation of Smith Tower rising behind him. Our best guess on the year the photo was taken is 1952. (Paul Dorpat Collection)
NOW: For his “repeat,” Jean reached what was once Seattle’s speakers’ corner before a recent Seahawks game, where a well-plumed bird offered assurance that it was not a demonstrator but rather a dedicated fan. Indeed. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on Nov. 7, 2019
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Nov. 10, 2019)

Terry Pettus faces second Red Scare at Seattle’s speakers’ corner
By Paul Dorpat

Here — perhaps on a soapbox — stands Terry Pettus.

For a time, after moving to Seattle from Indiana in 1927, Pettus lived in the home of artist Kenneth Callahan. (A Callahan drawing hangs above my desk.)

Pettus was a reporter at newspapers around the state and was Washington’s first member of The Newspaper Guild. He was a member of the Washington Commonwealth Federation, a more “leftist” faction of the Democratic Party energized to end poverty. He joined the Communist Party, but after World War II, such idealism increasingly succumbed to the paranoid preaching of McCarthyism during the nation’s second Red Scare (the first followed World War I).

In our “Then” photo, Pettus and other party members promote a “six-hour day and 30-hour week” (a nice job, if you can get it). Another sign protests the “frame-up [of] Communist Party Leaders.”

This is one of a half-dozen photos snapped of this organized protest held in what for decades served as Seattle’s own speakers’ corner, at Occidental Avenue and Washington Street. I was given these small prints about 40 years ago. One has been dated, perhaps by me, “1952.” The year might be correct. But who took the photos, and who gave the gift?

This photo, and the rest of its cadre, might soon await identification in its new home at Seattle Public Library. The photos will be joined by a few hundred thousand other images I accumulated through a half-century of collecting and studying. (My original Callahan also will find a new home among the ephemera.)

Seattle Mayor Charles Royer declared March 7, 1982, Terry Pettus Day, and in 1985, a year after Pettus died, a small park was named for him on the east side of Lake Union. (There, in the late 1980s, I sometimes wrote outlines for this series of Sunday features.)


Below, in chronological order, are 13 clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, relate to this column. Enjoy!

May 28, 1940, Seattle Times, page 17
Feb. 3, 1944, Seattle Times, page 23
March 5, 1946, Seattle Times, page 14
March 6, 1946, Seattle Times, page 15
Oct. 10, 1952, Seattle Times, page 11
Oct. 29, 1953, Seattle Times, page 4
Jan. 20, 1954, Seattle Times, p4
June 15, 1954, Seattle Times, page 11
Aug. 25, 1958, Seattle Times, page 4
Sept. 4, 1983, Emmett Watson, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, page 22
Jan. 24, 1984, Emmett Watson, Seattle Times, page 9
Oct. 8, 1984, Seattle Times, page 2
Oct. 9, 1984, Emmett Watson, Seattle Times, page 13
Oct. 9, 1984, Emmett Watson, Seattle Times, page 18

One thought on “Seattle Now & Then: In 1952, Terry Pettus”

  1. Hi Paul,
    Nice to see a profile of my uncle, Terry Pettus, finally featured in your column from last November. I wish to remind you that I sent you the original of this photo nine or ten years ago, at your request. I had emailed you inquiring if you could tell me what had happened to Don Scott, my friend and associate from my UW undergrad years, 1962-1966. I mentioned to you my relationship to Terry and that I had this iconic photo of him leading a labor rally at the Seattle speakers corner. You asked if I would send it to you for a special copying process you could use with the intention of featuring it in a “Seattle Now and Then” column on Terry. You returned the photo to me, for which I am grateful, after making a copy. If you want an attribution for the source of the photo you can cite David Fields, Pettus’ oldest nephew. The photo you will bequeath to the UW archives is your copy, not the original, which I possess. The writing on the back is Berta’s, Terry’s wife, my aunt; because it was she who took the picture; and it indeed was from 1952. A good sketch of Terry, and the links to clippings comprise a good quick bio of his adventures. I left Seattle for grad school in 1966, so it was before your reputation in the city’s 1960s counterculture first flourished. In the memorable years before I left, I don’t believe we met, but I was hanging with Don Scott when he opened his original art gallery in 1963, also with Tom Robbins when was a newspaper art critic, Leo Kenny when he returned to Seattle and Boyd Grafmyre, who pioneered the Seattle rock music concert scene. Strange to think only Robbins still is alive, and he is 12 years older than I! It would have been interesting to have known you for a while back then, perhaps meeting at the Blue Moon or Red Robin.
    David Fields

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