In 1986, Ron Sims, the first black person to be a member of the King County Council, introduced a motion to repair his county’s recognition of history by changing its namesake from an obscure, pre-Civil War United States vice president and slaveholder to civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. The motion passed, barely, 5-4. With history’s twists as knotted as ever this Presidents’ Day 2017, CHS wonders if another namesake change is in order.
Today, Jackson Street runs from the Central District to the International District and honors the nation’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson:
King Street was named by David Maynard in his 1853 Plat of the Town of Seattle, one of the first three plats laying out the street grid. (The other two plats, north of Maynard’s, were filed by Carson Boren and Arthur Denny). Maynard, a staunch Democrat, named many of the streets in his plat for Democratic leaders, including Andrew Jackson, John B. Weller (Governor of California), and Joseph Lane (Oregon Territory’s Congressional delegate).
As was William Rufus Devane King, Jackson was also a slaveholder. Beyond his battlefield prowess, he is remembered for The Indian Removal Act. His populism and, apparently, temper have also become a historical model for the Trump administration.
For King County, it took a decade beyond the county council’s vote and an overhaul of the county seal.
In Seattle along Jackson, nothing would need to change in the near term beyond our intentions. The street has already had some of its historical legacy updated with the 2016 introduction of the honorary Ernestine Anderson Way along S Jackson St between 20th Ave South and 23rd Ave South. To easily reclaim the rest, might we suggest the convenient intersection of good intent and coincidence to honor Joe Jackson, the first president of the Seattle Urban League:
Although the African American community in Seattle was small compared to other cities’ population, Jackson’s work in the Seattle Urban League was much needed. During Jackson’s first year in Seattle Urban League he organized the Negro Health Week and Vocational Opportunity program. In September 1931, due to the unfortunate outcomes of the Great Depression, Jackson helped with the founding of the Unemployed Citizens’ League for African Americans to help with the alarming unemployment problem among Seattle’s Black workers. By the third year, Jackson and Seattle Urban League helped with the building of a secretarial school. They also held public forums for job opportunities and voting registration, two important topics in Seattle’s African American community during the Great Depression. Taking notice of the little attention Seattle’s African Americans received, he started to gather statistical information on their health, education, and employment for research purposes. In 1938, he also wrote a booklet for the Seattle Urban League and the title speaks for itself, “What to tell them; a booklet designed to be of special service to counselors, guidance workers and agencies, with reference to negro girls and boys in Seattle; and for the use of students themselves …”
Jackson also is reported to have played a key role in a pivotal episode in Seattle’s civil rights history as protests and public outcry led to the conviction of three Seattle police officers in the death of a 27-year-old black man.
Like the addition of the honorary Ernestine Anderson Way, a change for the rest of the street would require the City Council take up the cause and carry the resolution forward. This time, there would be no need for new signs. The new Jackson Street would be fully legislative and symbolic. But in times when we are reminded of the importance of words and intent and where it feels like so many of our deepest values are under attack, it also might be the kind of change and small victory we should be pursuing.