By: Nathan D.
Editor’s note: This piece was created during the 2022 session of History Lab, a summer intensive for high school students interested in local history and storytelling. Over the course of two weeks, participants explore creative ways to interpret and share history, conduct research, and produce a work of historical interpretation in a digital medium on a topic of their choosing.
Growing up in the Central District
After Pearl Harbor
At that time, Kurose was in her senior year at Garfield High School, and the next day she remembers a teacher saying to her, “Your people bombed Pearl Harbor.” As those words hit her, she suddenly became very aware of her “Japaneseness,” “not in a real positive way, but kind of a scary way,” she remembered. She no longer felt like an equal American anymore. 
Months later, on February 19th. 1942. President Roosevelt wrote Executive Order 9066 which authorized the exclusion of “any and all persons” from living in established “military zones”. This resulted in the forced removal of Japanese immigrants and Japanese American cities from their homes along the West Coast to incarceration centers monitored by the military. 
Aki’s entire family was first moved to the Puyallup Assembly Center (located on the Puyallup Fairgrounds, and called “Camp Harmony” by army officials), along with other Japanese Americans ranging from Western Washington to Alaska. The barracks and shower stalls at the detention facility were mostly communal. Aki, who was raised to be very modest and private, recalled this being “devastating”.  The temporary structures were poorly constructed; some were converted animal stalls, and they had no insulation. Aki also remembered, “they gave us army cots and then they gave us these bags and we were to stuff them [with hay] for mattresses…But my sister, Suma, was very asthmatic, so that was terrible. She could not survive with the straw mattresses, you know. And so she spent a lot of time in the hospital in camp, because of her asthma. And [the] medical care was not that adequate either.” 
After a few months at Puyallup, her family was transferred to the “Minidoka Relocation Center,” in Idaho. The detention center wasn’t finished when incarcerees first arrived, but at least it seemed more stable than the barracks in Puyallup, Aki remembered. “This time they gave us army mattresses, so we didn't have to stuff mattresses when we went there. And there were still the steel army cots and we had to arrange the six beds so that there'd be space enough for us to move around. And then there was the mess hall, which was more permanent-looking than what we had in Puyallup. And so, we said, "Well, I guess this is where we're going to stay for awhile." 
Over 13,000 inmates were incarcerated at Minidoka, most originally from urban areas like Seattle and Portland. Many inmates tried to make the best of their situation. The only positive aspect of life at Minidoka, Aki remembered, was “the togetherness and the community spirit”. There was limited self-governance through an elected camp council, and inmate-led religious services, recreation activities, and a co-op.  “We had community singing. And just, then later on they did community dances in the mess hall, you know. And so, that we felt the bonding and the togetherness. And I thought that was good and people were helping each other, and friendly.”  Eventually schools were set up in the detention center, and Aki was able to get her high school diploma while incarcerated, though she said it was uneventful. 
A lifelong friendship
One of the people that was important to Aki Kurose’s life was Floyd Schmoe, a naturalist and Quaker activist who protested the incarceration of Japanese Americans both during and after the war.
Aki recalled of Floyd, “He was a professor at the University of Washington, a forestry professor. And he housed many Japanese students that came from Yakima, Wapato, whatever. The family always took in students. And I started attending Friends Center -- Friends meeting, which is church. And he just kind of adopted me, and said, "Hey, you're going to be our daughter." And so I'd go in and out of his house all the time. And his wife was very, very nice, and I got to know the whole family.” Aki even lived with the family of Ruth, Floyd’s wife, in Kansas when she went to Friends University for her freshman year of college. 
They worked together and remained lifelong friends. “He is just the most uncanny person I've ever known,” Aki once said. “He's very bright, very giving; he's just a very nice person. And I think I feel real honored to be his friend.” Floyd was even with Aki the night she died. At that moment he recalled “All I remember saying, over and over again, "We love you, we love you." 
Life after the war
After graduating college in 1948, Aki got married and got involved in peace activism through her work with the AFSC. “I realized what war can do and the injustices that occur [because of] war. There is no justice when war takes place. And my folks emphasized the fact that [our] incarceration was due to war, this was an injustice due to war. And that we should always make sure that there is no more war, and we should work for peace.” 
