Illustration by Olivia Stephens

Inclusive Change for an Iconic Corner

After months of work, a partnership forms to secure an historic urban block

Interviews by Melissa Hellmann | Illustration by Olivia Stephens

The African-American presence in Seattle’s Central District goes back 130 years, expanding rapidly after World War II. Storied neighborhood residents include painter Jacob Lawrence; musicians Jimi Hendrix, Ernestine Anderson, Ray Charles and Quincy Jones; Washington’s first female African-American pediatrician, Dr. Blanche Lavizzo; and slain education advocate and civil-rights activist Edwin Pratt.

Alongside these bright talents is a dark history of prejudice and discrimination. Post-war practices of redlining and restrictive covenants effectively forced Black people to the Central District. This makes displacement of longtime residents today particularly painful. In the early 1970s, the Central District was 70 percent African-American. Today it’s 18 percent.

Africatown is a community group working to strengthen the African-American presence in the Central District and nurture what’s “beautiful, brilliant and best” in the region’s African diaspora—socially, artistically and economically.

In 2016, Africatown asked Forterra to help secure keystone land at 23rd Avenue and East Union Street—the epicenter of the neighborhood, and a place fraught with controversy over differing redevelopment plans. Months of negotiations succeeded in an agreement to acquire a portion of the block for affordable housing, neighborhood-based businesses and organizations and space for community gatherings. Now, Africatown and Forterra are teaming up with Capitol Hill Housing, a nonprofit housing developer, on next steps.

Below: reactions from neighborhood residents about the impending change.

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Reactions from the neighborhood residents and business owners about the impending changes at 23rd & Union in Seattle's Central District.
Illustration by Olivia Stephens