Sunday, May 24, 2020
Seattle's Black Victorians 1852-1901
Mumford, Esther Hall. Seattle's Black Victorians 1852-1901. Seattle: Ananse Press, 1980.
This book is not easy to find, but it's worth seeking out. It's an exhaustive study of every scrap of information the author-historian could find about blacks who lived in Seattle during the last half of the 19th century. She did interviews with elderly black residents and she combed through every newspaper of the time for any mention of black or "colored" people.
This book isn't a rollicking good time, but it is a thorough distillation of everything known about the black communities in a city during an era when not much was recorded about them. It's clear that so, so much about these people had already been lost to history when Mumford wrote this work in the late 1970's (it was published in 1980). I'm so happy that she took on this subject.
Overall, I found the book fascinating, but it's definitely a scholarly work. Mumford makes sure to mention the name of every black person she comes across in her research, and about most there is very little information, so there are sections where your appetite is whetted with the barest of details about people or families, but it can sometimes seem like a catalog listing: Something like "so-and-so practiced law at this address from 1888 -1892, and so-and-so practiced law there from 1890-1893. Nothing more is known about them."