WHY IS SEATTLE’S
NORTHWEST AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM
TO CELEBRATE JUNETEENTH?
DISMISSAL OF FALSE “TRESSPASSING” CHARGE
PROVIDES THE ANSWER:
IT ISN’T THE REAL MUSEUM!
By Leith Kahl
September 13, 2012
(Note: This article assumes that the reader is aware of the African American holiday known as Juneteenth, and why it is celebrated. Those not familiar with Juneteenth should pause here and visit www.Juneteenth.com before proceeding to read this article.)
On June 19th of this year, as communities throughout the US were honoring the observance of Juneteenth, something very different was taking place at the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) at 2300 S. Massachusetts Street in Seattle, the sight of a historic 13 year civil disobedience campaign for the establishment of a Black museum and cultural center.
The museum was hosting a “town hall meeting” with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.
The strange thing is, this town hall was not a Juneteenth event. No Juneteenth commemoration took place at the NAAM at all upon this day. Neither the mayor nor the hosts of the event, who were representing the NAAM, even mentioned the fact that Juneteenth was in occurence.
Instead, the “town hall meeting” was a lecture from Mayor McGinn about how he felt Seattle’s historically Black Central Area neighborhoods should do more to help him and his police force combat crime and “violence”. Furthermore, the hosts of the NAAM apparently were not the least bit embarrassed to ask the Mayor to come to their allegedly African American facility on Juneteenth, and to have him deliver this speech to a majority-white audience.
In fact, the only two people at this “town hall meeting” who dared to point out that the day was, indeed, Juneteenth, were both ejected from the building by Seattle Police, at the request of the NAAM hosts. These two were among the very few present who were, in fact, Black. One of them was arrested and charged with “trespassing”. Ironically, these two men, Omari Tahir and Wyking Garrett, were also the only two people in the room who are original veterans of long struggle to establish a Black museum on the sight of this formerly abandoned school building. This is a fact that the Northwest African American Museum also chooses not to commemorate.
In contrast to the NAAM hosts, the majority of (mostly white) audience members present actually demonstrated a genuine interest in Black history. When the mayor asked the audience to take a vote on whether they wanted to listen to the rest of his speech or whether they wanted to listen to Omari Tahir answer questions about the history of Seattle’s Central Area, they voted by a wide margin to learn about the history.
The mayor then became angry and left the event, but not before gracefully accepting a packet of historical materials about the very building in which this was all occurring, which was handed to him by Omari Tahir. Shortly thereafter, the cops were called in to clear the room, and Tahir was arrested. Several other members of the audience were also reportedly arrested, but never charged with any crime. A video clip from this public town hall can easily be viewed at:
The mayor, in blatant defiance of the facts available to anyone with an internet connection, proceeded to declare that this town hall had been “disrupted by anarchists”. Kiro TV’s anchors decided, for some reason, to back the Mayor up in repeating this ridiculous assertion, in spite of the fact that it is clearly debunked by their own video. A number of clearly white-supremacist gentrification enthusiasts then chimed in on various online forums, such as the Central District News, to join the attack against Juneteenth, claiming that “their” town hall had been taken over or “re-labeled” by a Black agenda. Examples of such posts included:
“I live here too!
This was billed as Judkins Park neighborhood town hall meeting – not the “Mayor’s Juneteenth Town Hall” as you want to re-label it. The neighborhood is acutely concerned with the recent shootings – no one but you seems to think that the ownership and occupancy of Colman School is the more urgent topic. The rest of us want to move on to more current topics of concern to ALL who live in our neighborhood.
Comment by Zebragirl”,
“Speaking for myself I don’t know much about the history of the NAAM but if Umoja was the legal buyer make your case in court. A neighborhood forum probably isn’t the best place. If the school board won’t give Umoja the Horace Mann school for your programs then do something within the system. Run for public office or the school board. Maybe “the system” isn’t perfect, maybe it is corrupt, but it is the best in the world and it is what we have and what we must work within for real change.
