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The Washington State Historical Society (WSHS) received funding allocated by the State Legislature in 2020 to research, explore, share and celebrate the history of Black Washingtonians. WSHS is facilitating an Advisory Committee who have developed the scope of work and objectives for the Washington Black History Project. Below, you can read about the individuals comprising the Advisory Committee and the projects we are undertaking.

Background

In the last legislative session, a group of legislators, led by Representative Eric Pettigrew, allocated $100,000 in the capital budget for the Washington State Historical Society to “lead a commemoration of Black History Month in 2021 at the State Capitol to include the planning and presentation of events and/or exhibitions on the Capitol campus, development of digital educational resources, and the creation or refurbishment of permanent fixtures and/or structures commemorating the history of African Americans in Washington state.”

Project goals

We recognize this investment as a tremendous opportunity to build history resources that will connect Washingtonians to Black history in our state not only in 2021, but into the future. Our goals for this project are:

  • To recognize Black history across Washington, in communities large and small.
  • To lift up community voices and knowledge, while also supporting existing and new scholarship by Black historians.
  • To develop a digital resource that is robust and expandable, recognizing people, events, and places important to Black history in Washington.
  • To lay the groundwork for a permanent display at the Washington State capital acknowledging the history of Black Washingtonians and their contributions to this state.

The Advisory Committee has held multiple meetings and has further refined the scope as:

  • Creating a “Black History in Washington” app that will be free and accessible to everyone with internet access, and downloadable to smartphones.
  • Adding a marker to the Capitol Campus in front of the tree that was planted from stock from Bush Prairie, which Black pioneer George Bush settled. The marker will tell the history of George Bush as well as that of his son, who served in the territorial legislature. UPDATE: The Bush family monument has been installed with an unveiling celebration November 19, 2021. Read that press release here, and see a video of the unveiling celebration.
Unveiling celebration video
  • Celebratory events during Black History Month in February 2021 including two free virtual Black History lectures accessible via Facebook Live; the program recordings remain accessible via the WSHS YouTube channel in the Public Programs playlist.

Questions?

Please contact WSHS Director Jennifer Kilmer at Jennifer.Kilmer@wshs.wa.gov.

Project Updates

George Bush monument

A new monument has been installed on the Capitol Campus in Olympia to commemorate pioneer George Bush, his family, and his son Owen Bush. The unveiling celebration took place on November 19, 2021, and was recorded by TVW. Speakers included Lieutenant Governor Denny Heck, former State Representative Eric Pettigrew, State Representative Debra Entenman, and WSHS Director Jennifer Kilmer.

Black History in Washington

The Bush monument with the Bush Butternut Tree in the background, located on the
Washington State Capitol Campus. Photo courtesy Washington State Department of Enterprise Services.

 

Unveiling Celebration video

The new Bush monument is near a tree that was planted in honor of the Bush family. When the Bush family left their home in Missouri, they brought root stock with them, and cultivated it on their farm at Bush Prairie (near today’s Tumwater, Washington). A new generation of these original roots lives on in a tree propagated from a nut of one of the original trees, planted on the Capitol Campus in 2010 to honor the Bush family.

The plaque on the Bush monument reads as follows:

Putting Down Roots
The Bush Family settles in Washington Territory

Black pioneer George Bush (c.1790-1863) helped establish the first non-Indigenous American settlement in Washington. George, his wife Isabella and others traveled the Oregon Trail to escape discrimination and prejudice in Missouri, only to arrive in the Oregon Country to find that newly adopted racist laws prohibited Black settlers. Continuing north of the Columbia River, they established a farm called Bush Prairie near today’s Tumwater. The Bush family was known to be generous and welcoming, and are credited with saving the lives of fellow settlers with food from their farm during the famine of 1852. This first settlement drew other pioneers and furthered the claim of this area by the United States. In 1850, the U.S. Congress passed the Donation Land Claim Act which excluded people of African descent from making land claims. The Washington Territorial legislature successfully petitioned Congress to grant the Bush family the right to retain ownership of their farm. Bush died a landowner but still not allowed to vote. His son, William Owen Bush, served in the first Washington State legislature (1889-1890) and helped found Washington State University. From their home in Missouri, the Bush family brought root stock to cultivate at Bush Prairie; a nut from one of those century-old trees grew into a sapling that was rooted on this campus in 2010 and named the Bush Butternut Tree.