Through AFSC, Kurose also got involved in the local open housing movement in the 1950s, which fought to remove discriminatory housing practices that resulted in segregation. In the 1960s, Kurose joined efforts led by the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) to desegregate schools, housing, and unions. During this time she and other parents in the neighborhood worked together to start a preschool which became the first Head Start program in Washington State. It was this experience that led Kurose to decide to become a teacher. 
When Kurose began teaching in 1974, Seattle was beginning an effort to desegregate its schools through busing, but also staffing mandates. She recalls, “they were desegregating the schools and it came to the attention of the school board that the staff was not desegregated.” And so the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) released a mandate that “no minority teacher could teach in a minority impacted school,” and Kurose was transferred from the predominantly Black MLK Elementary School to the mostly white, affluent Laurelhurst Elementary, replacing a beloved teacher in the process. 
The parent community was very resistant to the transfer. She said, “There was one parent that came and said, "You know, the only reason you have this job is because you're a minority, I don't think you're a good teacher at all, the only reason you have this job is you're a minority, and you've displaced and replaced one of the best teachers in the district." 
Although she was heavily criticized as a minority teacher at predominantly white school, she eventually became one of the most loved and respected teachers. “Some of my greatest critics became my strongest advocates,” she said. She was awarded Seattle Teacher of the Year in 1985, and after her death a Seattle middle school was named in her honor. 
What Aki Kurose means to me
This was how I learned about Aki Kurose, as a 7th grader at that exact school, where there is a glass display case containing an exhibit about her life’s work. Reading about her legacy, I admired what she was able to do with her life. Her experience in the incarceration camps led her to to fight for peace and against discrimination afterwards. Learning about her also changed my perspective on history, teaching me to make sure I got all narratives of a story, so that I can form my own opinion.
Although throughout my life, I have felt lucky not to experience being stereotyped a lot, reading articles about the slander and violence against Asian Americans during the pandemic made me sad. Thoughts crept into the back of my head like feeling that this kind of behavior is considered acceptable by society. Or that even if they don’t say anything to your face or do anything, people may be judging you if you cough close to them. You are aware that people may be judging you just by your appearance or background.
And like Aki, I feel empathy for others. If you take homelessness for example, there are people that are suffering without a home and who are not treated with the same respect as others. They are given weird looks, and others assume things about them. Through her work she was able to help fix injustices. Her story inspired me to advocate for change.
This piece relied heavily on oral histories conducted with Aki Kurose and Floyd Schmoe for Densho. Many thanks to all involved in sharing and preserving these stories for future generations. To read, watch, or listen to more interviews and stories of the Japanese American incarceration experience from those who lived it, visit the Densho Digital Repository at https://ddr.densho.org/
Transcript, Akiko Kurose Interview I, 17 July 1997, (Full). Densho Digital Archive. https://ddr.densho.org/interviews/ddr-densho-1000-41-1/
Transcript, Floyd Schmoe Interview I, 10 June 1998, (Full). Densho Digital Archive. https://ddr.densho.org/interviews/ddr-densho-1000-83-1/
Executive Order: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/5730250
Matsumoto, Nancy. "Aki Kurose," Densho Encyclopedia https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Aki%20Kurose
Niiya, Brian. "Executive Order 9066," Densho Encyclopedia https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Executive%20Order%209066
Niiya, Brian. "Minidoka," Densho Encyclopedia https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Minidoka
Ott, Jennifer. “Aki Kurose,” HistoryLink. https://www.historylink.org/File/9339
Tsutakawa, Mayumi. "Floyd Schmoe," Densho Encyclopedia https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Floyd%20Schmoe
Written by Karen.
When the city of Seattle is mentioned, some of the first things that come to most people's minds are rain, the Space Needle, and of course, coffee. The birthplace of Starbucks and home to a variety of coffee houses, Seattle is full of rich coffee culture and its influence has spread across generations. From year to year, Seattle usually finds its way somewhere in the top 10 or top 5 cities for coffee lovers. A 2020 study found that there are 56 coffee shops per 100,000 residents. The city also has the highest ratio of Starbucks cafes per capita - around one café for every 4000 people. Seattle’s cold, rainy weather makes it the perfect place to sip a warm cup of freshly brewed coffee. There's just something about being subjected to the soggy weather the majority of the year that makes having a warm cup of coffee in your hand a must. The extra jolt of caffeine, the idea of getting cozy at a café, and the seasonal comfort.
