The Open Prostitution and Gambling Debate in Seattle

June 13, 2008

Did you know that in 1912 there was a heated dispute over whether Seattle should remain an “open town” with public prostitution and gambling or pass laws that illegalized these things? As you might expect one side of this dispute was led by Frank Blethen and the Times and the students of the University of Washington were on the other side. Mr. Blethen and the Times argued vehemently for Seattle to remain open and students demonstrated against the moral corruption of the newspaper. Thomas Kane, the University president, was to be fired for taking no action against the demonstrating students.

That was a big decade. Four years later the first plane manufactured by Boeing flew, and the next year the Fremont Bridge opened, as the canal linking Puget Sound with Lake Washington was completed.

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Illegals In Washington

March 4, 2008

Some folks feel that people who reside in the U.S. without immigration papers should not have the rights and privileges of enjoyed by citizens. That seems easy enough.Here’s a little background. The Christian Science Monitor reported two years ago that there are between 7 million and 20 million, or more, illegal immigrants here. These people typically take up the bottom strata of jobs, filling the least desirable jobs, often for wages lower than would be acceptable for citizens. In the 1990’s this supply of cheap labor was viewed as a key component in avoiding inflation. For that reason and because many key businesses (and industries) relied on this cheap labor supply, the nation turned it’s back on this “problem.”

Paul Krugman, the liberal economist who writes for the New York Times, wrote some time ago that this situation was not a partisan issue. His analysis suggested that illegal immigration was a net economic loss for the country. While many businesses were profiting off this labor source, the country as a whole was paying a significant amount of money for public education, and health care. While many illegal immigrants were paying taxes, often through false social security numbers, many others were not paying taxes. These people accepted cash under the table from employers who were able to pay substandard wages and on top of that avoid paying withholding taxes. As we know, many politicians were found to have employed illegals this way as domestic help.

I don’t think that anyone disagrees that the deportation of illegals in mass would have a substantially disruptive effect on business here and a sharply inflationary effect. This seems to be the main reason that the “law and order” arm of the Republican Party cannot get anything done about the influx of undocumented immigrants, even with a Republican dominated legislative branch (until a couple of years ago), a Republican president and a Republican-heavy judicial branch. Our economy is rather delicately balanced in a presently mild recession and the disruption caused by massive deportation could have a strong negative effect.

Because we have only made largely token efforts to enforce our immigration laws and at least certain sectors of the economy have profited by the exploitation of illegals as cheap labor, you could very well say that the illegals are here at our sufferance — with a nod and a wink from business.

The economy has always played a role in attitudes toward immigrants, both legal and illegal. Chinese people were shipped here in mass to provide labor for the construction of the railroads in the nineteenth century. The transcontinental line reached Tacoma mid-century, then lines were built to Seattle from the south and from the east and between Seattle and Newcastle where there were extensive mining interests. When this was done hundreds of Chinese were left in the Seattle area. They found jobs in town and what would now be called a Chinese ghetto developed here. There was a regional economic downturn here in the 1860’s and vigilantes rounded up almost all the Chinese in town and marched them to the end of a pier where they waited for several days for a ship bound for San Francisco. Some were put on the first ship to arrive and the remainder went on the next one. The impetus for this was the view that the Chinese were taking jobs that whites should have in hard times.

In the 1880’s “exclusion laws” were passed by the federal government which rendered it illegal for anyone to come here from China. A federal law passed in 1882 limited U.S. citizenship “to aliens being free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” The Chinese who were already here were undocumented, denied any hope of citizenship and the subject of a great deal of abuse.

The Alaska gold rush and a disastrous fire in Tokyo created a local lumber boom which led to the importation of large numbers of Japanese laborers at the end of the nineteenth century. Many lived in company towns in Eastern King County, such as Sellick. The Japanese suffered much the same fate as the Chinese who were left stranded here. In fact the first graduating class from the University of Washington Law School (the class of 1902) included an immigrant from Japan, Takuji Yamashita. He was denied citizenship and denied admission to the bar after graduation. He was forced to work in restaurants until his internment forty years later. It wasn’t until 1968 that immigration laws that banned Asians or barred them from citizenship were entirely eliminated. Washington’s Senator Warren Magnuson led this fight on the national level.

Other controversial immigration policies include our refusal to allow Jews admission from Germany in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. Many of those who came here were illegals. Our current refusal to admit displaced people from Iraq has caused mild controversy.

