Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project
- Segregated Seattle
- Seattle's Ethnic Press
- Civil Rights Groups
- Photo Collections
- Films and Slide Shows
- For Teachers
- Video Oral Histories
- Black Panther Party History and Memory Project
- Filipino Cannery Unionism
- LGBTQ Activism in Seattle History Project
- United Construction Workers Project
- Chicano Movement in Washington State Project
- Asian American Movement
- KKK in Washington State
- CORE Campaigns 1960s
- Black Student Union at UW
- 1907 Bellingham Riots
- Farm Workers in Washington State Project
- 1919 General Strike Project
- By Date and Subject
- African American issues
- Asian American issues
- Latino issues
- LGBTQ issues
- Urban Indian issues
- Women’s issues
These in-depth essays explore fascinating issues and incidents. Each is fully illustrated with photos and newspaper articles. Graduate and undergraduate students in History and Labor Studies at the University of Washington produced many of these articles.
From Women’s Rights to Women’s Liberation: The Second-Wave Feminist Movement in Washington State by Hope Morris
- Prior to 1969, very few women were represented in significant positions of influence in Washington State, and yet by 1977 the state had legalized abortion, ratified the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and eliminated numerous laws discriminating on the basis of sex, making it one of the most progressive states on women’s issues in the nation. This remarkable achievement was enabled by the two distinct wings of the feminist movement who took advantage of the social and political opportunities available to them.
Ernesto Mangaoang and the Right to Be: The Fight for Filipino-American Belonging in the United States by Noelle Morrison
- Arrested in 1949 and facing deportation, Ernesto Mangaoang’s four-year fight to remain in the country he had entered legally twenty-seven years earlier resulted in a landmark court decision that clarified the status of 70,000 Filipino Americans who had immigrated during the era of US colonial occupation of the Philippines.
Employing Racism: Black Miners, the Knights of Labor, and Company Tactics in the Coal Towns of Washington by Jourdan Marshall
- The armed clash between White and Black miners in the coal towns of Washington State in 1891, revealed a side of the Knights of Labor and a history of corporate manipulation of racism that is not well known. The Knights welcomed Black workers in most states, but not in Washington. After first targeting Chinese workers in the 1880s, the KOL turned against Black miners.
Immigrant Rights Protests in Washington State, Spring 2006 by Katherine Cavanaugh
- In hundreds of cities and towns, immigrant workers, Latinx students and other Americans took to the streets in the Spring of 2006 to protest a draconian immigration restriction bill that had passed the House of Representatives. This essay analyzes why this massive protest movement arose by taking a closer look at the movement in Washington State, detailing the role of grassroots organizing both in Seattle and in rural areas of the state where high school students sometimes took the lead, staging school walkouts and marches in communities that had never before seen similar mobilizations.
Bernie Whitebear and the Urban Indian Fight for Land and Justice by Joseph Madsen
- The inspirational leader of the 1970 Fort Lawton takeover and the campaign to build Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, Bernie Whitebear dedicated his life to urban indian activism. Born on the Colville Reservation, he joined fish-in protests in the 1950s, worked to develop Indian social services in the 1960s, then led the United Indians of All Tribes in their historic fight to reclaim Native land in Seattle.
Unionism for Journalists: the 1936 Seattle Post-Intelligencer Strike by Ryan Sebion
- Seattle had known many strikes, but the one that started on August 13, 1936 was different. Striking for the first time were white-collar professional employees - journalists - whose recently founded union, the American Newspaper Guild, had taken the bold step of declaring the walkout. The fifteen week strike would make history, ending in a victory that helped secure the future for the Newspaper Guild while proving that William Randolph Hearst, the ruthless and reactionary boss of the nation's largest media chain, could be defeated if not tamed.
Bridging Mexico and Seattle: A History of the Seattle Ship Scalers Mural “The Struggle Against Racial Discrimination” by Pablo O’Higgins (1904-1983) by Gigi A. Peterson
- One of only two murals painted in the United States by American-Mexican artist Pablo O’Higgins, “The Struggle Against Racial Discrimination” hangs today on the University of Washington campus. This article tracks its fascinating history, a story that links Mexico and Seattle and involves two generations of activists in the struggle for racial justice.
