NAACP Spokane may be small, but it's a 'mighty community of color'
Through its 100 years of fighting for racial equity and justice in economic opportunities, fair housing, criminal justice, educational challenges and environmental justice, the Spokane NAACP has a legacy of leaders whose persistence inspires members today to carry on despite challenges that remain in the systems of power.
The centennial launched in January with a program on the Bail Project, presented with a town hall with community partners, including Gonzaga's Black Student Union and its Institute for Hate Studies.
The Spokane's Mayor and City Council proclaimed April as the NAACP Spokane Centennial Month. A centennial celebration at their monthly membership meeting on Monday, April 15, filled Calvary Baptist Church, where the chapter first met.
The centennial celebration will culminate with hosting the NAACP State Area Conference from Sept. 13 to 15 at Northern Quest Resort and Casino in Airway Heights. There will be speakers, a lunch, banquet, the Michael P. Anderson scholarship awards and workshops on criminal justice, education, political action, health care and climate change.
The national NAACP approved Spokane's charter on April 14, 1919. The charter says the goal is "to uplift colored men and women of this country by securing to them the full enjoyment of their rights as citizens, justice in all courts and equality of opportunity everywhere."
Its founders and early leaders included the Rev. Emmett Reed, who was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church from 1919 until his death in 1961; the Rev. T.F. Jones, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church who was the first (temporary) president, and Frank Stokes, a businessman and member of Bethel AME, who for 30 years was president or other executive officer.
At the April 15 meeting, Gloria Ochoa-Brook presented the city's proclamation. Then Kiantha Duncan, the newest board member and former chair of the Seattle Tacoma Branch, recognized elders, men, women, millennials, faith leaders, educators and children present for what they have done and will do.
She invited people to join the NAACP and the "new Spokane," which she called Wakanda—a fictional African country—where "we understand we need each other and are each unique," she said. "We need to build the community to be what we want it to be, an oasis where neighbors love and care about each other.
"Amazing things have happened because of the NAACP," she said. "We are a small but mighty community of color."
James Wilburn, NAACP Spokane president from 2013 to 2014 and consultant/trainer with Wilburn & Associates, gave a brief history: In 1619 a cargo ship brought to Virginia 20 "scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians" who were off loaded. They and their descendants were enslaved for 250 years until 1865. After the Emancipation Proclamation, former slaves gained rights. From 1885 to 1890, there were 17 African Americans in Congress and one in the Senate, but by 1909, Jim Crow, the KKK and lynchings slowed progress.
In 1909, the Niagara Movement, a civil rights group led by W.E.B. DuBois, founded the bi-racial NAACP.
"Ten years later, the NAACP formed Spokane chapter 1137. Our people still are fighting. In Spokane, the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians produced astronaut Michael P. Anderson," Jim said, inviting people to donate to the scholarship fund named for him.
The NAACP Spokane's current president, Kurtis Robinson, then asked, "What kind of Spokane do we want? Do we want children of color to struggle for resources to learn successfully?"
In an interview before the meeting, Kurtis reviewed the chapter's legacy and leaders, looked at present leadership and action, and offered challenges for the future.
Kurtis, a wildlands firefighter, began as chair of the Criminal Justice Committee in 2016 and became president in May 2017. He is adjusting his work so he has flexibility to lead efforts challenging the number of people of color incarcerated, the eight deaths in 14 months in Spokane's jail and the talk of a new jail.
The NAACP works with the Spokane Community Against Racism, which is leading a collaborative "No New Jail" effort with Smart Justice, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, Greater Spokane Progress and I Did the Time.
"We are building on the backs of great national and local legends, from our founders to civil rights attorney Carl Maxey, to Spokane's first African-American Mayor Jim Chase to long-time civil rights activist V. Ann Smith," he said.
Presidents over the years have been T.A. Jones, 1919; Frank Stokes, 1919-22, 1928, 1931-44; Emmet Reed, 1923-24, 1945; John Thompson, 1925, 1930; Emmett Holmes, 1929; Rev. J.T. Morton, 1946; James Chase, 1947-48, 1950, 1952-57, 1959-68; Vernon Scott, 1949; Carl Maxey, 1951; James Sims, 1958; Joe Trim, 1969-76; Lydia Sims, 1977-80; C.T. Wright, 1981; Carl Boston: 1981-82, 1987-90; Samuel Baynes, 1983-86; Billy Monis, 1990-97; Percy (Happy) Watkins, 1998; Richard Williams, 1998-99; Eileen Thomas, 1999-2003; V. Anne Smith, 2003-2012; James Wilburn, 2013; Roberta Wilburn, 2014; Rachel Dolezal, 2015; Naima Quarles Burnley, 2015-16; Phil Tyler, 2016-17, and Kurtis Robinson, 2017-2019.
"They are among the powerful, prominent leaders who helped keep the wheel for equality and justice moving in a system set against us," said Kurtis. "We are building on what they did."
