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INVITE YOUR FRIENDS! “State of Africatown” 2018 Sat Feb 17 10am-1pm Langston Hughes!

State of Africatown 2018

INVITE YOUR FRIENDS! “State of Africatown” 2018 Sat Feb 17 10am-1pm Langston Hughes!
Saturday, February 17, 2018 from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM (PST)
Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute
104 17th Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98144

Organized by Africatown Central District

Liberty Bank Historic Landmark Hearing Wed. Feb. 5th @ 3:30PM

Liberty Bank Historic Landmark Hearing

Wed. Feb. 5th @ 3:30PM


On February 5th the Landmarks Preservation Board will consider the nomination for the former Liberty Bank building. The meeting will begin at 3:30 p.m. and will be held at Seattle Municipal Tower (700 – 5th Avenue, Suite 1756).

If you know anyone who is interested in providing public comment they can do so in person at the meeting, or by submitting written comments. Although the notice says to provide comments before 5:00pm the day prior to the meeting, people are encourage to do it early, even up to a week in advance. Whenever possible, Historic Preservation staff prefers to send comments to the Landmark Preservation Board members well in advance of the meeting so they have time to read them all.

All comments can be emailed to Erin Doherty at erin.doherty@seattle.gov. They also can be mailed or dropped off to Erin’s attention to:

Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
Attn: Erin Doherty
700 5th Avenue, Suite 1700
PO Box 94649
Seattle, WA 98124

For people who would like to offer verbal comment at the meeting, individuals will have three minutes to speak, and organizations will have five minutes to speak.

Here is a sample letter of support:

Dear Ms. Doherty and members of the Landmark Preservation Board:

I write in support of the Landmark Status Application filed by Omari Garrett for the Liberty Bank Building at 24th Avenue and Union Street.

Liberty Bank operated in our neighborhood at a significant time, addressing the needs of African Americans who had been denied access to banking and victimized by legalized practices of redlining and restrictive covenants. The founders of the bank recognized the importance of building an institution that would serve the community and invest in the community. Thebank was a pillar of the community during a time that bridged an era of segregation and discrimination to an era of increasing opportunities. It was unique during its time and today it retains a unique significance in the history of Seattle and American history.

The bank building is significant to the neighborhood vitality too. The Africatown Central District of today is more diverse than it was 40 years ago and many of the distinctly African American businesses are no longer part of the community. Yet I hear from major landlords and developers that the neighborhood’s African American cultural heritage remains an economic asset, a unique feature of the neighborhood that attracts residents of all races and increases the economic viability of their projects. Thus the neighborhood’s economic vitality depends on retaining the African American character of the neighborhood even as gentrification makes it more diverse and less distinctly African American.

While individual businesses may close or move, the history remains. It is up to us to remember it, to preserve it, and to pass it on to future generations. The Liberty Bank Building is a cornerstone of that history, a building that encapsulates the whole story of Africatown better that any other non-Church institution or building in the neighborhood. Please preserve it.

Landmark status for CD’s pioneering Black-owned bank up for consideration amid affordable housing plans


Landmark status for CD’s pioneering Black-owned bank up for consideration amid affordable housing plans
by Bryan Cohen

1968 To preserve and rekindle a piece of Central District history, or prepare for the current and future needs of residents in a increasingly expensive neighborhood. That’s the debate at the heart of a bid to preserve the former, and now empty, Liberty Bank building at 24th and Union.Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 5.44.51 PM

On Wednesday the Landmarks Preservation Board will decide if a nomination to save the bank building should move forward. The application (PDF) cites the building as the “first banking institution for African Americans in the Pacific Northwest region.”

Longtime Central District/Africatown activist Omari Garrett filed the preservation petition. For Garrett, the fight to save the bank runs deeper than just preserving a building.

“Our children are not on the street shooting each other because they don’t have a place to stay. They don’t have Black institutions to look up to, they don’t see Black bank owners,” Garrett said. “Housing is not our problem in the central area. Our problem is identity and having cultural institutions in Africatown.”


Landmark board to weigh controversial nomination in the Central Area

liberty bank

The nondescript brick structure opened in 1968 as the home of the first and only bank established to serve African Americans during a period of pervasive redlining, and its closing last spring marked the end of an era, of sorts.

Now the city of Seattle’s Landmark Preservations Board is considering a nomination to designate the building a historic landmark.

A hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 Fifth Ave.

Omari Tahir-Garrett, a Central Area resident and community agitator, nominated the structure for landmark status, citing among other things what he called its distinction as the site of the Northwest region’s only African-American bank, called Liberty Bank.

His real goal, he acknowledges, is to suspend gentrification in the Central Area and slow developers, who historically have not flocked to the area in any significant numbers.

Liberty was founded by a group of individuals of different races, including Garrett’s father, an African-American engineer.