The division between people on the question of illegal immigrants is many faceted, but some people have a more sympathetic attitude because they see the illegal immigrants in a light something like the Chinese in the mid-nineteenth century and the Japanese in the late nineteenth century as being admitted here for the purpose of performing labor, then rebuked because of their status. For these sympathizers the purposefully lax enforcement of immigration laws and eager employment of people coming here without papers is a form of admission that carries with it responsibility.


Women’s Rights in the Washington Territory

February 29, 2008

The 4000 American residents of the Washington Territory were not a fearful lot. The territory seceded from the Oregon Territory to become its own territory on March 2, 1853, 155 years ago. In many ways the visions of this small group of people foreshadowed the Utopian aspirations that were to motivate many communities early in the state’s history.

Washington Territory was born during the tumultuous years before Civil War. Unlike Oregon Territory, Washington Territory permitted residency by blacks, a strong statement in its day. (Another example of Washington’s independence in this regard was the expulsion before World War I of the Washington Masons (a conservative group if there ever was one) from the international order of Masons for admitting a Masonic lodge created by black citizens.)

The territory was empowered to determine the voting rights of its residents and this was addressed with characteristic volatility at the first territorial convention. An influential group of men wanted to give the right to vote to women! At the time such thoughts were widely considered virtually anarchical. There was not a woman in America who had the right to vote and consideration of such things was not appropriate for serious discussion.

Nonetheless these early suffragists fought tooth and nail to give the women who had journeyed here the right to a voice in the government. They almost did it, losing by a single vote. But for a single vote these pioneers would have won a prominent place in the history of American civil rights. This vote occurred 15 years before the creation of the National Woman Suffrage Association, the organization that led the women’s suffrage movement.

The convention’s vote got the attention of Susan B. Anthony, who was then just beginning her suffrage efforts. It surely inspired the people within the fledgling cause, as it was by far the closest any jurisdiction had come to recognizing women’s voting rights.

In 1871 Susan B. Anthony came out the the Washington Territory and became the first woman to address its legislature. Just before her arrival a bill had been introduced giving women the right to vote, but this time it was soundly defeated. Ms. Anthony gave stump speeches around the territory and organized the territorial women for the first time, forming the Washington Equal Suffrage Association.


Centralia, Washington

January 5, 2008

George WashingtonCentralia’s founding father at the homestead. (With permission from the Washington State Historical Society)

Washington has a proud, if largely overlooked, heritage of resistance to racist practices that have afflicted other areas. One hundred thirty three years ago — on January 8, 1875 — George and Mary Jane Washington filed the plat that established to town that was later named Centralia.

Washington, the son of an African-American slave and a white mother, was born free in 1817 but racist laws and practices prevented him from pursing business interests in Missouri and Illinois. Undeterred he traveled by wagon train to Oregon City in Oregon Territory. He was happy enough with Oregon City until learning that territorial law prohibited blacks from settling in the territory. This was a very strange law, even in its day. I don’t believe that there was any other area in the United States where blacks were barred from settling or residing.

With characteristic resolve, the Washingtons traveled north in 1852 across the Columbia, roughly along the path of what is now Interstate 5 to the junction of the Skookumchuck River and the Chehalis River. There they cleared an area in the forest, built a home and started farming. The following year, 1853, Washington Territory was created without the racist proscription that prevented the Washingtons from settling there. A Donation Land Claim for 640 acres was filed. Years later the Northern Pacific line connecting Kalama on the Columbia River with the Puget Sound area was completed. Instead of lamenting the fact that the line passed through their land the Washingtons decided that this presented an opportunity and in 1875 they filed the plat for the town of “Centerville,” the center point between Kalama and Tacoma. (Everyone who thought that it was the midpoint between Seattle and Portland is wrong.)

Their sale of lots at $10 each was so successful that they had to amend the plat a number of times to expand the town. They even reserved an area for a community square, now known as George Washington Park. When Washington State was created in 1889 there were 1000 people in the town, a number that tripled a year later with a timber boom. Shortly thereafter the town’s name was changed to”Centralia” to avoid confusion with another “Centerville” in the State.

Washington (the person) became a civic leader, known for providing financial assistance to those who needed it. During the depression of the 1890’s he regularly drove a wagon, while in his mid-70’s, to Portland to buy supplies for those in the town who needed food. He was buried in 1905 in a cemetery he had donated to his town.