Civil rights struggles not easily forgotten

On the day President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the photo on this newspaper’s front page showed a kiddie parade in downtown Everett.

The Everett Herald was then an evening paper. Its deadline 50 years ago today — July 2,1964 — was perhaps a barrier to publishing the now iconic image of the White House signing ceremony. Martin Luther King Jr. was among those looking on as Johnson signed the law that, along with voting rights measures of 1957 and 1965, ranks as the most important legislation of my lifetime.

The Herald reported no local reaction to the law which, according to The Associated Press on July 2, 1964, was “designed to help Negroes achieve equality in nearly all phases of national life into which the federal government can reach.”

Marilyn Quincy, a lifelong resident of Everett, is old enough to remember that historic day. Yet the 70-year-old, who is African-American, recalls no outward jubilation. The Herald coverage of the landmark law — something that happened far from here — wasn’t so different from how Quincy remembers it.

A 1962 graduate of Everett High School, Quincy is retired after 37 years working for the state Employment Security Department. She remembers being concerned about finding work in the mid-1960s. In her experience, black people here avoided raising the subject of discrimination.

“You kind of kept quiet because you didn’t want to cause trouble,” she said.

In 1993, when Everett celebrated its centennial, Quincy was among founders of the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee. The group hosts the annual Nubian Jam celebration of African-American culture at Everett’s Forest Park. “That first Nubian Jam was to try to give our children some pride and recognition,” said Quincy, whose great-grandfather, William P. Stewart, was a Union soldier in the Civil War and one of the county’s first black settlers.

In the 1960s, Quincy saw racial bias in Everett. But it wasn’t the blatant and enforced segregation that existed in Southern states — which the public accommodations section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act targeted.

The law outlawed discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters and other public places. It barred unequal application of voter registration requirements. It outlawed discrimination in employment practices, by unions and employers. It created an Equal Employment Opportunities Commission to review complaints. And it granted new powers to the U.S. attorney general to speed desegregation of public schools, libraries and parks.

The subtle racism Quincy saw wasn’t codified in law. Being treated differently was at the heart of it. “I even had teachers who would say something like ‘You’re not supposed to know how to do that,’?” she said.

Quincy — her maiden name was Davis — was one of two black students in her Everett High graduating class. The other one was Henry Mathews, a popular basketball player and student body president. Mathews died in 2012.

In the early 1960s, she said, the high school had a custom. “The student body president would escort the homecoming queen, and give her a kiss,” Quincy said. The year she graduated, “they changed the tradition,” she said. Mathews shook the girl’s hand, Quincy recalled. It was a topic that came up among friends at her 50th high school reunion.

After high school, it was tricky for a young black woman to find a job in Everett. Quincy said a friend’s mother steered her toward places that would hire her. She worked at a nursing home while attending Everett Community College. She worked for the Boeing Co., and then heard in the late 1960s that Safeway was hiring minority workers.

“It took somebody who cared, behind the scenes, to kind of pull you in,” said Quincy, who remembers feeling that black workers in that era were “kind of tokens.”

“One of my favorite stories about working at Safeway back then, some people would stand in line all day because they wanted me to wait on them. But with other people, if I was the only checker they wouldn’t buy groceries,” Quincy said.

“A lot of things back then would be considered discrimination today,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Nubian Jam

The Nubian Jam, a celebration of African-American arts and culture organized by the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee, is scheduled for 10 a.m.-8 p.m. July 26 at Forest Park, 802 E. Mukilteo Blvd., Everett.

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