Comment by Ian”
“Luckily, my side is winning. There’s more and more normal people like me in this neighborhood everyday, and we’re not going anywhere. (yes, I know that will be twisted into a racist statement reflecting my colonial paternalism or something, since that’s all you got. Have at it)
Comment by Same old song”,
These individuals will undoubtedly be dismayed to learn that the “trespassing” charge against Omari Tahir was dismissed this Friday, September 7th, by the Seattle Municipal Court.
Commenting Monday on the false charge now dismissed, Tahir said “This is a classic example of how they are undermining African American survival in the US. They make sure you don’t have any institutions, they sabotage or shut down your businesses to cut of your money supply, and then they try to push you out of your own part of town.”
Tahir believes that the reason it is not feasible for the court to prosecute him on such a “trespassing” charge, is that he is, in fact, the legal owner of the building that houses the NAAM according to the letter of city, county, state, federal and international law. Some of the very documents that he handed to Mayor McGinn shortly before his arrest actually prove this to be true.
One of these documents is a legal purchase-and-sell agreement between the Seattle Public School District and the African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center (AAHMCC), signed by both parties in 1998. It is a matter of public record that Omari Tahir is an officer of AAHMCC, which today is still the only organization with a clear legal claim of title to this building, under the letter of the law.
The AAHMCC was physically located in this building and produced a high quality and quantity of cultural programs there from November of 1985 until June 4th of 1998, when it was shut down and displaced by then Mayor Paul Schell’s administration in an illegal Seattle Police Swat Team raid, which seized, impounded, and ultimately stole most of the AAHMCC’s physical assets, including history exhibits, library, public access computers, portable buildings, youth athletic equipment, state of the art display cases, carvings brought from Africa, and a custom Hammond organ worth over $8,000.
The city power structure, acting illegally through an institution called “Urban League Village LLC”, then proceeded to give physical control of the building to a white development firm known as “Housing Resource Group”. Housing Resource Group and Urban League Village LLC have transformed most of the building into expensive condominium units, and have also apparently received approximately $800,000 of city money that had originally been set aside by the Norm Rice administration as a bloc-grant for the AAHMCC.
Around the same time, the entity known as the NAAM was invented. It was given stewardship of a small gift-shop sized corner of the building’s ground floor, and of the billboards on the exterior of the building, in order to create the illusion that a Black cultural institution was still in existence there.
A look at the NAAM’s board of directors, however, will show any observer that the NAAM is neither owned nor directed by Seattle’s Black community. Rather, it is overseen by representatives of Seattle’s most powerful white-led ruling class institutions including the Gates family, The Boeing Corporation, The University of Washington, The Seattle Art Museum, State Farm Insurance and City Hall itself. It is worth mentioning that NAAM’s former Executive Director, Professor Carver Gayton, has proudly and publicly boasted of his record as the very first African American FBI agent in the Pacific Northwest.
Tahir dryly observes that this explains why the NAAM’s masters don’t give it permission to celebrate Juneteenth. “They are not interested in any historic struggle against white supremacy, past, present, or future,” he says, “They are no more interested in commemorating the Black soldiers who died fighting the Confederates than they are interested in the fact that my son grew up living in and fighting for the building that they now occupy, looking down the barrel of the white man’s gun when he was just a kid. They basically are only interested in Buffalo Soldiers and Tuskeegee Airmen, who either killed Indians or did something else to help and serve the cause of white supremacy.”
Another document that was handed to the Mayor on Juneteenth is a City of Seattle Ethics Department paper produced April 20th, 2000, discharging ethics complaint number 99-1-0312-1. Omari Tahir filed this complaint in response to the illegal police raid, and many other illegal acts of sabotage carried out by the Seattle power structure against the AAHMCC both before and after that raid. In this document, the City of Seattle openly admits that all of these acts of sabotage were indeed carried out by the very people whom Tahir accuses of carrying them out. The City contends, however, that it has no jurisdiction to adjudicate Tahir’s complaint, and that all his accusations are therefore dismissed in spite of their accuracy.
The real museum, the AAHMCC, survived this attack, and is very much alive today, although it continues to be denied physical access to its own building. Its website is www.aahmcc.org , and many more documents pertaining to this story are publicly available there.