Equal Rights on the Ballot: The 1972-73 Campaign for Washington State's ERA by Hope Morris
- The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 but failed to win ratification by 38 states. Washington state ratified the federal ERA and also became the first state to pass a state-level version, adding equal protection to the state constitution in 1973. Read about the clever campaign that made this possible.
Filipino Americans and the Making of Dr. Jose P. Rizal Bridge and Park by Andrew Hedden
- In 1974, Seattle’s 12th Avenue South Bridge was renamed and rededicated in the name of Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the martyred Filipino patriot and novelist. This report tells the story of how the bridge and nearby park came to be named for Rizal, and explores their meaning to several generations of Seattle’s Filipino American community. The report includes images and documents, including a full reproduction of the book Rizal Park: Symbol of Filipino Identity.
When Abortion was Illegal (and Deadly): Seattle’s Maternal Death Toll by James Gregory
- Abortion was illegal in Washington until 1970, permitted only when the life of the mother was endangered. But countless women found ways to terminate pregnancies and some died doing so. We have found thirteen reported fatalities between 1945 and 1969, by no means a complete count. Here are details on each tragedy including the criminal prosecutions that followed.
Washington’s 1970 Abortion Reform Victory: The Referendum 20 Campaign by Angie Weiss
- One of the first states to liberalize abortion law, Washington was the only one to do so by means of a ballot measure. In 1970, Washington voters approved Referendum 20, three years before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. This report analyzes the unique campaign that brought the ballot measure to voters and the bi-partisan pattern of support that secured victory at the polls.
James Sakamoto and the Fight for Japanese American Citizenship by Andy Marzano
- Editor of the Japanese American Courier and founder of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), Jimmie Sakamoto began making an impact when he testified before a Congressional committee at age 17. This report details his life and assesses his role in the fight to achieve full citizenship.
A History of Farm Labor Organizing 1890-2009 by Oscar Rosales Castañeda, Maria Quintana, James Gregory
- Long before the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) began organizing in the 1960s, farm workers had been contesting the unique challenges of working in the fields. This report–in ten brief chapters–examines the long history of farm workers in Washington State, focusing on their labor and political activism.
Communist Civil Rights: The Seattle Civil Rights Congress, 1948-1955 by Lucy Burnett
- From 1948 to 1955, the Seattle Civil Rights Congress (CRC) provide legal defense and civil rights counsel to numerous Communist Party members and people of color while informing the public about civil rights. During its seven years of activity, the Seattle CRC maintained an active voice of dissent in an era of Red Scare tactics and silence on the subject of civil rights. Their efforts laid the groundwork for future civil rights activism in Seattle.
Racial Restrictive Covenants: Enforcing Neighborhood Segregation in Seattle by Catherine Silva
- Until 1968, racial restrictive covenants prevented certain racial minorities from purchasing homes in specific King County neighborhoods, segregating Seattle and shaping its racial demography. This essay details the history of racial restrictive covenants in different King County neighborhoods, charting both the legal and social enforcement of racial covenants and the struggles to prohibit them.
Coon Chicken Inn: North Seattle’s Beacon of Bigotry by Catherine Roth
- The Coon Chicken Inn was a popular roadside restaurant in Seattle from 1930-1949. The restaurant’s name and logo, which derived from racist caricatures of African Americans, was a galling reminder of segregation and discrimination for black Seattleites. This essay recounts the Coon Chicken Inn’s history and documents little-known examples of African Americans organizing against the restaurant.
White Supremacy and the Alien Land Laws of Washington State by Nicole Grant
- In 1966, voters repealed the several Alien Land Laws that had made it illegal for Chinese, Japanese, and for a time Filipino immigrants to own land in Washington State. This essay examines first the campaigns to restrict land rights and then efforts to repeal Alien Land Laws in the 1950s ad 1960s.
The Fish-in Protests at Frank’s Landing by Gabriel Chrisman
- The fish-ins of the 1960s were to Native Americans what sit-ins were to the Black civil rights movement. Native activists defied state authorities, suffering arrest and jail time in order to reclaim fishing rights guaranteed in the treaties of the 1850s. In 1974, the federal courts finally recognized their rights. This prize-winning essay examines the historic campaign.
The Ku Klux Klan in Washington in the 1920s by Trevor Griffey
- The KKK arrived in Washington State in 1922 and quickly became a powerful mass movement with tens of thousands of members and dangerous ambitions. This nine-part essay examines the meteoric history of the KKK in the 1920s, detailing the ideology, tactics, leadership, and social rituals of the organization.