He said "justice cries out in the midst of disparities in the criminal justice system, exclusionary discipline in the school systems, the high number of police contacts with people of color, the use of force by police, bail inequities, and housing discrimination in rentals and home ownership.
"That list tells our chapter not to let past efforts be in vain," he said. "We need to move forward, so our children will not face what we face. Without advocacy and accountability, injustice will continue to thrive."
Kurtis said embedded in the systems are mindsets, policies and practices that undermine equality, so he and Carmen Pacheco-Jones, chair of the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Council's (SRLJC) Racial Equity Committee and Spokane NAACP second vice president, are doing "Implicit Bias" trainings.
"Given the propensity for protectionism when a structure is challenged, it pushes back instead of doing honest evaluation for meaningful change," said Kurtis. "I hope this training leads people to take personal responsibility and engage in practical applications."
Implicit Bias Training, developed at Harvard University, is based on "understanding how the human mind absorbs 11 million bits of unconscious information and 40 bits that are conscious, like the thickness of a sheet of paper," he said. "Implicit internalized understandings lead to unconscious judgments and responses."
Kurtis believes awareness helps people deconstruct some influences embedded in individuals for generations and programmed into societal structure as racism, criminalization and dehumanizing otherisms. He seeks to help people understand where "we are at" as a society and culture, and "how we can intentionally replace those understandings with healthier, restorative perspectives of self and our human family," he said.
Kurtis and Carmen, as part of a Just Lead Washington team, have done several Implicit Bias trainings since January for Leadership Spokane, the NAACP, Gonzaga and the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance, and co-facilitated "Why Race Matters" workshops with Greater Spokane Progress.
Along with those efforts, Devon Wilson, who has been on the NAACP board since October 2017 and chairs the Criminal Justice Committee, is building relationships with Black Student Unions at Eastern Washington, Gonzaga and Whitworth universities and high schools to rebuild the NAACP's internship program. The 2018-19 interns are Hawa Elias and Gabriel Fuller.
A 2015 graduate of the University of Kentucky in psychology and political science, Devon came to Spokane in 2016 and is now CHAS health public policy manager.
The NAACP Spokane Board also includes Deborah Cano, secretary; Dorothy Webster, treasurer; Sharon Randall, first vice president; and Wesley Gardner, third vice president. Committee chairs are Alin Zander, health care; Stacey Wells, political action, and Jim Mohr, centennial celebration. Members at large are Ike Okoli, Janet Pinkey Colbertson and Kiantha Duncan.
For information, call 209-2425 or 631-2009 or firstname.lastname@example.org Devon 270-933-2780 or SpokaneNAACPcriminaljustice@gmail.com
Fig Tree is source of many stories on NAACP
With the Fig Tree search tool on this and every page, you can find many stories on the NAACP Spokane. While a Google search of Spokane NAACP presidents draws nearly 10 pages about media coverage of former NAACP president Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who represented herself as black, a search on thefigtree.org brings names of many of the NAACP Spokane leaders, profiles on past presidents and reports on actions over 35 years.
Jim Sims and Happy Watkins were among those on the Spokane Christian Coalition Board when it voted to establish The Fig Tree.
NAACP Spokane and Fig Tree collaborate on the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference.
For information, visit www.thefigtree.org.
Dwayne Mack book includes stories on leaders
More history is in Dwayne Mack in his book, Black Spokane: The Civil Rights Struggle in the Inland Northwest, and other sources:
• In 1900, there were 360 black people in a population of 65,000; in the 1950s, 1,300 in a community of 160,000 with black soldiers at Geiger Field; in 1965, 2,600 out of about 180,000. The 2010 census shows about 2 percent or 7,800 African-Americans in Spokane's population of 390,000.
• In the 1950s and 1960s, James Chase, who was NAACP president several times, brought civil rights leader Rosa Parks to Spokane in 1956. He served on the Spokane City Council and in 1981 was elected mayor, winning 60 percent of the vote in the city that was just 1.5 percent African American.
• After serving in the military, James Sims, who had a bachelor's degree from Lincoln University and a master's in history from Gonzaga University, applied for a position with the Washington State Office of Community Development. Although he excelled in the civil service exam, the state denied him the job. With the help of civil rights attorney Carl Maxey, he sued the state, won and was employed as a state social worker.
In the 1950s, he was a minister at the Calvary Baptist Church, and in the mid-1960s, became pastor of New Hope Baptist.
• Lydia Sims' political activism began in the 1960s in the Spokane NAACP. As a student at EWU, she participated in a successful movement to desegregate Cheney public schools.
In 1975, she became Spokane's affirmative action specialist and was later appointed the city's human resources director, the first African-American department manager in the city's history. She helped other African Americans, women and marginalized people find jobs.
In 1977, she was elected the first African-American woman president of the 113-member NAACP branch and established its annual job fair in 1978.
More at thefigtree.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2019