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Book Looks at Spokane’s Civil Rights History

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Although Spokane is not known for having a large African American population, the community has historically been home to some civil rights struggles. A new book takes a look at the heritage of blacks in Spokane.

Dwayne Mack's new book, “Black Spokane: The Civil Rights Struggle in the Inland Northwest”, actually began as his PHD dissertation when he was attending WSU 12 years ago. He is now is the Carter G. Woodson Chair in African American History at Berea College in Kentucky.

It took years to put the comprehensive work together. Among the highlights, the story of a Spokane barber who refused to cut the hair of a Liberian exchange student in 1963.

Mack: “White barbers throughout the state refused to cut the hair of black customers, even in Seattle, but for some reason this case made the newswire and even made it to the home of Johnson in Liberia.”

The Liberian won a mediation hearing on the issue, and he was supported by staff and students and Gonzaga.

The book also discusses the work of others who made a difference, like activists James and Lydia Sims. A major step in race relations came when Spokane elected a black mayor, James Chase, in 1981.

Mack: “But for the most part it was a symbolic victory, her served as a role model for the Black Community, and was admired by the masses, both White and Black.”

Chase served at a time when virtually no blacks served as firefighters or police, and very few served in city government.

Mack says while Spokane is not known for Civil Rights battles, it did play a role in the movement. 

Mack: "You indeed had an engaged group of citizens in a city not known for being a hotbed of activity for civil rights. The activists in Spokane had their finger on the pulse in the creation for equality, both inside and outside the city.”

Dwayne Mack will be doing a presentation from his book on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. in the Barbieri Courtroom at  Gonzaga University's school of law.

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