The Ku Klux Klan and the Anti-Catholic School Bills of Washington and Oregon by Kristin Dimick
- In 1922, the KKK elected the governor of Oregon and passed a vicious law banning Catholic schools. Two years later, the Klan put a similar measure on the Washington State ballot. Voters rejected the xenophobic measure by a large margin. This essay examines the 1924 campaign.
Harold Pritchett: Communism and the International Woodworkers of America by Timothy Kilgren
- Canadian-born Harold Pritchett helped organize the International Woodworkers of America in the mid 1930s and became the first president of the huge timberworkers union. But his Communist Party affiliation made him a target and in 1940, US immigration authorities banned him and he was forced to resign the Presidency. This paper explores the life of a Communist union leader.
DeFunis v. Odegaard : Another Kind of “Jewish Problem” by Sharae Wheeler
- In 1971, Marco Defunis, a Sephardic Jew and native of Seattle, Washington, brought suit against the UW Law School, claiming reverse discrimination. The case reached the Supreme Court which used it to set limits on affirmative action. The DeFunis case was very complicated for the Jewish community, as this award-winning essay explains.
Seattle’s Labor History Highlights by James Gregory
- Few cities make use of labor history the way Seattle does. The city proudly recognizes struggles like the Seattle General Strike of 1919 and the WTO “Battle of Seattle” as part of what makes the region famous and important. News media, city officials, and educators join in commemorating key anniversaries. This is no accident. It reflects the continued political importance of unions and the ongoing cultural work of labor activists and labor educators.
Combating Anti-Semitism at the Laurelhurst Beach Club by Anne Levine
- The Seattle chapter of Anti-Defamation League of the B’nai B’rith was founded in 1913. In the 1950s it won a signal victory against the Laurelhurst Beach Club that systematically denied membership to Jewish residents of the Laurelhurst neighborhood. This essay tells the story of the twenty-year-long campaign…
CORE and the Fight Against Employer Discrimination in 1960s Seattle by Jamie Brown
- The Congress of Racial Equality mounted a concerted campaign to end employment discrimination in Seattle. This essay examines the tactics of the campaign and evaluates methods of the small but very active CORE chapter.
CORE’s Drive for Equal Employment in Downtown Seattle, 1964 by Rachel Smith
- Culminating two years of campaigns to end discrimination in employment, CORE launched a drive to win jobs for African Americans in Seattle’s downtown retail district. This essay details the campaign and its impacts.
The 1964 Open Housing Election: How the Press Influenced the Campaign by Trevor Goodloe
- In a crushing defeat for civil rights, Seattle voters overwhelming rejected a 1964 ballot measure that would have made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race in the sale or rental of housing. This essay examines the surprising role of the city’s newspapers in the open housing election.
The Early History of the UW Black Student Union by Marc Robinson
- When members of the BSU took over the administration building on May 20, 1968, they began a sequence of activism that transformed the University of Washington and helped rearrange the priorities of higher education in Washington State.
The BSU Takes on BYU and the UW Athletics Program, 1970 by Craig Collisson
- Denouncing the racist practices of Brigham Young University and the Mormon Church, the BSU demanded that UW sever its athletic contracts with BYU. When the administration refused, the BSU launched some of the most militant demonstrations of the era.
The Franklin High School Sit-in, March 29, 1968 by Tikia Gilbert
- The March 1968 BSU confrontation at Franklin High was a pivotal moment for Seattle Civil Rights movements. It helped solidify the reputation of the BSU and launch the Black Panther Party.
The Chicano Movement in Washington State 1967-2006 by Oscar Rosales Castaneda
- This two-part essay traces the history of Chicano political and cultural activism in Washington State. The movement emerged in two locales: in the Yakima Valley and Seattle. Reflecting the split geography, the movement linked together campaigns to organize and support farmworkers with projects that served urban communities and educational agendas.
The Christian Friends for Racial Equality, 1942-70 by Johanna Phillips
- Started in 1942 by Seattle women of different faiths and races, Christian Friends for Racial Equality (CFRE) pioneered interracial and interreligious cooperation that laid the groundwork for Seattle’s more activist movement in the 1960s to break down social and cultural barriers to interracial cooperation.
