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Generated by the work and vision of AWSP's Diversity and Equity Committee, the resources offered provide members with content focused on complimenting, and building upon, current equity best practices within school communities. 

Diversity & Equity Blog Posts

Black History Month: Celebrating a Beautifully Rich Culture

James Layman, AWSL Director
Feb 01, 2024


With Black History Month here, you may ask, "What does this mean for me?" In our daily lives, many of us may not know how to best honor, acknowledge, or celebrate cultures, whether our own or somebody else's. 

Black History Month allows us to shine a light and learn more about historical figures and pioneers in Black History who may be lesser known to the general public. Even within Washington state, we have our share of Black History woven into the fabric of our state’s history. Studying the lives and contributions of these individuals aids in our collective understanding and growth regarding the history of our state, particularly in relation to Black History Month. 

Below are some maybe lesser-known Black individuals who hold an honorable place in Washington state history. You’re invited to read through the list, open up the articles on a few, learn something new, and pass it on throughout the month. At the end of the list are a couple of great links with many articles, exhibits, videos, and resources to further explore and expand your knowledge and understanding.

Bertha Pitts Campbell (1889–1990): A civil rights activist, Campbell was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Washington School of Law. She became the first African American woman to practice law in the state.

Gordon McHenry Sr. (1931–2015): The first African American engineer promoted to management at Boeing, McHenry also served as the executive director of the Seattle Urban League and played a crucial role in addressing racial inequality and social justice issues.

Roberta Byrd Barr (1919–1993): The first female and African American principal in Seattle, Barr also worked at KOMO-TV and covered stories highlighting racial and social justice issues.

Sam Smith (1934–1995): A community organizer and political leader, Smith was the first African American elected to Seattle’s City Council after serving five consecutive terms as a House Representative for Seattle’s 37th District.

Thelma Dewitty (1900–1997): The first African American teacher hired by the Seattle School District, Dewitty made significant contributions to education and the African American community in Seattle.

Vickie Williams (1952-2017) With a goal to serve the Black community, Williams opened the first African American-owned bookstore in Washington state. She provided a safe place for African Americans to learn about their history and gather to celebrate their culture.

E. June Smith (1900-1982) A trailblazing educator in Seattle and advocate for Black history, Smith was actively involved in advocating for and contributing to the desegregation of schools, leaving an indelible mark on the pursuit of educational equity.

Reverend Sam McKinney (1926-2018) As a prominent figure in civil rights and social justice, Rev. McKinney was a key leader in the Seattle civil rights movement. He co-founded the Seattle Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) and played a crucial role in advocating for racial equality, education, and economic empowerment, leaving a lasting impact on the fight for justice in the Pacific Northwest.

Delbert Richardson: Founder of the American History Traveling Museum, Richardson is dedicated to preserving and sharing African American history. He has been active in educating communities about the contributions of Black Americans.

Celebrating Black History Month is not just about looking back; it's about creating a present and future that honors diversity, equality, and understanding. By taking tangible actions, we contribute to a more inclusive society where the achievements and contributions of Black individuals are acknowledged and celebrated throughout the year. Let this month be a catalyst for ongoing awareness and appreciation! 

Visit ICONS from the Washington State History Museum’s Black Washinton Virtual Exhibit (desktop version) to learn more about the icons, stories, and landmarks that shaped history and culture in Washington. If using a cell phone, find the Black Washington app here to view the exhibit.

BlackPast is another great site that strives “to promote greater understanding of our common human experience through knowledge of the diversity of the Black experience and the ubiquity of the global Black presence.”


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  • Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People | Banaji & Greenwald (2013)
  • Building Equity: Policies and Practices to Empower All Learners | Smith, Frey, Pumpian & Fisher (2017)
  • Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education | Gorski & Pothini (2013)
  • Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Children in the Classroom | Forbes (2012) 


For More Information 

Scott Seaman | Executive Director | (800) 562-6100

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