In 1988, regulators closed Liberty and reopened it with new capital as Emerald City Bank to continue to serve the community. That bank failed in 1993 and was acquired by KeyBank.

Capitol Hill Housing opposes preserving first and only Black Bank in Pacific NW


Africatown Central District is neither “Little Amsterdam” nor Lower Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill Housing opposes preserving first and only Black Bank in Pacific NW

-The Africatown News Digest Editors

The quasi-government Seattle NGO known as Capitol Hill Housing has recently announced on its website that it will actively oppose the preservation of Africatown history represented by the Liberty Bank building at 24th and Union, the only surviving commercial building in the CD to have been designed and built, from footing to roof, by Black people for Black people for the specific purpose of housing a Black institution.(1)

Liberty Bank was uniquely designed and completed by architect Mel Streeter in 1968, and opened its doors the same year. Streeter is known for leading in the construction of, and, in some cases, contributions to a number of landmark institutions in King County, such as: John Muir Elementary, City of Auburn City Hall, the regional Federal Aviation Administration Building and Beacon Hill Neighborhood’s former African American Academy Building (which is now Van Asselt Elementary School). Notably, he was integral in the construction of Seattle’s world-famous Qwest and Safeco Fields. Liberty Bank opened as the FIRST and ONLY African American bank in the Pacific Northwest region of the United Sates. Its founders included a number of people of historic note, and its design is reflective of the culture that characterized Seattle’s predominantly African American Central Area in the 1960s, a culture that Seattle’s mayor has acknowledged the need to protect and preserve against gentrification. The changing demographics of Seattle’s Central District, without protection of the neighborhood’s historical landmarks, portends an erasure of a rich cultural past and heritage created by Seattle’s African American community.(2)

Liberty Bank opened as a Black owned and operated Bank in Seattle at a time of tremendous national and regional Black upheaval. It was also a time when the African American community was actively creating sustainable institutions to combat racism in the forms of red-lining and economic exploitation, which went unchecked by the dominant culture leading up to, during and after the Black self-determination and institutional development era. The need for African American-owned and -run institutions that offered equitable opportunities for success was clear. Indeed, the absence of such an African American financial institution in Seattle today has long raised calls for the reestablishment of a Black bank. (3)

Liberty Bank would be one such key institution, used to expand the African American entrepreneurial class, and as an antidote to the refusals by enterprise capital of mainstream institutions to invest in that class despite comparably positive credit worthiness, relevance, and need. It was a natural outgrowth of the NAACP’s Sentinel Credit Union and soon became a source of needed capital and developmental loans to many African Americans whose entrepreneurial creations still exist today. The Bank was thriving enough after its opening to begin a second branch on 3rd Avenue in downtown Seattle in 1988. What the African American community experienced as economic “apartheid”, however, halted the effort. The bank regulator during this time was Thomas Oldfield, who aggressively seized both bank branches. Within four days Liberty was re-formed, with new and compliant owners, as Emerald City Bank. Very shortly thereafter, ECB was merged with Key Bank, which itself has now abandoned the Liberty building as a banking service location, and is seeking to liquidate it as a profitable real estate sale instead. In response, local neighbors have appealed to Seattle´s Historic Landmarks Nomination Board to protect the building. The hearing will be Wednesday, Feb 5th, 3:30 PM, in Room 1756 of the Seattle Municipal Tower, 700 5th Avenue, 17th Floor.(4)

Enter Captiol Hill Housing, a perspective buyer and developer, whose gentrification influence within the Central Area has steadily grown in the years since the City-Hall-led takeover and shutdown of its former neighbor and Black-controlled competitor, the Central Area Public Development Authority (1976 – 1994). The minutes of CHH’s January 2014 Board Meeting state “At that hearing, CHH and our consultants (DKA Architecture and Larry Johnson Partnership) will present our opinion that the building does not merit preservation, however, the history of Liberty Bank will be honored.” (1)

It is not surprising that CHH’s interests conflict with preserving Liberty Bank, and it is good diplomacy for them to hire both DKA Architecture and Larry Johnson Partnership to represent those interests, given Larry Johnson’s expertise in the historic designation process and Don King’s effective work in converting the African American Heritage Museum building into 36 allegedly affordable apartment condominiums, even if few Black residents of Africatown Central District could actually afford them. This is more diplomatic, for example, than developer Ian Eisenberg’s blunt proposal to install a cluster of marijuana shops nearby and to re-christen this part of Africatown-Central District as “Little Amsterdam”. (5) However, it is Black contractors and construction workers who will actually build and develop Africatown.