By Right of Discovery: United Indians of All Tribes Retakes Fort Lawton, 1970 by Lossom Allen
- In the early morning hours of March 8, 1970, members of the United Indians of All Tribes jumped the barbed wire fences of Fort Lawton and reclaimed the soon-to-be-decommissioned military base as land that belonged to Native peoples. Thus began an 18 month long struggle that resulted in the establishment of Daybreak Star Cultural Center, one of the first urban Indian cultural centers in the United States.
United Indians of All Tribes Meets the Press: News Coverage of the 1970 Occupation of Fort Lawton by Karen Smith
- The invasion of Fort Lawton set off a frenzy of media coverage.The major newspapers expressed mild sympathy while reinscribing old stereotypes. Smaller newspapers took stronger positions. American Indian publications were also divided. This essay analyzes the press coverage, finding differences of perspective while arguing that the volume of press coverage was an important breakthrough for Native politics.
American Indian Women’s Service League: Raising the Cause of Urban Indians, 1958-71 by Karen Smith
- Founded in 1958 by Pearl Warren and seven other Native women, The American Indian Women’s Service League proved a pivotal institution for Seattle’s growing urban Indian population. In 1960, the group opened the Indian Cultural Center which provided social and health services, taught Native cultural awareness, and laid the foundation for the political activism of young urban Indians in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Indian Civil Rights Hearings: U.S. Civil Rights Commission Comes to Seattle, 1977 by Laurie Johnstonbaugh
- In October 1977, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission began two days of hearings in Seattle in response to mounting tension between local government and business interests and Native American communities over the issue of tribal sovereignty. This article explores the backlash campaign that followed the 1974 Boldt fishing rights decision and the Civil Rights Commission’s effort to sort out the controversy.
Challenging Sexism at City Light: The Electrical Trades Trainee Program by Nicole Grant
- On June 24, 1974 ten women began their first day of work at Seattle City Light, the city’s public utility. Tthe women represented the first stab at gender integration of the all-male, unionized, Seattle City Light electricians. They would become the first female linemen, sub-station constructors, cable splicers, the first unionized female utility electricians in Seattle and the first in the nation.
The 1920 Anti-Japanese Crusade and Congressional Hearings by Doug Blair
- Congressman Albert Johnson co-authored the 1924 Immigration Act that effectively closed America’s borders to non-white immigrants for the next forty years. In 1920 he brought his Congressional committee to Seattle to investigate the “threat” posed by Japanese immigrants. This paper examines the hearings and Washington’s anti-Japanese crisis of 1920.
“Pride and Shame” The Museum Exhibit that Helped Launch the Japanese American Redress Movement by Allison Shephard
- In 1970, the Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League changed course on a museum exhibit that was supposed to merely celebrate their community, and instead decided to also revisit the painful history of internment. The exhibit, “Pride and Shame”, ended up traveling around the country, and has been credited with helping launch the internment redress movement.
Battle at Boeing: African Americans and the Campaign for Jobs, 1939-1942 by Sarah Davenport
- In 1942, Florise Spearman and Dorothy Williams became the first African Americans ever hired atBoeing. This capped a two-year campaign led by the Northwest Enterprise_, Seattle’s black-owned newspaper, and a coalition of black activists. The Aeronautical Workers union fought the demand for open hiring, It took federal intervention to force the company and the union to end the white-only employment policy.
1965 Freedom Patrols and the Origins of Seattle’s Police Accountability Movement by Jennifer Taylor
- What began as a fight between two white police officers and two unarmed black men in Seattle’s predominantly non-white Central District became political when an officer shot and killed one of the African Americans. African American community leaders demanded justice and set up “freedom patrols” to monitor the police.
After Internment: Seattle’s Debate Over Japanese Americans’ Right to Return Home by Jennifer Speidel
- On December 17th, 1944 U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt announced that the federal government would officially end the exclusion order that prevented Japanese and Japanese-Americans from returning to the West Coast. The announcement set off a fiery debate over “resettlement,” with some Seattle residents supporting the right of return, while others, including many public officials, tried to stop it.
