In the following article, Henry W. McGee, Jr., a Seattle University Professor of Law and Central District resident, discusses the recent dramatic transformation of the area from a predominately working class African American community into an area of high income white, Asian American and African American professionals. His article suggests implications for black communities across the United States.
In 2006 former Seattle mayor Norm Rice, the city’s only African American to hold that position, summarized his frustration over the paradox of gentrification at a community forum in Seattle’s Central District. “I’m concerned and I am frustrated because I don’t know what the alternatives [to gentrification] are. [This process] clearly isn’t racist, it’s economic. The real question you have to ask yourself is: Is this good or bad?”
The transformation of Seattle’s Central District and its African American residents is not unlike the story of many American cities. New York City’s Harlem, Chicago’s South Side, South Central Los Angeles, and San Francisco’s Fillmore District, to name but a few, have all seen once-shunned black districts populated by the children of “white-flighters” who now crave the proximity, convenience, and “hipness” of living close to downtowns where they work and play. This process commenced ironically as the 1960s Civil Rights Movement wound down but is increasingly a reality of 21st century urban America. Traditionally one of the most concentrated of all of the nation’s inner city groups, many African Americans are moving out of the urban core and into the suburbs.
But unlike the cities in which African Americans reside in significant numbers, Seattle, and Washington State, have relatively small black populations. Moreover, African Americans are not the largest population of color in Washington State. The 2000 U.S. Census reported that 190,267 African Americans resided in the state whose total population was 5,894,121. Seattle had 55,611 African Americans. The census also reported the