To understand how such an apparently illogical series of events could transpire, it is useful to have some background knowledge of Seattle’s overall recent cultural history.
In the 1970s and 80s, the people of Seattle made a series of widely popular decisions to allocate a combination of both their public and their private resources to the construction of cultural institutions that would showcase the histories, struggles, achievements, and contributions of the many nationalities that make up the city. These facilities were also created to assist our many peoples in the preservation and rejuvenation of their respective positive identities. In some cases, the people had to use forms of struggle, such as public occupations of disused buildings, in order to establish these centers. In every case, the natures and structures of these institutions were shaped by some kind of compromise between the grassroots movement and the Seattle power structure. But the institutions were built.
Daybreak Star, El Centro De La Raza, and the Wing Luke Asian Art Museum’s second building are examples of the important institutions established during that period. Older cultural institutions that also benefit from Seattle’s desire to feel multi-cultural are the Nordic Heritage Museum, The Seattle Russian Community Center, and the Polish Home Association.
Of all the major demographic ethnicities in the Seattle area, African Americans are the only group that does not possess such a comparable cultural institution. This is not for lack of trying on the part of Seattle’s African Americans. It is because collective African American initiatives in Seattle have been and continue to be impeded by a local power structure that encourages, or at least allows, similar collective initiatives to move forward in non-Black communities.
Other historic Black-led initiatives that have been attacked in similar ways by the Seattle power structure include Liberty Bank, the Seattle Opportunities Industrial Center, and perhaps most importantly, the Central Area Public Development Authority (CAPDA). The CAPDA once existed as an elected entity, similar to the Seattle Chinatown International District Public Development Authority (www.scidpda.org) that protects and administers Seattle’s Chinatown and Little Saigon. (The story of the CAPDA’s destruction by Seattle’s barons of investment capital shall be the subject of a future article.)
Commenting on these historic patterns on Monday, Tahir said “The downtown power clique basically always uses the same strategy. They say that they will support whatever project you’re working on, but only if you put some of their hand-picked people on your board. Then, those people try to take over your board and kick you out of your own organization. If they don’t have the votes to do that, then they start boycotting your meetings to try to prevent you from having a quorum. If that doesn’t work, then they accuse you of ‘fighting amongst yourselves’, based on the ruckus that they have raised, and set up their own fake institution to replace the real one that you were building and steal all its resources.”
The AAHMCC is the most determined and longest running secular collective initiative that Seattle’s Black community has launched. The initiative started in 1981 as a neighborhood defense campaign against a downtown proposal to install a police station at 23rd and Yesler, where the Cannon House now stands. The community responded by occupying the proposed building site, taking over four abandoned houses, moving formerly homeless families into them, and proposing a positive institution – an African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center – instead of a police station. By 1984, the police station had been defeated, one of the greatest grassroots victories ever won in the Pacific Northwest. The AAHMCC proposal had gained popularity, and even the politicians were paying lip service to it.
The proponents of the Black museum decided it was time to establish it. They identified a large disused public building in the heart of the Black community, occupied it on November 23, 1985, and proceeded to build their museum. The thirteen year and two month period from then until January 1998, when the legal purchase-and-sell agreement between them and the School District was finally signed, constituted what many believe to have been the longest running campaign of civil disobedience in the United States. Ironically, the illegal SWAT Team raid that displaced the museum occurred less than a year after that museum’s presence in the building had been officially legalized.
Some bloggers have said, and may continue to say, that the fact that no court of law has yet restored the AAHMCC’s physical control of the building must mean that this writer is wrong, and that the AAHMCC cannot really be the legal owner of the building. Doubtless, some will denounce this article based on such circular false-logic, without ever bothering to do their own investigation of the facts presented here.
This author would merely remind all honest readers, however, that the letter of law is just that – letters. There is no physical force that necessarily compels governments, courts, police forces, armies, companies or banks to follow the letters of their own law.
For example, Juneteenth allegedly celebrates a day upon which the slaves in Galveston, Texas, were finally told that they were free, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued. But if Black people in America are free, why are they greeted with such hostility just for seeking to assert the same kind of right to an institutional land base that other communities are encouraged to assert? Furthermore, why does this occur not just in places like Texas, but even in allegedly liberal northern metropolitan trading centers like Seattle?