Electrical Workers Minority Caucus: A History by Nicole Grant
- Historically the construction trades have been a bastion of white, male unionism. Since 1986 the Electrical Workers Minority Caucus has carved out a space for workers of color and female workers in IBEW Local 46, the union representing electrical workers in the Pacific Northwest. This essay explores the history of race, gender, and struggle before EWMC and examines the organization’s role in Local 46 today.
Blocking Racial Intermarriage Laws in 1935 and 1937: Seattle’s First Civil Rights Coalition by Stefanie Johnson
- In an era marked by racial segregation, Washington was an anomaly: one of only eight states without laws banning racial intermarriage. When anti-miscegenation bills were introduced in both the 1935 and 1937 sessions of the Washington State Legislature, an effective and well-organized coalition led by the African American, Filipino, and Labor communities mobilized against the measure.
Susie Revels Cayton: “The Part She Played” by Michelle L. Goshorn
- Wife of publisher Horace Cayton Sr., mother of the famous sociologist Horace Cayton Jr. and labor leader Revels Cayton, Susie Revels Cayton was also Associate Editor or the Seattle Republican and an activist in Seattle’s African American community. This biographical essay uses her writings to provide a window into her personal life and to help clarify her dual commitments to her family and her community.
Black Longshoreman: The Frank Jenkins Story by Megan Elston
- Frank Jenkins (1902-1973) was a Seattle longshoreman and one of the first African Americans to hold leadership positions in the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. A participant in the 1934 strike that created the ILWU, for the next thirty-three years he served Seattle’s Local 19 in various leadership capacities and was regularly elected to the Coast Labor Relations committee of the International union.
La Raza Comes to Campus: The new Chicano contingent and the grape boycott at the University of Washington, 1968-69 by Jeremy Simer
- Chicano students at the UW mobilized for the first time in the fall of 1968. They formed the United Mexican American Students (UMAS), which soon led a campaign to boycott of California table grapes in support of the United Farm Workers which had been on strike since 1965. The successful boycott made turned a small group of Chicano students into a force to be reckoned with.
Revels Cayton: African American Communist and Labor Activist by Sarah Falconer
- On February 19, 1934, a group of Communists decided that discrimination toward African Americans and Filipinos in Seattle must come to an end. Led by a young, African American, Revels Cayton, the group entered a Seattle City Council meeting demanding laws that would make discrimination based on race illegal. This essay examines the activism of Revels Cayton, son of the prominent middle class black leaders Horace and Susie Cayton, brother of the influential sociologist Horace Cayton, Jr.
Victorio Velasco, Pioneer Filipino American Journalist by Erik Luthy
- Journalism became very important to Filipino American community development and politics and no one did more to establish the journalistic enterprise than Victorio Velasco, who is best known as the editor of the Seattle-based Filipino Forum (1928-1968). This paper looks at his early career as a student and journalist after coming to the US from the Phillipines in 1924.
Cannery Worker’s and Farm Laborer’s Union 1933-1939: Their Strength in Unity by Crystal Fresco
- Seattle was home to the most important Filipino-American-led labor union, the Cannery Worker’s and Farm Laborer’s Union. Organized in 1933, the union represented “Alaskeros,” the men who shipped out each spring to work in the Salmon canneries of Alaska. This essay narrates the dramatic early years of CWFLU. The union was still in its infancy when two of the founders, President Virgil Duyungan and secretary Aurelio Simon, were murdered.
The Local 7/Local 37 Story: Filipino American Cannery Unionism in Seattle 1940-1959 by Micah Ellison
- Historians have concentrated on the early years of the Cannery Workers Union and on the two sets of assassinations that plagued the Filipino-American-led union, the murder of Duyungan and Simon in 1936 and the second dual assassination of union leaders Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes in 1981. This essay explores the critical middle period as the union negotiated the 1940s and 1950s, dealing with deportation threats, internal turmoil, but also consolidating and becoming a critical resource for Filipino-American communities on the West Coast.
The Seattle School Boycott of 1966 by Brooke Clark
- “What do we want? Integration. When do we want it? Now!” This familiar chant from the civil rights movement reflected the desires of Seattle parents of school age children in 1966. That year, for two days, K-12 students poured out of Seattle ’s public schools and attended “freedom schools” to protest racial segregation in the Seattle school system. This essay tells the story of that boycott—from its origins to its effect on Seattle’s students and politicians.
