Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Legacy: Interviews with Local Civil Rights Activists

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington D.C. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

Today, Monday Jan. 21st, we honor Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was a nonviolent, civil rights activist committed to equality and social justice. His work and legacy have inspired communities and individuals to campaign for equal rights, demand economic justice, and to enact social and political change.

In recognition of Dr. King’s legacy, the UW Tacoma Library would like to share some of the inspiring civil rights activists from our own region included in our oral history collection, the Tacoma Community History Project. You can read their full stories (including transcribed interviews) by following the links below.

Helen Cecile Beck Stafford

Helen Cecile Beck Stafford

Helen Cecile Beck Stafford was a community leader and activist.

In her interview she discusses her experiences as a young African-American woman in Depression-era Tacoma. She reflects back on over sixty years of civic involvement, her work with the Matron’s Club, the NAACP, the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and the Washington Public Employees Association labor union.

View the full project: Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Helen Cecile Beck Stafford.


Lyle Quasim

Lyle Quasim

Social activist Lyle Quasim has held multiple leadership positions in public health and administration in Washington state and was the first African-American to head Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services.

In his interview, Quasim discusses civil rights issues in America and shares his history of social activism. He shares his experiences in the Air Force, his work with the Safe Streets Campaign, and his work with Shelter Half, an underground anti-war organization run by GIs.

View the full project: Activism is about taking action: An Oral History with Lyle Quasim.

Harold G. Moss

Harold Moss (center) taking oath of office as new members of Tacoma City Council, October 1970

In 1994, Harold Moss was appointed Mayor of Tacoma, the first African-American to serve in that capacity.

In his interview, Moss reflects on his life of social activism in the Tacoma community, his personal experiences with racism and segregation, and Tacoma’s  gradual shift toward racial integration and equality during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. He also discusses his childhood in Detroit, his early campaigns for public office, and his eventual appointment to the city council in 1970, earning him the distinction of being the first African-American to hold a public office in Pierce County.

View the full project: Civil Rights and Civic Pride: The Story of Harold G. Moss and the City of Tacoma.

Bil Moss

Bil Moss

Activist Williebelle “Bil” Moss has served as the first president of the Tacoma Urban League Guild, a member of  the Tacoma City Council, Tacoma Public Utilities Board, and as the first executive director of Planned Parenthood of Pierce County.

In her interview, community leader Bil Moss looks back at six decades of social activism and discusses her involvement in Tacoma’s civil rights movement. She describes her early work to secure open housing in Tacoma, which arose from her personal struggles to purchase property outside the Hilltop area, and her work with the Tacoma Chapter of the Links on the Sickle Cell Project. Moss touches on a number of her civic and political activities and shares insight into the social barriers she has faced as an African-American woman in the United States.

View the full project: Women and Tacoma’s Civil Rights Movement: Mrs. Bil Moss.

James Walton

James Walton

James Walton was Tacoma’s first African-American city manager.

In his interview, Walton recounts his experiences growing up in rural, segregated Texas and his service in the Vietnam War. In addition, Walton discusses his involvement in the Mother’s Day Disturbance of 1969, where he helped to quell an outbreak of violence in the Hilltop neighborhood. From that, a group of leaders grew the Black Collective, which was formed to address issues of concern in the Black community. Walton still helps lead the Black Collective today.

View the full project James Walton: From Texas to Tacoma.

Senator Rosa Franklin

Senator Rosa Franklin

Serving the 29th Legislative District in the Tacoma area, Senator Rosa Franklin was the first African-American woman elected to the Washington State senate.

In her interview, senator Franklin talks about her nursing career and her political involvement at both local and state levels. She touches on her work with the Hilltop Children’s Clinic and other outreach healthcare programs, and she addresses issues relating to health care reform and the nursing profession. Throughout her interviews, Senator Franklin emphasizes the importance of maintaining healthy communities and encouraging citizens to take a more active role in the political process.

View the full project Senator Rosa D. Franklin: Small-Town Person, Big-City Activist.

Lillian Walker

Lillian Walker

Lillian Walker has been a civil rights activist  since WWII. Alongside her husband James Walker, Lillian Walker established the Bremerton branch of the NAACP.

In her interview, Walker focuses on her work with the Kitsap County Young Women’s Christian Association, the organizations early years, as well as her civil rights work throughout her life. This project includes an interview with Carolyn Hershberger, another member of the Kitsap County Young Women’s Christian Association.

View the full project The History of the Kitsap County Young Women’s Christian Association.

Willie Stewart

Willie Stewart

Army veteran, activist, and lifelong educator Willie Stewart was appointed the first African-American principal in the Tacoma School District in 1970.

On the heels of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Tacoma School District took voluntary measures to desegregate a select number of schools. As a result, in 1970 educator Stewart was appointed  principal in the Tacoma School District.1 and has worked for the Tacoma School District for over 36 years. In his interview, Stewart discusses his pivotal role as counselor in a program designed to help families transition schools and desegregate the Tacoma School District. Stewart’s interview discusses his role in the desegregation of Tacoma schools and his role as a teacher, principle, and district administrator.

View the full project When Races Collide: Willie Stewart and the Voluntary Desegregation of Tacoma Public Schools.

The Tacoma Community History Project is a growing oral history collection. The projects are created by UW Tacoma students under the supervision of Professor Michael K. Honey and in partnership with the UWT Library. Click to learn more about the Tacoma Community History Project.

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