Residents share their links to Snohomish County black history

In 1993, as Everett marked its centennial, Marilyn Quincy found in her ancestry an important piece of local black history.

“I knew there were African-Americans in Snohomish County 100 years before,” said Quincy, now 65. “My mother had an old Bible and old scrapbook, that was all she had of her past.”

The Everett woman knew her grandparents were buried in Snohomish. Going back one more generation, she learned that her great-grandfather, William P. Stewart, was a Civil War veteran.

Stewart, she said, came to Snohomish County about 1889, and is buried in the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery in Snohomish.

Quincy, whose maiden name was Davis, graduated from Everett High School in 1962. There was one other black student in her class, Quincy said. She’s now a member of the Snohomish County Black Heritage Committee, which presents the annual Nubian Jam at Everett’s Forest Park.

Her story will be one of many highlighted at the African-American Experience, a free event starting at 6:30 tonight in the Robert Drewel Building at the Snohomish County campus in Everett. Presented by the Snohomish County NAACP and the Communities of Color Coalition, the program will include a talk by former Everett Symphony conductor Paul-Elliott Cobbs, historical displays, music and refreshments.

Janice Greene, president of the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Quincy is “a wealth of knowledge.”

Marian Harrison, another lifelong resident of the county, was born in Everett in 1931, but soon after moved to an Arlington-area farm with her parents, Glenna and George Norwood Jr.

Harrison, 78, and Quincy are distant relatives. “We grew up not knowing how we were related to the Stewarts,” said Harrison, who now lives in Marysville. “One of my family married into her family.”

Finding connections like theirs is one of the aims of tonight’s program. Greene said the event will include a local timeline and how African-Americans fit into the picture. People are invited to bring photographs and stories to add to the historical display.

“We’ll also look at some of the people — unsung heroes — who have been here a long time working in the community,” Greene said. Among them are Everett salon owner Zebedee Cobbs and his wife, Betty Cobbs, an Everett School District administrator.

Greene, who grew up in Snohomish County and attended Mariner High School, said her 81-year-old father, Ozie Greene, will attend the program.

“My dad was stationed at Paine Field, he is retired Air Force,” Greene said. In the late 1940s, she said, her father was one of the first black men in the newly integrated Air Force. “They ended up selecting a few of the African-American airmen to integrate the service. They called themselves the original 13,” Janice Greene said.

Carol Attebury, a community coordinator with the NAACP, did research for the timeline. Some stories were culled from the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, she said. One story is that of Leslie “Wildcat” Carter, a boxer in the 1920s and ’30s who may have had family ties to Everett.

Ben Young, also with the NAACP, said he is impressed by the history of Manima Wilson. Jacqueline E.A. Lawson, a researcher with the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, said she learned of Wilson through an interview with the woman’s daughter, Cathern Davis, now deceased.

According to Lawson’s research, Manima Wilson, daughter of Arminta Spears Wilson and Samuel Wilson, was born in Snohomish County in 1886, graduated from Everett High School in 1907, and earned a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Washington. Lawson wrote that Wilson is believed to be the first African-American woman to graduate from the UW. She married, moved to Spokane, and had three children. Manima died in 1949.

That was the year Marian Harrison graduated from Marysville High School. Harrison attended her 60th class reunion last year. “Thirty-five of us came,” she said.

Remembering childhood on the farm seven miles out of Arlington on Jordan Road, Harrison said it was wartime and everyone struggled.

“We didn’t get into fast living. We hardly had shoes for our feet,” she said. “We were hardy souls, most of all.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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