Tyree Scott and the United Construction Workers Association by Trevor Griffey
- Seattle’s politics of fair employment entered a new phase when African American construction workers and activists began to protest racially exclusionary hiring practices in Seattle’s construction unions in the fall of 1969. Led by electrician Tyree Scott, workers used direct action to challenge institutional barriers to African American employment in Seattle. In the process, they became pioneers in shaping the early national politics of affirmative action. This unit includes interviews, documents, a short history of the UCWA, and full reproductions of the UCWA newspaper No Separate Peace.
The Black Panther Party in Seattle 1968-1970 by Kurt Schaefer
- This essay explores the first three years of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party from its founding by Black Student Union members in 1968 through the 1970 crisis negotiated by Mayor Wes Uhlman. The essay is presented in three parts.
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Essays and Commentary
Reflections and analysis inspired by the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide wave of protests that followed.
My Mother’s Dreams for Her Son, and All Black Children
She longed for black people in America not to be forever refugees—confined by borders that they did not create and by a penal system that killed them before they died.
By Hilton Als
June 21, 2020
How do we change america.
The quest to transform this country cannot be limited to challenging its brutal police alone.
By Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
June 8, 2020
The purpose of a house.
For my daughters, the pandemic was a relief from race-related stress at school. Then George Floyd was killed.
By Emily Bernard
June 25, 2020
The players’ revolt against racism, inequality, and police terror.
A group of athletes across various American professional sports have communicated the fear, frustration, and anger of most of Black America.
September 9, 2020, until black women are free, none of us will be free.
Barbara Smith and the Black feminist visionaries of the Combahee River Collective.
July 20, 2020, john lewis’s legacy and america’s redemption.
The civil-rights leader, who died Friday, acknowledged the darkest chapters of the country’s history, yet insisted that change was always possible.
By David Remnick
July 18, 2020
Europe in 1989, america in 2020, and the death of the lost cause.
A whole vision of history seems to be leaving the stage.
By David W. Blight
July 1, 2020
The messy politics of black voices—and “black voice”—in american animation.
Cartoons have often been considered exempt from the country’s prejudices. In fact, they form a genre built on the marble and mud of racial signification.
By Lauren Michele Jackson
June 30, 2020
After george floyd and juneteenth.
What’s ahead for the movement, the election, and the protesters?
June 20, 2020, juneteenth and the meaning of freedom.
Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones.
By Jelani Cobb
June 19, 2020
A memory of solidarity day, on juneteenth, 1968.
The public outpouring over racism that has been taking place in America since George Floyd’s murder feels like a long-postponed renewal of the reckoning that shook the nation more than half a century ago.
By Jon Lee Anderson
June 18, 2020
Seeing police brutality then and now.
We still haven’t fully recognized the art made by twentieth-century black artists.
By Nell Painter
The History of the “Riot” Report
How government commissions became alibis for inaction.
By Jill Lepore
June 15, 2020
The trayvon generation.
For Solo, Simon, Robel, Maurice, Cameron, and Sekou.
By Elizabeth Alexander
So Brutal a Death
Nationwide outrage over George Floyd’s brutal killing by police officers resonates with immigrants, and with people around the world.
By Edwidge Danticat
An American Spring of Reckoning
In death, George Floyd’s name has become a metaphor for the stacked inequities of the society that produced them.
June 14, 2020, the mimetic power of d.c.’s black lives matter mural.
The pavement itself has become part of the protest.
By Kyle Chayka
June 9, 2020
Donald trump’s fascist performance.
To the President, power sounds like gunfire and helicopters; it sounds like the silence of men in uniform when they are asked who they are.
By Masha Gessen
June 3, 2020
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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)
We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.
Essay 7: Getting History Right Can Decrease Racism Toward Mexican Americans
Recognizing that inaccurate history often subtly promotes continuing white supremacy, the National Education Association (NEA) commissioned these articles and has posted some of them in slightly different form at its website . I thank Harry Lawson and others at NEA for the commission, for editorial suggestions, and for other assistance.
