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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Introduce Yourself to the Civil Rights History of Tacoma's African American Community

If there's one museum exhibit that's on my upcoming calendar of things to do it is "Tacoma's Civil Rights Struggle: African Americans Leading The Way" which recently opened at the Washington State History Museum (WSHM) 1911 Pacific Avenue, in Tacoma.

This is a fascinating multi-media view into what issues and concerns members of the local African American community faced in securing a more equitable footing in the area against the backdrop of civil rights activity in other parts of the nation during the 50's and 60's.

As I did most of my growing up in the mid 50's to mid 70's to the north in Seattle (which included noting the crowd of police cars surrounding my junior high school on all sides the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed) the story which is being told at the WSHS through December 7, will be my first introduction to what went on in the South Sound.

Since the closure of an African American oriented museum in Tacoma (which I had the pleasure of making a brief visit some years back) it may well be the kind of educational opportunity those of us who are not fully familiar with this history or blessed with personal friends, family and acquaintances in the community can take advantage of and share.

As a descendant of Japanese immigrant grandparents who arrived in the Pacific Northwest from Shizuoka and Kumamoto-ken over a hundred years ago, I have been more than thankful of the existence and availability of South Sound resources such as the WSHM, Asia Pacific Cultural Center along with Seattle's Wing Luke Asian Museum to share with my own family, friends and my fellow citizens the history and culture that links me with my parents and grandparents.

It is the kind of opportunity that was highly desired and sorely lacking in my childhood and unfortunately the type of project that often has required some initiative from within those very communities to make such a program a reality, as often many but not all movers and shakers in the mainstream during years past have easily overlooked or not found such projects to be of sufficent and pressing priority.

Coincidentally, it was only at WSHM where I saw for the first time in my life as a fully-grown adult an exhibit in a mainstream institution on the World War II internment of my family which was artfully constructed to flow within the other major exhibits in the museum and did not come with the emotional feeling of having been added (as in other places years past) somewhat belatedly in an awkward corner, put-up in a last minute, make-do fashion as space is made for an unwanted or barely remembered relative.

On a personal note I'm also curious as to if any ties were able to be forged between various communities or individuals in this area such as ones between King County Executive Ron Sims and his childhood Japanese-American buddies whose long friendship (as he shared at a program I attended at the University of Washington in 2006) helped form the kind of ties that would allow this African American leader to extend the hand of bold, pioneering friendship while an aide to State Senator George Fleming, UW Husky football legend and the first African American to sit in the Washington State Senate, to support persons in my ethnic community pursuing efforts to obtain monetary redress in the late 70's and 80's at a local, state and national levels in regards to leftover issues related to the World War wartime incarceration.

While such bonds and connections are certainly not a requirement of any individual or community - the past existence of such warm connections gives some hint or promise that similar connections might be forged today or in the future of the kind which we can all try and anchor a few of our own hopes.

Thankfully, unlike in the days of my youth there are resources and opportunities such as my spouse and I enjoyed on a trip to Naselle, WA that I blogged about last month to see the Finnish American Folk Festival in Naselle, WA and this exemplary exhibit at WSHM to learn about, support and celebrate the hard work, effort, struggles and accomplishments of an increasingly longer list of our neighbors belonging to other racial, social, cultural and ethnic communities whose collective gifts irregardless of our present state of awareness - have and continue to make the Pacific Northwest the real home it is for all of us.

I would highly recommend a well-written article in the August 21, 2008 issue of The Tacoma Weekly by Matt Nagle on the new exhibit at WSHM. Here is the link.

3 comments:

JosephMcG said...

Thanks, Mizu, for your wonderful post. My own change for the better began in Tacoma, Washington in 1968 under the admirable tutelage of Mr. Tom Dixon, who was the director of the Urban League at the time and is still continues to be an advocate for peace and justice in Tacoma.
On the front page of the TNT website Sunday is a picture of my mentor over the years, Father Bill Bichsel,who continues to advocate for the poor, the homeless, and people of color here.
Joseph

M. Sugimura said...

Thanks for the alert. This is my first in-depth peek at Father Bichsel. You've got quite a mentor to say the least...

Also shades of yesterday! It's been a long time since I heard/read of the names of the I haven't heard/read of the Berrigan's.

Between this piece, that one, and some research I'm doing that's carried me back to the Great Depression (with coincidentally one of my equally significant figures) will I be able to find my way back to 2008 by the end of the day?

Glad to see your comments though - as you were someone in particular I had in mind...

Stephanie Frieze said...

With school barreling down the road at teachers and students, I hope this exhibit will be accessed by American Studies students!