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questions of home & place

Posts tagged ‘My Seattle’

My Seattle: living elements of the city’s black history

Oh Seattle: how is your black history defined?

With the city’s proximity to Vancouver, my time in or any understanding of Seattle was incomplete without an examination of the city’s non-white communities. I had questions about the black community and in particular why the city remains racially segregated. People of color, including black people, were once forbidden from buying houses in specific neighbourhoods because of their skin colour. The Central District (CD) thrived as a black community in the 2nd-half of the 20th-century, but now, citizens struggle with gentrification, displacement, and economic racism. There’s much more I need to ask and learn, but for now, I describe below a selection of landmarks highlighting contributions by and the historical impact of the black community to city and nation.


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Black hockey history with NHL mobile museum, in Seattle

When a city receives an expansion team, that immediately drives anticipation for a new pro sports presence and interest for an expected intraregional rivalry. It’s a perfect time for the professional sports league to come into town and speak to the city’s audience.

The new NHL Seattle Kraken ice hockey team will begin play in the 2021-2022 season, and regional bragging rights will begin immediately with an immediate regional rivalry with the Vancouver Canucks, not unlike the decades-old soccer rivalry between the Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps (which I first witnessed in the 1970s in the old original NASL).

But the following questions remain timely: For whom is ice hockey? What is the relationship between the sport and people of colour? What is the history of black people in professional hockey? I hope the following sheds a little bit of light on black hockey history.


NHL Black Hockey History Mobile Museum

In early 2020, a travelling museum exhibition highlighted how black Canadians, black Americans, and their respective communities have made important contributions to the winter sport of ice hockey at both amateur and professional levels.⁣ Presented in conjunction with the American Legacy Network, the NHL Black Hockey History mobile museum made its way throughout North America, stopping in 14 cities: Washington, DC; Detroit, MI; St. Louis, MO; Pittsburgh, PA; Ottawa, ON; Toronto, ON; Newark, NJ; Nashville, TN; Anaheim, CA; Los Angeles, CA; San Jose, CA; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; and Tempe, AZ.

In a continuation of activities associated with Black History Month, Kim Davis, NHL executive vice president, wrote about what Black History Month meant to her, and what players of colour past and present have meant to the game of hockey (28 Feb 2020).

The mobile museum dropped anchor for its 4-day visit in Seattle in early March, with the first stop at Jimi Hendrix Park next to the city’s Northwest African American Museum.


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“Iconic Black Women”, by Seattle artist Hiawatha D

(Best you view these images NOT on a tiny mobile screen, but from your desktop or laptop. You can either view the scrolling gallery above, or move down into the post for the same images with important informative captions.)

As part of an ongoing journey to learn more about Seattle’s black community and their ongoing story, I visited the city’s Northwest African American Museum (NAAMNW) in March 2020. The museum’s permanent collection casts a spotlight on black migration within the United States, and the contributions by blacks to the nation and to the American Pacific Northwest. Also timely was the simultaneous visit of the NHL’s Black Hockey History mobile museum as part of their 14-city tour throughout North America.

I was especially moved by the museum’s special exhibition “Iconic Black Women: Ain’t I A Woman“, by Hiawatha D, an artist based in Seattle. His work and paintings highlight his story as a black man and black artist in America. His series of paintings “Iconic Black Women” shines a positive light on black women throughout past and contemporary American history: the important places they’ve occupied, and the important contributions they’ve made to human rights, music, literature, and sport. On sight of the paintings, the context, clothing, and body language may be immediately familiar. But many of the people painted don’t have faces, which allows viewers, especially young women, to see themselves in these figures, sparking and strengthening a connection between viewer and iconic black women.

I would love to see another name added to this list of iconic black women: Viola Desmond.


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My Seattle: Chris Cornell

Above/featured: Customers’ contributions on the walls of Beth’s Cafe in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge – 7 Mar 2020.

Where: Seattle, WA, USA.
Who: Chris Cornell.
Why: A search for traces he left behind in his birth city.

On 21 April 1991, an album of music both memorial and celebratory in nature was released, and changed not only the nature of rock at the time, but also the lives of many, both inside and outside the music industry. In the days and weeks after Andrew Wood’s death in March 1990, a group of people gathered to mourn and remember; they wrote new compositions and sang their songs. Temple of the Dog was born: the release of their self-titled album on that early-spring day in 1991 would be the only full-length album to the band’s name.

Decades later, the album’s 3rd track “Hunger Strike” is as compelling now as the first time the music video dropped in 1992 to grab my eyeballs and the harmony-melody-guitar-crunch latched onto my ears and brain. For lead singer Chris Cornell, intervening years included critical acclaim and success with Soundgarden and Audioslave, among solo efforts and other collaborations. Hours after performing on tour with Soundgarden, Cornell was found dead in his Detroit hotel room on 18 May 2017, shocking the community within Seattle and the community inside music at large; he was a young 52. Wherever they may be, that jam session with Cornell, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, and Andrew Wood has got to be one for the ages.

21 April 2021 is the 30th anniversary of the release of Temple of the Dog’s eponymous album.


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Macy's, Bon Marche building, The Bon, Thanksgiving, holiday star, Seattle, Washington, USA, fotoeins.com

Seattle: Thanksgiving holiday star & fireworks

As a wae lad, I was fascinated by comparative branding and marketing, and that’s how I got to thinking about the differences and similarities between Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company in greater Vancouver and the American Bon Marché in Bellingham and Seattle. But I don’t ever recall a tradition of lighting a star for October/Canadian Thanksgiving.

In downtown Seattle, a grand building opened in 1929 for the locally-owned Bon Marché department store, operating for over 7 decades until “The Bon” became Macy’s in 2005. A holiday star designed by Bob James in 1957 would become a fixture for the city and her residents. In September 2019, Macy’s declared the downtown Seattle location would be closing at the end of February 2020. At the time, the announcement included no plans for lighting the holiday star.

However, the star looks to be coming back for one more (final?) illumination, as a local lighting company agreed to refurbish and reassemble the star in time for the 2019 Thanksgiving season. Festivities occur Friday November 29, beginning with the annual Thanksgiving parade followed by the star’s lighting and fireworks.

•   MyNorthwest, 27 Nov 2019.

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