U.S. history textbooks see our past from the vantage of New England. The Thanksgiving holiday also pushes popular culture toward this view. Three misconceptions result. Each wrongly elevates Anglo American culture over Mexican American culture. First, our culture paints Mexicans as less “civilized” newcomers. Actually, Spaniards were living in South Carolina in 1526, St. Augustine in 1565, and Santa Fe by 1598. Mexico had a university by 1551; Harvard was not founded until 1636. We credit the English as the first White settlers because Protestants published most history textbooks. Until about 1960, Catholic schools used textbooks that gave more emphasis to the Spanish. The United States is an Anglophone nation, but overemphasizing its Anglo roots by starting with Virginia and Plymouth Rock misrepresents the past. Teachers can help students understand this by having them shade all the territory that Spain ever controlled. They will draw a line from near Savannah, Georgia, westward and then northward to St. Paul, following the Louisiana Purchase line to northern California, then back along our border and coastline — half the country! Students can also research the imprint that Spanish and Mexican culture left, not only in place names like New Madrid, Missouri, but also on our culture. The horse and ideas connected with horses prompted first a new Plains Indian culture and then a new Anglo cowboy culture. Mission style is still a potent force in American design. The Catholic Church still dominates much of the formerly Spanish domain. The second era we often misperceive is 1820-1850. As Mexico became independent in 1821, it outlawed slavery. Mexico welcomed white Southerners, but they could not bring slaves. Even worse from the U.S. standpoint, enslaved African Americans seeking freedom escaped to Mexico overland and by boat from Louisiana. These grievances led the newcomers to get Texas to secede from Mexico, followed by our 1846 war with Mexico. The 1848 treaty ending that war provided that citizens of Mexico who now found themselves in the U.S. were to be full citizens. However, whites often trampled their rights, brought them up on false charges, and even lynched them to get their land without payment. Native Americans in the Mexican Cession didn’t get citizenship until 1924. The third misconception concerns Mexican immigrants. In 2016 Donald Trump made them a key issue in his presidential campaign, especially in the primaries. Students need to understand that our so-called “illegal immigration” has a history. Since at least 1870, the United States has used Mexican workers when we needed them, and deported them when we didn’t. Right after World War I, the U.S. encouraged Mexicans to come to lay railroad track and grow cotton in the Southwest. Similarly, during World War II, when many Americans were fighting in Europe, workers from Mexico and Puerto Rico came to work in factories and on farms. Conversely, during the Depression when work was scarce, the federal government deported thousands. (Students can compare the Bracero Program to Operation Wetback.) Also, as part of their worsening status during the Nadir of Race Relations, the 1930 Census no longer classified Mexican Americans as “white.” California then tried to force them into segregated public schools. Mexican Americans replied by winning two lawsuits, Alvarez v. Lemon Grove and Mendez v. Westminster , which overturned the new segregation policy. Today, 34 million Mexicans and Mexican Americans live in the United States. About 65% are native-born; most of the rest are naturalized citizens or legal residents. Characterizing them primarily as “illegal aliens” (a problematic term in itself, since “alien” implies unearthly) or as threatening outsiders is historically inaccurate. We must teach our long mutual history without distorting it to make “us” look good, “them” bad. Increasingly, they are us.
Essential Reading and Listening
- Charlie Grymes, “Spanish Exploration and Settlement in the Southeast Before Ajacan”, virginiaplaces.org/settleland/spanish.html , is Virginia-centric and by an amateur historian but effectively shows that the Spanish came first.
- A CD of classical choral music, Chanticleer, Mexican Baroque , Das Alte Werk CD105811, shows the “high” culture in Mexico long before the U.S.
- Rudolfo Acuna, “Greasers Go Home,” chapter 12 of The Latino/a Condition (NYU Press, 1998), shows how Mexican laborers were used and abused as economics dictated.
All essays in the Correct(ed) series: Introducing the Series Essay 2: How to Teach Slavery Essay 3: How to Teach Secession Essay 4: Teaching about the Confederacy and Race Relations Essay 5: Confederate Public History Essay 6: Reconstruction Essay 7: Getting History Right Can Decrease Racism Toward Mexican Americans Essay 8: Problematic Words about Native Americans Essay 9: How and When Did the First People Get Here? Essay 10: The Pantheon of Explorers Essay 11: Columbus Day Essay 12: How Thanksgiving Helps Keep Us Ethnocentric Essay 13: American Indians as Mascots Essay 14: How to Teach the Nadir of Race Relations Essay 15: Teaching the Civil Rights Movement Essay 16: Getting Students Thinking about the Future
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Updated April 24, 2012