Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project
Created and directed by James N. Gregory, University of Washington, Seattle.
Reviewed May—June, 2008.
Founded and directed by the University of Washington historian James N. Gregory, the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project Web site is a model for what academic historians can do using the Internet. Part archive, part teaching resource, part exhibit, this project, which began quite humbly, has launched itself in many directions. It deserves to be used widely by historians and students of twentieth-century America.
Technically, the site is part of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Project, which maintains a separate, if linked and overlapping, site. Gradually, the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project expanded in different, if somewhat random, directions—generally toward social movements in the Northwest. As Gregory is a historian with several award-winning books on labor, ethnicity, and social movements to his credit, the general topics and much of the material relates to his own research. Over time, the site grew with many additional images, video histories, research essays, and other material in various media.
Since, historically, African Americans make up a relatively small percentage of Seattle’s and Washington’s population—typical for the West—the site looks at civil rights broadly by also including Latinos, Asians, American Indians, and other minority groups. Some sections house a series of research papers on a subject; for instance, “Seattle’s Ethnic Press” evolved out of a research course taught by Gregory. Generally, the papers are quite good college essays, footnoted and with numerous scanned photographs. Unavoidably, the quality of the papers vary; some are very rich and useful even to professional historians (for example, Megan Elston’s “Black Longshoreman: The Frank Jenkins Story”).
Though clearly academic in orientation, Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project demonstrates the tremendous potential of such projects. The site justifiably boasts about how the project’s research on restrictive covenants in the state of Washington resulted in a 2006 state law that makes it easier for homeowners' associations to eliminate the restrictive covenants that were once common in U.S. cities and suburbs. The “Segregated Seattle” section reprints specific restrictions neighborhood by neighborhood in the city and its suburbs. The “For Teachers” section features multiple classroom exercises and lesson plans geared mostly to high school students, though much of the material, including PowerPoint slide shows, could be used in university classes.
Also noteworthy is how the site harnesses the research of students, literally hundreds of whom have contributed, as have a number of local community groups, libraries, museums, and governments (including financially). No doubt, other historians could replicate this model.
Those hoping to use the site for research or class assignments can search in several ways, and the search engine works reasonably well. The easiest method is by topic (for example, “segregation”). Users also can search by a specific ethnic group, such as “urban Indians.” Some subjects are hyperlinked to related resources, such as to the Web site of Seattle’s local longshore union.
Gregory and the many others who have contributed to this important, useful, and highly educational Web site should be nothing but proud of their efforts.
Western Illinois University