General Coffee House History
Coffee Houses are a staple of modern society. Jonathan Morris, coffee historian, has identified the following key moments in the history of modern coffee houses, beginning in the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1500s. Liquor and bars were banned to most practicing Muslims - coffee was deemed a legitimate non-intoxicating drink by religious officials, and Ottoman coffee houses provided a democratic space for Muslim men to gather and socialize outside the mosque. Coffee culture developed rapidly, and coffee houses quickly became known as meeting places for political discussion. Coffee’s affordability and accessibility eroded centuries of social norms of social class. By the early 1500s, coffee shops were outlawed by Ottoman officials, as they believed that the gathering places encouraged disruption of ruling in the country. Coffee then spread throughout Europe in the mid-1600s, primarily through metropolitan cities like Vienna, London, and Paris. In Europe, the process of adding milk, cream, and sugar was introduced. Just like in the Middle East, European coffeehouses were used to enable patrons to stage debates, read the local paper, and converse. From the 1850s to the 1950s, coffee was transformed into an industrial product in the United States. Coffee houses spread to the Americas early on in their colonization. After the Second World War, coffee became a global commodity.
Seattle Coffee History
Where did Seattle get its affiliation with coffee from? Seattle has a long history of coffee, beginning with roasteries selling out of Pike Place Market. The first began in 1895 when Oscar Delaloyes opened Seattle Tea and Coffee in the Pike Place Market after finding some coffee beans on the ground and roasting them. The popular roastery Manning’s, followed suit in 1908. During the late 60s’ and early 70s, coffee houses boomed across the United States, and Seattleites welcomed coffee house culture. In particular, the city gained a reputation for European-style espresso shots, aided in large part by the city’s first coffee cart, Monorail Espresso, introduced in 1980.
The founding of a new coffee store by Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker, and Zev Siegel in 1971 in the cobblestone streets of Pike Place Market brought a new name to the Seattle coffee scene—Starbucks.6 The original Starbucks focused on beans rather than brewed drinks. That changed when Starbucks was bought by Howard Schultz in 1987, who noticed the popularity of Italian-inspired coffee, and shifted the focus of the company to providing prepared drinks. Without a doubt, Starbucks altered American coffee culture significantly as the hallmark of the “second wave” of coffee culture. With the rise of popular chains like Starbucks and Peet’s coffee, coffee became a part of daily life, and specialty drinks like the Frappuccino focused on the creativity of the drink. Starbucks's widespread growth also led to the company buying up the competition (like Seattle’s Best Coffee) and putting local coffee shops out of business. The coffee giant scoops the best locations and forces independent shops to do business in less-trafficked areas. In many cities, the appearance of a Starbucks is a sign that a neighborhood is about to be gentrified.
Independent Coffee Shops
Almost immediately, in response to the homogeneity of second wave coffee houses, a “third wave” of coffee culture began to emerge in Seattle as coffee aficionados began pulling away from major coffee chains and began seeking out smaller local shops. These local shops were able to compete with Starbucks by offering what they didn’t: artisanal quality coffee. Now it is common to go into an independent coffee shop and be provided with information about your coffee’s farm, harvest date, processing style, roast date, coffee variety, and tasting notes. 
However, what makes each corner café unique depends on the shop. There are coffee shops on nearly every block, and espresso is available at hundreds of walk-up and drive-through coffee shops. With all the competition, coffee houses must find a way to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. Whether that means offering ice cream, fast Wi-Fi, folk music, café cats, or bikini baristas, each independent coffee business provides a completely unique experience. Coffee houses offer unique environments that have been cultivated around the city for people to gather, work, and feel at home.
Swipe through for espresso-sized servings of Seattle's coffee history as seen through photos in the MOHAI collection.
Borg, Shannon. "Seattle Coffee Guide: Locally Roasted Beans" (Coffee: How Seattle Built a Culture). Seattle Magazine. Retrieved 15 November 2011. https://seattlemag.com/locally-roasted-beans
Dickerman, Sarah. “Seattle Coffee Guide: The Evolution of Coffee.” Seattle Magazine, November 27, 2018. https://seattlemag.com/article/seattle-coffee-guide-evolution-coffee.