News release: Bush Monument announced News release: Monument unveiling

Washington Black History App

The Washington State Historical Society and the Washington Black History Project advisory committee are working with Dr. Maurice Dolberry, an educational consultant and a professor at University of Washington, to create content for the app. Dolberry’s vision for the app is that it will focus not just on famous Black people and notable sites in Washington, but rather educate about actions and impacts, ripple effects across generations. Each person or place explored on the app will open the door to additional people and places, and those will branch even further. The app will cover Black history across the state.

Public Programs

Free public programs held during Black History Month, 2021, are accessible via YouTube.

From Migration to Mark Making:

George Bush, Jacob Lawrence and the Impact of Black Pioneers in Washington

 

A History of Hip Hop in Seattle with Dr Daudi Abe

Meet The Advisory Committee

This group of esteemed and skilled committee members are collaborating with facilitation by WSHS to define the components for the Washington Black History Project. Please click below to read biographies for these individuals.

Frank Boykin Jr.

Washington Black History Project

Frank Boykin Jr. serves as director of the Manufacturing Industrial Council for the South Sound (MIC). The organization supports local manufacturers by advocating for jobs that support families and industrial areas across the region. His career with United Parcel Service (UPS) spans 25 years. Originally from Missouri, he moved to Lakewood, Washington after graduating with a business administration degree from Lincoln University in 1992. His public service includes past work with Congressman Adam Smith’s office as part of UPS’s congressional awareness team and he currently serves as vice co-chair of the City of University Place Planning Commission.

Naima Chambers-Smith

Washington Black History Project 1

Naima Chambers-Smith is the founder and CEO of the Tri-Cities Diversity & Inclusion Council (TCD&IC) 501(c)(3) and organizer of the Tri-Cities Collective Black Voice. Naima is a certified Trauma Informed Care Facilitator, ASCENT Leadership graduate, and holds two DEI certifications in addition to Continuous Quality Improvement and Real Colors/Real Teams. With core competencies in Behavioral Intervention and Cognitive Restructuring, she has over 20 years’ progressive law enforcement experience using trauma informed practices for youth and adults in custody. Naima is a DEI leader and trainer for officers, managers, and staff members of the Oregon Department of Corrections Diversity Committee and brings the lived experience of a multi-racial, multicultural family. Naima also serves as commissioner on the City of Pasco Inclusivity Diversity and Equity Commission (IDEC.) She is a member of the African American Community Cultural & Educational Society (AACCES) and Racial Equity & Social Justice (RESJ) Coalition while also volunteering for the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN) and Tri-Cities Mutual Aid Fund.

 

Quin’Nita Cobbins-Modica

Washington Black History Project 2

Quin’Nita Cobbins-Modica is Associate Editor/Historian at BlackPast.org. She is an historian of African American women’s history in the American West. She received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Washington in 2018, with an undergraduate degree in History from Fisk University and a Master’s in History from the University of Georgia. Cobbins-Modica’s current research project explores the history of black women’s politics, activism, and leadership in Seattle. Her article “Finding Peace Across the Ocean: Daisy Tibbs Dawson and the Rebuilding of Hiroshima,” was recently published in the Spring 2019 issue of Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History. In 2017, she co-authored a book, Seattle on the Spot, that explored photographs of Black Seattle through the lens of photographer, Al Smith. Recently, Cobbins-Modica held a postdoctoral teaching position in the Department of History at Gonzaga University where she taught courses in U.S. History, African American History, and the Pacific Northwest. She has also worked as a researcher for the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle and as an exhibition co-curator and historical consultant with the Museum of History & Industry.