We will all be in better positions to answer these and many other questions once the facility at 2300 S. Massachusetts Street is restored to the full control of the real African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center. Until then, all true lovers of liberty will do well to support the people who agitate for that day to come.
As Frederick Douglass said, “Men who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want the rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean’s majestic waves without the awful roar of its mighty waters.”
Juneteenth is America’s 2nd Independence Day celebration. Americans of African descent were trapped in the tyranny of enslavement on the country’s first “4th of July”, 1776, Independence Day.
It took over 88 years for the news of freedom to be announced in Southwest Texas, the last southern state in rebellion during the Civil War, where enslavement was allowed, over two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln. The dynamic leadership of abolitionist Frederick Douglass was very important to the ending of enslavement in America.
41 states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or state holiday observance, the District of Columbia, as well as the Congress of the United States. On the “19th of June”, 2012, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), sponsored legislation in the U.S. Senate to make Juneteenth Independence Day a National Day of Observance in America.
We join our ancestors, Americans of African descent, in the celebration of the announcement of freedom, on the “19th of June”, Juneteenth. It was the 13th Amendment passed by the U.S. Congress on December 6, 1865, and signed by the Secretary of State on December 18, 1865, that was the legal action that ended enslavement in America.
The “Modern Juneteenth Movement” recognizes and supports Juneteenth as our National Freedom Day, when we come together as Americans to celebrate freedom from enslavement in the nation.
The “19th of June” and the “4th of July” completes the cycle of Independence Day celebrations in America. You can not celebrate freedom in America without both days.
Together we will see Juneteenth become a national holiday observance in America!
Rev. Ronald V. Myers, Sr., M.D.
National Juneteenth Holiday Campaign
National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF)
National Juneteenth Christian Leadership Council (NJCLC)
National Association of Juneteenth Jazz Presenters (NAJJP)
kind of strange that in this long diatribe you fail to mention the FACT that Omari assaulted Mayor Paul Schell (breaking dozens of bones in his face)and was tried and convicted. seems that little tidbit might have made it into this story somewhere.
We all get riled. Some of us spout of annoyingly (to some of the lightweights). But to have so many screws loose that you actually bust the mayor’s face with a heavy object – we gotta keep you at a distance. I would suggest a 500 foot buffer between any acting mayor and Omari. Also probably should not be allowed on the NWAM grounds.
Juneteenth. It is it’s own thing. Why must NWAM be involved? Pees and carrots.
@ CDrealestateguy and Grumbo,
The reason that the alleged incident you are on about is not in my article is that it is a different story altogether. If you want a story about it, you can either write one or wait for me to get around to it.
As far as the story you are interested in goes, however, I certainly hope you include the fact that, at the moment when somebody gave Mayor Schell a black eye, that Mayor was standing on the exact spot where an unarmed Black man had been murdered by Seattle police only days earlier. For some reason, the Mayor chose that exact spot to come and publicly celebrate a pro-gentrification event that some new businesses in the area were putting on. A little tact and taste might have saved said Mayor from getting a shiner.
Personally, I do not know who gave him that shiner. I do know that Omari took the rap for it, even though it took two trials to pin it on him because the first jury was not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it, just as I am not.
However, the question of who did it is also a separate question from whether or not that particular politician deserved a black eye. I know that if I showed that much disrespect for a recently deceased murder victim, I would expect someone to throw a punch at me, and I would not expect the entire political establishment to come after that person for doing so.
As for your allegation that “dozen of bones” in Mr. Schell’s face were broken, please provide medical evidence in support of this allegation. Merely writing the word “fact” in capital letters does not automatically make your statement factual.
well if you would like a FACT I’ll give you one. I was there and I watched Mr Garret hit him in the face. I testified twice to that! That is a fact. Another fact is that the organizers of the event contacted the family of Mr Roberts as to their feelings about the location and they have it their blessing. in the interest of truth I will amend my statement to read “breaking bones” Please quit refering to it as a shiner.
