Community Post

Umoja Fest Parade begins with youth mural recognition event!

Saturday, August 6th, 11:30 AM – Honoring The Legacy!!!

Mardi-Gras-Umoja Fest Parade Mural Honors the Past and Embraces the Future


Last spring, students from Madrona K-8 school in the Central District helped to design and paint a mural that honors the tradition of the summer Central Area Mardi Gras-Umoja Festparade.  The mural has been installed on the ‘Thompson’s Point of View’ building at 23

rd and East Union. On Saturday, August 6th, at 11:30 AM, the youth will be recognized at a ceremony prior to the Umoja Fest African American Heritage Parade.

The spirit of the Umoja Fest African Heritage Festival & Parade is one that spans more than five decades. A tradition since the 1940s, Seattle has hosted the annual African American community festival and parade as a celebration of the city’s ethnic diversity. Originally part of the International Festival, it was known over the years as the East Madison Mardi Gras and the Pacific Northwest Black Community Festival. It not only has been credited as the inspiration behind SEAFAIR (which emerged during the early 1950′s), but also continues to be held during Seafair’s annual summer activities.

The East Madison Mardi-Gras Festival and Parade


In the late 50s and early 60s, the East Madison-East Union Commercial Club proudly sponsored the East Madison Mardi Gras Festival and Parade. Before the Mardi Gras, the African American community participated in the International Festival, held in what was once known as Chinatown. Chinatown is currently referred to as the impact of the International Festival, the first neighborhood event to agree to hold its festivities as an integral part of the Seattle SEAFAIR celebration. Four different cultures combined to stage the event: Filipino, Black (then Negro), Chinese, and Japanese. Each selected their own Queen and her court of four princesses to reign over her community and ride in the Parade on that community’s float. In addition to riding in the Parade through Chinatown, the Festival Queens and their courts rode in the Capitol Hill Parades, Rainier Valley Parade, the University District Kiddies Parade and the SEAFAIR Grande Parade.

City officials estimated that nearly 200,000 people jammed their way into over-crowded Chinatown for the Second Annual International Festival. The wealthy and “out-of-other-side-of-towners” and community natives elbowed one another for a glimpse at the Chinese dragon dancers and the lovely Queens and their courts on their respective floats.

Long lines of people made their way through the streets from one food booth to another while others waited in lengthy lines to dine at the Chinatown restaurants. Asian dancers and style shows entertained for hours. As if that weren’t enough to put one into a frenzy, live bands such as Bob Marshall’s jazzed up the night while torch songs rang out dwarfing the whistles of the incoming trains.

One man was rumored to have said, “This festival had a flavor of the bootlegging days when Chinatown pulsated with Ragtime music and the wealthy slipped away from the usual boredom to swing and enjoy.”

The International Festival’s second year didn’t surpass its first because of the enormous turnout. The city had to break it up. This is when the four communities decided to put on their own festivals. From the move toward individual festivals, the East Madison/East Union Mardi Gras Festival was born.

With the end of Mardi Gras in the 60s, various business and community leaders, including Pacific Northwest Bell, Central Area Motivation Program and the Pacific Northwest Black Community Association would carry the torch. Since 1997, the Umoja Fest African Heritage Festival & Parade has preserved the festival spirit and continues to grow.

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