Seattle’s History of Racial Segregation and The Other Side of The Coin


Brooke Laur, Journalist

You may know Seattle for the free thinkers and open-minded citizens. At first thought, Seattle’s skyline symbolizes a peaceful city with citizens who see no color. However, Seattle has not always been this way, and the climb out of history’s darkness was troublesome and bitter, and most importantly, not completed.


For most of Seattle’s history, the city was extremely racially segregated through an act called Redlining. 

Redlining is where white people (in the early 20th Century) could legally ban almost all races besides their own in neighborhoods like Magnolia, Capitol Hill, Madison Park, and Queen Anne. People affected by Seattle’s Redlining say, ‘’The real estate people would not show us anything north of the canal. That’s true, yes.’’




When an anonymous Seattle Public School worker was asked on their opinion about Redlining and how it affected different races, she said, ‘’I think we are all, uh, one human race.’’ She replied with a hint of distress in her voice.

‘’Uhm, ok. Do you think you can elaborate on that more?’’

‘’I’m in the middle of a project right now.’’ She shot back. ‘’I think that there’s a better person you can talk to.’’  

‘’Uh. Ok, I guess.’’

‘’What school are you from?’’ She inquired, just slightly aggressive.

‘’Um.’’ Was there harm in telling her? No, probably not… Right? ‘’Catharine Blaine.’’

‘’Alright. I’m going to put you on hold now.’’ Apparently, It wasn’t a question.

The bad audio music played. Then ended with a push of the end button.

Another hit-or-miss call was made to Wala Realty to try and find a realtor to get more information for the article. With the help of a transfer line to John Deely (and a ton of realtor agencies who said that no agents were in the building, graciously wishing luck on the article). John said, ‘’Yeah, we have this law put into place in 1964 called the Civil Rights Law. It basically means that we can’t suggest real estate based on race or color.’’ He talked fast, and the scribbles could hardly keep up with his pace. He was thanked and the once-awkward call ended.


Aftermath in Today

Ever since the Civil Rights Act was put in place, the transformation of equality in Seattle was slow but determined. By today’s day and age, equality is considered a norm. People are able to be judged not by the color of their skin, but because of how they act. Seattle once was riddled with hate and racial discrimination but is now a city which celebrates differences.



Colorful paints decorate Seattle’s sidewalks with prideful rainbow colors. Teachers demonstrate the importance of black history. Women are marching around Seattle protesting sexism, and cultures from around the world are celebrated such as the exciting Vietnamese Lunar New Year in Seattle, and the Seattle Jewish Film Festival.

Seattle’s progressive steps to make equality a reality in the city was groundbreaking. However, just because Redlining was banned nearly 50 years ago, it doesn’t mean that the separation Redlining created has been cleaned up. Surprisingly, it’s still hurting minorities today. (Minority Description: In sociology, a minority group refers to a category of people who experience relative disadvantage as compared to members of a dominant social group).  Neighborhoods that consist of African Americans, Immigrants from southern Europe, and Asia, were deemed undesirable. ‘’Anyone who was not northern-European white was considered to be a detraction from the value of the area,’’ Said Bruce Mitchell, a researcher at the National Career Readiness Certificate.

In the 1930s, surveyors for the government graded neighborhoods in 239 different cities. They went around color-coding neighborhoods with colors like green representing the ‘best’ parts with colors like red standing as ‘’hazardous’’. The ‘’Redlined areas’’ lost rights like getting loans from banks, mortgages were difficult to obtain, and minority families were deprived of property ownership, all because the banks were informed to not associate business with the people Redlined in Seattle. Racial discrimination in mortgage lending in the 1930s has shaped the demographic and wealth patterns of not just Seattle, but America’s communities; a recently developed study shows that 3 out of 4 neighborhoods ‘’Redlined’’ on government maps nearly 80 years ago continue to struggle financially. People who grew up in the red earn less today than those who grew up in any other zone that wasn’t red. It’s as if the parts that were marked poorly on the map are stuck in the past, locking neighborhoods into scrappy poverty.


To conclude, Seattle is considered a landmark partly for the famous companies who started out there, but also for the advanced ways of living amongst different people in society. It ultimately makes the citizens of Seattle better and more educated about the world around them.

Seattle did have a bitter history with racial segregation but has learned from the wrongs (along with most of the country) through the Civil Rights Act. Seattle’s changes in life were drastic and needed, and, over time because of Seattle’s painful history with racial segregation, became known not just for the views, but the breakthrough ways of living. Although Seattle has yes, changed mightily; it still, like almost everything, has room for improvement. Charging into the future, local activists must seriously be aware of the sort-of-back-to-the-future time bubble that less-fortunate parts of Seattle are sucked into. The sloppy mess that Redlining has created must be cleaned up, not just in Seattle, but in communities around the country.