There was video that clearly showed Omari grab the bullhorn, swing it, and the Mayor fall down. The argument became that you could not precisely see the impact. Totally silly. It was abundantly clear to everybody what happened. People brought in all kinds of arguments about racism and the mayor’s insensitivity in an effort to cloud that fact that Omari smashed the mayor in the face in front of dozens of witnesses and the media. Omari is as mad as a hatter. Perhaps well meaning and has some positive contributions. Good man to have around pushing some angles that need to be pushed. But, he can never be in charge or fully trusted. His angle has to be taken in context of his biased and troubled history. And again. Why must one institution be expected to follow the trend of another. NWAM can someday chronical the history of Juneteeth rather than being directly engaged. Or, what ever they want to do. It’s up to them. Not me or Omari.
well put Grumbo.
What video? Produce it. Omari was no longer even holding the bullhorn when it is claimed he hit the mayor. He’d previously handed it to someone else. Your story is bullshit. As is that of this “witness” who agrees with you.
The family of a specific victim are not the only ones traumatized every time the cops shoot someone down, or uproot a neighborhood to make room for more upscale white families. The family of Oscar Grant weren’t the only ones affected by his death. The family of John T. Williams weren’t the only one with whom those gunshots resonated. The same goes for the family of the man killed a few days before the mayor got punched.
think what you want. I saw the whole thing. The jury agreed as well.
The way it works is this. Innocent until proven guilty. Now, upon being convicted in a trial by your peers and found to be guilty – you are now guilty. A convict. A fellon. The burdon is not on me to re-convict Omari. That’s all done and he served his sentance. The record still stands and he must live with it. I’m not the prosecution. The trial is over. I saw the video. The jury saw the video. Many people witnessed the event first hand and testified to it. You can’t re-write this closed case by questioning me and bringing up a bunch of malarky about racism. Omari et al won. Coleman School was stolen from the school district and as a result good things came about. We all know that SPS would have given it to some cronies other than Omari et al. Dispersement of school properties is all about politics and graft. Omari got aced out by his own group. They tired of his lunacy and tirades, in at least one case violent and damaging. Your efforts to change the story make it all the more true.
FOR ALL OF YOU IGNORANT LIERS, CHECK THE RECORD OF FIRE DEPARTMENT THAT TREATED MAYOR AT 23RD AND UNION (SITE OF THE POLICE MURDER OF AARON ROBERTS) “CONSISTENT WITH A FIST”. ALSO CHECK THE DOCTOR’S REPORT THAT TREATED MAYOR AT HOSPITAL, “CONSISTENT WITH A FIST”. THE PROSECUTOR OFFERED ME A DEAL THEY SAID THE CHARGE “HITTING MAYOR WITH FIST” PENALTY WAS 3-9 MONTHS AND THAT IF I PLEADED GUILTY THEY WOULD GIVE ME 9 MONTHS??? THEN THEY THREATENED ME WITH “IF YOU DON’T PLEAD GUILTY WE ARE GOING TO PUT THE MEGAPHONE IN YOUR HAND AND CALL IT A ‘DEADLY WEAPON’ AND IF YOUR CONVICTED YOU WILL GET AN EXTRA 12 MONTHS “DEADLY WEAPON INHANCEMENT” SO INTEAD OF DOING 9 MONTHS YOU WILL DO 21 MONTHS??? THE NATIVE AMERICANS SAY “WHITEMAN SPEAKS WITH FORKED TONGUE”??? I REALLY WONDER WHAT THEY MEAN BY THAT??? DRONE TERRORISM IS JUST THAT TERRORISM BY DRONE??? HVE A GOOD DAY AND SEE YOU BACK IN YOUR EUROPEAN (HOMELAND SECURITY)NATIVE LANDS???? HAVE A GOOD DAY AND REMEMBER “HISTORY DOESN’T LIE ONLY “HIS-TORIANS” MAKING EXCUSES FOR EUROPEAN CAVE CULTURE OF GREED, WORLD RESOURCE THEFT AND OUT RIGHT MURDER/GENOCIDE??? WHO ARE THE REAL AMERICANS??? CHECK THE NATIVE AMERICAN “RESERVATIONS/CONCENTRATION CAMPS”??? HAVE A GOOD DAY AND KEEP PRAYING FOR THE “NIGHTMARES” TO GO AWAY AFTER YOU MAKE REPARATIONS PAYMENTS TO NATIVE AMERICANS AND AFRICAN VICTIMS OF 500 YEARS OF “EUROPEAN COLONIAL SETTLER “JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TERRORISM!!!! Omari Tahir, I WITNESS TO JUSTICE AND ACCOUNTABILITY AT 23rd AND UNION ON JULY 7, 20O1, FOUNDER AND VICE PRESIDENT OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE MUSEUM AND CULTURE CENTER AT THE FORMER COLMAN SCHOOL SITE.
