Seattle Now & Then: Civil Rights Protests at 11th and Pike, 1963 & 2020

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: An estimated 1,000 silent protesters head west on East Pine Street near 11th Avenue on June 15, 1963, bound for what is now Westlake Park. Photographer John Vallentyne captured the mid-march moment. The Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the NAACP sponsored the protest. (Courtesy MOHAI)
NOW: Framed by bouquets of lilies at the same intersection, a lone Black Lives Matter protester, hands up, walks toward police lines on Thursday, June 4. The soon-to-be-abandoned East Precinct Station peeks out at top right. (Jean Sherrard)

(Published in the Seattle Times online on July 30, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on August 2, 2020)

In civil rights, what has – and hasn’t – changed in 57 years?
By Jean Sherrard

1963, the year of our “Then,” and today, arguably much has changed:

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • The Fair Housing Act of 1968.
  • School desegregation.

So why do we often feel stuck in quicksand? Protest signs spaced 57 years apart could have been written by the same hand.

Nationally, amid a vision of hope, the summer of 1963 produced profound turmoil:

  • On June 11, Gov. George Wallace stood on the University of Alabama steps, blocking entry to two Black students until the National Guard cleared their path.
  • On June 12, NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his Jackson, Miss., home.
  • On Aug 28, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place at the Lincoln Memorial, culminating with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s indelible “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • On Sept. 15, four young Black girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.

In Seattle, 1,000 marchers gathered on the hot morning of Saturday, June 15, at Mount Zion Baptist Church at 19th Avenue and East Madison Street and were inspired by the words of Rev. Mance Jackson, pastor of Bethel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (today’s Curry Temple CME Church at 172 23rd Ave.).

Jackson called for “a plan of action,” demanding fair housing and employment practices for Black citizens, whose 10% jobless rate tripled that of the city overall.

“The time is now or never,” he said. “We declare war on … America’s greatest enemies: discrimination, segregation and racial bigotry. … We will have to sacrifice and suffer. Somebody may even have to go to jail.”

Our “Now” is from Thursday, June 4, 2020, 10 days after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody convulsed the nation. After days of angry protest, police erected a temporary barricade at 11th Avenue and East Pine Street, separating them from Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

Late in the afternoon, a small group carrying bouquets of lilies and helium balloons pushed to the front of the crowd. A Black protester shouted an obscenity, stripped to his shorts and hopped the barricade, hands aloft. Alone, he advanced toward a line of squad cars.

Behind him, the crowd seemed to catch its breath. Some pleaded for him to turn back and avoid arrest. Others took up a chant: “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Shortly, the protester was arrested and taken into police custody.

In 1963, King challenged us to envision a world in which we can “hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Then and now, accomplishing that arduous task is our civic duty.

WEB EXTRAS

THEN 2: The original caption of this P-I photo, also shot by John Vallentyne, read, “Police Sgt. C.R. Connery chats with Rev. Mance Jackson, urging marchers to tighten ranks to avoid traffic problems.” (courtesy MOHAI)

Also, check out our 360 degree video, narrated by Jean, shot on location at 11th and East Pine.

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