RaShelle Davis

Washington Black History Project 3

RaShelle Davis is a Senior Policy Advisor for Governor Inslee of Washington State. Her diverse portfolio includes equity, civil rights, and general government. Over her seven years with the Governor, she has led several efforts including the Governor’s initiatives to increase high quality early learning opportunities, creation of the State’s Charter School Commission, and successful passage of legislation expanding voting rights and access. She is also active in the legal community and has served in leadership positions in various bar associations including most recently as a member of the ABA House of Delegates. An avid traveler and world citizen, RaShelle has visited over 45 countries, speaks Chinese, and is always looking for her next adventure. RaShelle received her J.D. from New York University School of Law and B.A. from the University of Puget Sound.

LaNesha DeBardelaben

Washington Black History Project 4

LaNesha DeBardelaben is Executive Director of Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum, a museum which was named a 2019 finalist for the prestigious IMLS National Medal for Museum Service Award for their impactful engagement with the community.  LaNesha is National President of the Association of African American Museums (AAAM) Board of Directors and she has international experience with museums across three continents.

 

Representative Debra Entenman

Washington Black History Project 5

State Representative Debra Entenman represents the 47th Legislative District, which encompasses the East Hill of Kent, Auburn, and Covington. Rep. Entenman currently is Vice-Chair of the College and Workforce Development Committee, Chair of the Black Members Caucus, and Co-Chair of the Opportunity For All Caucus. She is also on the Innovation, Technology, and Economic Development and Transportation Committees.

Dexter B. Gordon

Washington Black History Project 6

Dexter Gordon holds the positions of Distinguished Professor, Director Race and Pedagogy Institute, and Director of African American Studies, at the University of Puget Sound.

He teaches and does research in media, culture, race and pedagogy, and African American studies. In his popular and scholarly writings, he examines public discourse, social theory, and social, intellectual, and political history. In his book, Black Identity: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Nineteenth-Century Black Nationalism (2003), Gordon advocates for a critical reconstruction of historical memory to elucidate black identity and help initiate redemption and repair.

Will Hausa

Washington Black History Project 7

Will Hausa serves as Chairman of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs. Will’s goal as the Commission’s Chairman is to increase the African American community’s readiness to be economically empowered for years to come.

He leads a team of highly skilled professionals responsible for the biochemical treatment of the City of Tacoma’s industrial and municipal resource-water and is recognized at the highest level by the Washington State Department of Health as a Water Distribution Manager. He is also President of the Pacific Northwest Clean Water Association’s Puget Sound section. He graduated from Valencia College with a core focus in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics. Will earned a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt from the University of Washington and uses those principles to guide his judgement to serve the public’s interest.

Stephanie Johnson-Toliver

Washington Black History Project 10

Stephanie Johnson-Toliver is President at the Black Heritage Society of Washington State (BHS) where collections and partnerships are its assets. With interest for lifting the legacies of Black people in Washington State, Stephanie is co-chair at Seattle’s Historic Central Area Arts & Cultural District with preservation and placemaking at the forefront.

Dr. Grace Livingston

Washington Black History Project 11

As Professor with the African American Studies Program at the University of Puget Sound, Dr. Grace Livingston’s research and writing focuses on social justice education, including its impact on educational theory and practice. In courses such as Introduction to African American Studies, Narratives of Race, and Imaging Blackness: Black Film and Black Identity, Livingston and her students address questions about how we shape and remember the past, how we engage raw truths of the present, and how we use critical examination of the past and present to forge a better future. She works with teaching and learning partners in the community and in the theater, and is a leader in the campus Race and Pedagogy Institute. She holds a BA from Jamaica Theological Seminary and an MS and PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

Lonnie Spikes

Washington Black History Project 12

Lonnie Spikes established the Washington State Blacks United in Leadership and Diversity (BUILD). BUILD exists to improve the experiences of current and future Black employees and to increase the representation of Black people in leadership positions. Lonnie is the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Human Resource Director. Lonnie has thirty years of leadership both with the State and the military. He holds a Master of Science Degree in (HR) Management and a Graduate Certificate in Organizational Change Management (OCM).

Sandra Williams

Washington Black History Project 13

Sandra Williams is the Publisher and Editor of The Black Lens, the only African American focused newspaper in Eastern Washington and the Executive Director of Spokane’s Carl Maxey Center, an African American focused cultural center. She received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Washington State University and her Masters Degree in Film/Television Production from the University of Southern California School of Cinema.