In Seattle, Protests Over Racial Equity Turn to Land Ownership
To help resist gentrification, the city’s Africatown Land Trust is leading a campaign to transfer underutilized property to the Black community.
On June 5, well over 1,000 protesters (and at least two handsome horses), crowded onto the parking lot at 23rd and Jackson Streets in Seattle for a 1960s-style teach-in, where neighborhood residents unspooled the history of the city’s Central District. Long known as the heart of Seattle’s Black community, the neighborhood’s identity was forged back in the 19th century, when a Black businessman named William Grose opened a restaurant, hotel and barbershop in frontier-era Seattle and eventually settled the first African-American enclave in the Pacific Northwest.
Today’s Central District activists are looking to continue Grose’s legacy as the city’s first Black landowner, via a community land trust — a nonprofit entity that collectively owns and holds property for community uses like housing. “We need a new normal rooted in equity,” said K. Wyking Garrett, president and CEO of the Africatown Community Land Trust. “And equity means ownership.”
Garrett boomed that message through a megaphone as he stood outside of a decommissioned fire station two blocks away. Back in 2016, the city promised to turn the publicly-owned Fire Station 6 building into the William Grose Center for Enterprise and Cultural Innovation, a hub for small-business development designed to grow the city’s next generation of Black entrepreneurs. That redevelopment proposal is part of the planning department’s Equitable Development Implementation Plan, a 2016 vision to leverage publicly-owned properties to benefit communities facing displacement amidst Seattle’s breathtaking economic and population boom of the 2010s.