Riiiiighhhhht. “It wasn’t me, it was the one armed man.”
I saw the video, you definately did something to the mayor. And some how he got a broken jaw at the same time. Your story is that somebody punched him in the mouth after you swung the magaphone at him. Seems like a pretty big step for the mayor – taking a busted jaw – just to have poor omari arrested and to save the NWAM for whitey. I’m pretty sure they could have figured out a pretty good conspiracy with out busting the mayor’s face. At least come up with a story that makes some sense.
well it was your FIST that was holding the megaphone….
So are you guys actually saying that if Omari Tahir did give the Mayor a black eye years ago (which is obviously a fact in dispute) that anything he ever does again is invalid? Who is allowed to protest the illegal occupation of this building? The legion of supporters behind Omari, are they illegitimate, too?
So, let’s get back to the issue at hand, why is it ok for the City to steal the Community’s building and turn a profit? And then stifle dissent?
Is there any evidence anywhere that the building was “stolen” from the community or Omari? This is just crazy talk.
There is actually quite a bit of evidence that suggests exactly that. Have you objectively looked into the matter at all?
what I’m saying is that here is a guy who assaulted a public figure(no dispute about it. I was an eyewitness as were others and he was convicted of such). He has a history of erratic behavior to say the least. I dont think his place is at public meetings near public figures. I have no issue with his son being there. He doesnt seem to assault people or grab their guns and point them at people. I have heard them both make excellent points at times but the sledge hammer approach (ie all caps and and terrorist, zionist blah blah blah slave owner mumbo jumbo) just gets in the way of what could be a constructive message.
@ap yes but limited to what is available via Google which doesn’t turn up much, if it exists.
Lots of good background to the history of the the AAHM, but….did you talk to anybody else besides Omari about the history of the old Coleman school? Just like Carolyn Downs clinic has a history, Garfield Community center has a history, promanade 23 has a history, there are many players that make a place and the coleman school is no exception.
While its true that Omari and Earl are the founders of this project, I think it could be safely said that the torch was passed to the current board of directors by adverse takeover because of a political stalemate among the community that makes up the Central District. I see Earl and Omari as courageous pioneers who put their butts on the line to save a valuable community resource, The coleman school was slated for demo by SDOT and they stopped that cold. Just like the Seattle Black Panthers were the spark that began the community clinics in the CD, they were not the sustaining force that carried it through into the present.
While I honor community leaders like Omari Tahir and Aaron Dixion for doing what few had the vision and guts to do, a consensus had to be reached with establishment political leaders to provide financing and stability to pull it into the permanent landscape. Talk to establishment liberals like Larry Gossett and Bob Santos about their evolution from street fighters to politcal leaders; the compromises, the alliances, the deals, the negotiations. Mr. Tahir doesn’t compromise, and I admire him for that, doesn’t always get multi-million dollar capital projects off the ground though.
So should we re-judicate all past crimes based only on evidence available today by internet search? For that matter then – we can require that SPD detectives stay in the office and limit investigation to google search results. Same with prosecution and defense. Acutally, let’s have prosecutions initiated, judged, and sentenced automatically by a search engine. We can pay companies like Google and Facebook a finders fee for every crime they solve and convict on. Then we just send out some drones to exact the punishment. Say – laser off a hand for theives or a ____ for ___s. The future is very bright.