Grambush, Jacklyn. “A Brief History of Coffee in Seattle.” The Culture
Trip, October 23, 2017. https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/washington/articles/a-brief-history-of-coffee-in-seattle/.
“History of Coffee in Seattle.” Bartell Drugs, August 25,2021.
Michelman, Jordan. “How the Pacific Northwest Became a Coffee Paradise.” Eater Portland, June 14, 2021. https://pdx.eater.com/22436234/history-coffee-pacific-northwest-portland-seattle.
Tomky, Naomi. “Where to Find the Classic Coffee Shops That Made Seattle World
Famous.” Thrillist, March 18, 2019. https://www.thrillist.com/drink/seattle/classic-seattle-coffee-shops-starbucks-history.
Stork, Christina. “The History of Peet's Coffee.” Peet's Coffee, July 16, 2021. https://www.peets.com/blogs/peets/the-history-of-peets-coffee.
Yeah, Joon Han-Mann. “Seattle Coffee Scene Becomes Young Again.” Edited by Jaewook Jung. Lotte Hotels & Resorts Magazine, July 2020. https://www.lottehotelmagazine.com/en/food_style_detail?no=328.
Written and created by Gabriella and Sue
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in 1966 in Oakland, CA by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. In the spring of 1968 the Seattle chapter, the first outside of California, was co-founded by Aaron Dixon and his brother Elmer. Like other branches, the Seattle chapter opened health clinics, ran a free breakfast program for children, and protected citizens from police harassment. While active, the Black Panthers were targeted by the FBI (1). This included tactics such as killing party leaders, smear campaigns, and arresting members on trumped up charges. Though the Seattle chapter only lasted 10 years, it created lots of change. Here in Seattle we have one of the last medical clinics started by the Panthers. Across the nation, schools provide free and reduced price breakfast to students, a practice first initiated by the Panthers (2). Though the Panthers no longer operate in an official capacity, their legacy and goals live on.
Explore this interactive map of places and spaces in Seattle tied to the history of the Black Panther Party.
Written by Nia
Content Warning: This article contains talk about rape, eugenics, and forced sterilizations.
Written by Cherlyn
Attempting to stabilize after foreclosures during the Great Depression, the federal government put together maps for banks such as this one from 1936. It shows which neighborhoods are “desirable” based on the predicted safety of mortgages. The desirability of these areas was determined by housing conditions, neighborhood incomes, but also their racial makeup. Armed with this map, banks and financiers began distributing loans with the condition that the proposed land not be inhabited by non-white people to secure home owners that they believed would get them their money's worth. Any neighborhood that allowed non-white residents would automatically be considered “hazardous” (in the red zone, which is where the term redlining comes from). Mortgages for homes in this area were very hard to get, which prevented communities of color from accumulating wealth through property ownership. The “best” neighborhoods were quickly bought out by white customers and Seattle’s communities of color were further pushed into “hazardous” ones. Home owners, neighborhood groups, real estate agents, and developers in white-dominated communities also enforced residential segregation by putting racially restrictive housing covenants into property deeds that stated that homes couldn’t be sold to specific ethnic or racial groups. By the 1970’s, the Central District was home to about 70 percent of the city’s Black population.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down racist housing covenants in 1948, though some Seattle deeds still contain them. In 1968, local and federal fair housing laws were put into place that made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race when selling or renting housing. These efforts were led by community leaders alongside the civil rights movement. In Seattle, non-discriminatory housing was passed by the City Council and signed by the mayor, only three weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Even with this implementation of “equality”, unwritten or altered versions of redlining policies and overt discrimination continued to be used into the next decade.
We still see the impacts of these policies in the racial makeup of neighborhoods and schools today. According to a study of 2018 Census Bureau data done for the Seattle Times, North Seattle neighborhoods remain mostly white; Madison Park/Broadmoor for example, was tied for least-diverse with Fauntelroy/Gatewood in West Seattle, with a population of 89% white people. Southern neighborhoods like Federal Way, White Center, and Rainier Beach were ranked among the most diverse; in the northern end of Federal Way, no single racial group made up more than 28% of the population. With less access to generational wealth due to these historic practices and continuing income inequality, communities of color continue to be subjected to lower quality living conditions because of an inability to acquire desirable property. Resilient communities have formed in these formerly “dangerous” areas, but forces like gentrification threaten the stability and resources they have built for themselves.