It is surprisingly presumptuous for CHH, in the very same breath in which they propose to tear it down, to authoritatively declare that “the history of Liberty Bank will be honored”, assuming for themselves the right define and verify such an alleged honoring. It is similar to the Roman general Manius Manilius politely “honoring” the city of Carthage with a few tears and verses from The Iliad as he carried out the utter destruction of that African city. (6)

Capitol Hill Housing’s quasi-government bankster board includes a former VP of Bank of America, an associate of HAL Real Estate Investments, an associate of Vulcan Real Estate, an agent of ShoreBank Pacific, the owner of Dunn & Hobbes LLC, a representative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a former chair of the South Lake Union/Queen Anne Design Review Board and a facility manager for Seattle U, but this board is notably lacking for African Americans. There is, of course, the one recently added exception to that rule, Pamela Banks, the President and CEO of none other than the dead anti-Black Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, which is fronting with CHH for this project, much like it has fronted for the Urban League Village/Housing Resource Group in years past. (7)

This is the same Urban League that was the single largest recipient in the Urban League/Seattle Public Schools Scandal of 2011, in which nearly two million dollars was reportedly misspent, and in the midst of which the former Urban League CEO James Kelly conspicuously resigned (The same James Kelley who, while still serving as CEO, brought a firearm onto Rainier Beach High School’s campus and threatened students with it in 2002)(8), the same Urban League that still claims it is innocent of any wrongdoing in that scandal.(9) This is the same Urban League that has received annual no-bid City contracts of approximately half a million per year, year-after-year until 2011, for youth violence prevention initiatives, while youth violence continued to mushroom, and community members kept asking what, if anything, the Urban League was doing about it.(10) This is the same Urban League that is now negotiating for a similar $400,000 contract, allegedly for creating job opportunities and reducing violence. And this is the same Pamela Banks who served as the UrbanLeague’s liaison to the City under the James Kelly administration while the previous no-bid contracts were negotiated. This is the same Urban League that helped both City Hall and the School District to illegally breach their 1997 signed contract with the African American Heritage Museum & Cultural Center (a contract which is still a clear matter of record no matter how many prominent Seattle players wish it wasn’t), and turned most of that Museum’s building into not-so-affordable condos in what became known as the NAAM Scam.(11) This is the same Urban League that orchestrated the false arrest of AAHMCC founder Wyking Garrett for attempting to tell this story at the 2007 unveiling of the NAAM Scam, as proud former FBI Agent and NAAM officer Carver Gayton (who once claimed to possess privileged information on Lee Harvey Oswald(12) looked on and cheerfully gloated into the microphone. (13) It is therefore not surprising that this Urban League lacks substantial credibility among long time Central Area residents, and must still instead allow itself to be used as a front by forces and interests originating outside of the Africatown Central District. In fact, we continue to demand a federal RICO Racketeering investigation of the City of Seattle’s, King County’s and the State of Washington’s dealings with this Urban League.

Some of CHH’s apparent supporters, on various forums and blogs, are already attempting to falsely frame this issue as a choice between “affordable housing versus an ugly bank building”. Liberty Bank has never been ugly and never will be. But even if beauty was unilaterally defined by the followers of Oscar Niemeyer and Paul Andreu, it would be ridiculous to say that Liberty Bank’s supporters were against housing. Everyone knows and agrees that all humans need housing. The more obvious but less comfortable questions, concerning red-lining and reverse-red-lining, are about who shall be empowered to develop and administer housing, who shall be housed where, and who shall have to plead with whom in order to request a place to live in any certain area.

On January 18th at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, Mayor Murray recognized the importance of the Africatown Central District as no less than that of the Chinatown International District. He went so far as to say that the colonial relationship between Seattle and its African American population needs to change. Liberty Bank at 24th and Union is an excellent place for that change to begin.

We look forward to seeing you all on the 17th floor of Seattle Municipal Tower on February 5th!


(1) http://capitolhillhousing.org/downloads/board/packets/2014_01-CHH-Board-Packet.pdf (ítem 6)

(2) http://centralareacomm.blogspot.com/2013/11/michelle-purnell-hepburn-vp-controller.html

(3) http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Seattle-s-black-community-needs-its-own-bank-1057400.php

(4) http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/preservation/documents/LPBCurrentNom_LibertyBank.pdf

(5) http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2013/02/how-23rd-union-could-become-seattles-little-amsterdam/

(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Carthage_(c._149_BC)

(7) http://www.aahmcc.org/

(8) http://urbanleaguewatch.blogspot.com/2002/07/urban-leagues-kelly-charged-in-school.html

(9) http://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Urban-League-on-school-scandal-We-did-nothing-1038299.php

(10) http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2022427215_urbanleaguexml.html

(11) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4-wx_Ti1Is

(12) http://www.acorn.net/jfkplace/03/JA/DR/.ja-ex15.html

(13) http://wyking411.blogspot.com/