Written by Vance
The Crocodile (formerly the Crocodile Café)
Established right before the Grunge explosion in 1991, up until the pandemic this café and rock bar continued to be a hotspot for up-and-coming artists of all genres. Despite a brief closure, the club managed to stay in its original Belltown location for nearly 30 years. The legendary venue hosted such artists as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Cheap Trick, R.E.M., Mudhoney, Yoko Ono, and many more. The club was even named #7 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Best Clubs in America in 2013. The owners announced during the pandemic that they would be closing the original location and re-opening a few blocks away.
This is one of the oldest clubs on the list, established in 1939. It originally hosted big-name jazz shows from the likes of Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, and Dizzy Gillespie. The more local jazz scene was located along Jackson Street. The iconic art-deco theater also supported the rise of grunge, with bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana playing multiple shows. That support has paid off, as members of those bands lent their voice to a petition to make the Showbox an official City of Seattle Landmark, saving it from demolition. You can still visit the club today, tucked right in between Pike Place Market and the Seattle Art Museum.
This club has gone by many names, including Graceland, Sub-Zero, The Eastlake East Café, Au Go Go, as well as the aptly named Off Ramp Café, and remained in its original 1910 building until very recently. A combination of rising property taxes and noise complaints led to the forced closure and demolition of the historic building, and it is being replaced with two apartment buildings. However, the owner has plans to move the club to a location close by the original. The club was the site of the first Pearl Jam show, then called Mookie Blaylock, and was known for hosting many grunge-era bands in their early days.
Opened in 1990, this iconic LGBTQ bar has hosted all sorts of shows from Grunge bands to stand-up comedy to drag performances. It was also home to the infamous “Nevermind Triskaidekaphobia,” Nirvana’s release party for the titular album, where the band members were kicked out after starting a food fight. The club held out against development in the neighborhood for years, but sadly the club didn’t survive the Covid-19 pandemic and has closed its doors until further notice. The owners posted the announcement on their Facebook page in May 2020, linking the Beatles’ “Hello, Goodbye” in a hopeful farewell, with plans to relocate to south Seattle in Fall 2021.
The Central Saloon
By far the oldest on the list, this tavern/venue opened in 1892 after the Seattle Fire. Through many changes in name and ownership, this historic location continues to host musicians of all genres. However, one downside to remaining in the same 1800s building in Pioneer square is that the acoustics of the venue have not improved. Even after almost 100 years, the club remained an essential part of the Seattle grunge explosion. It was reportedly the location where Sub-Pop Records owners saw Nirvana play for the first time, leading to their first album recorded under the Sub-Pop label. Their website claims the title of the “birthplace of grunge,” as many now world-famous bands made their start playing The Central.
Moe’s Mo’Roc’n Café
This café opened at the peak of the Grunge era in 1993 and only lasted four years, until its closure in 1997. According to The Stranger, this club was just as influential as The Crocodile despite its short lifespan. Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture has even made the original circus-inspired entrance arch a permanent addition to their collection. However, 5 years after the closure the original owners were able to resurrect the club as Neumo’s (pronounced New Moe’s) in early 2003. The new club featured an updated sound system and expanded standing room, and still hosts primarily local and indie-rock acts today.
Pronounced “Rock Candy,” this iconic club was an all-ages rock haven during the era of the Teen Dance Ordinance, and was featured in our Rainy Day History Podcast for that very reason (Episode 12 - I need the volume higher). The club was prolific, featuring performances from every Seattle band of the 90s, including traveling acts from Radiohead, Joan Jett, Marilyn Manson, and The Verve. Opening in 1991 and closing on Halloween night 1999, this club’s life spanned the length of the Grunge era, inspiring the youth of Seattle to carry the music tradition into the next century. Formerly located south of the Re-Bar by the offramp, there now sits a SpringHill Suites Marriott hotel.
Future content to be added - let us know what you're interested in learning more about! In the meantime, learn more about this awesome photograph in the MOHAI collection of Allan Sugiyama leading an OSU demonstration at Seattle Central College in 1969.