Black History Month: A look back at 1970 with the Seattle Black Fire Fighters Association

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Seattle Fire Department Firefighters

As we near the end of Black History Month, we wanted to take a brief look back at our own history and reflect on the struggles of our first black firefighters that compelled an association to advocate for the needs and interests of these members.

The Seattle Black Fire Fighters Association formed just over 50 years ago out of the need to support the small number of black firefighters working at the Seattle Fire Department. In 1959, the Seattle Fire Department hired its first black firefighter, Claude Harris. It would take eight years (1967) before the fire department hired more black firefighters. By 1968, black firefighters began meeting to support each other to confront the overt racism they faced at work. The hostility towards them would be the impetus in starting the Seattle Black Fire Fighters Association.

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Seattle 1970 – Protest against racial discrimination

By 1970, the Seattle Black Fire Fighters Association had expanded and evolved from providing mostly recruitment and promotion support of black firefighters with the Seattle Fire Department to an organization that supported community-based groups and local leaders. The decision to engage community helped the Association to garner community support as it challenged discriminatory practices within the department. The Association also sought to give back to community members and organizations who had supported black firefighters over the years. Some of the activities in 1970 that the Seattle Black Fire Fighters Association members participated in were black community parades, Garfield High MLK Banquets and donations to local community and charitable organizations.

While it has been over 50 years since the Seattle Black Fire Fighters Association started, their work remains relevant and they continue to be active. Today the Seattle Black Fire Fighters Association provides recruitment and promotional support to the department and continues to participate in local parades. It also remains dedicated to assisting black firefighters and other marginalized groups and advancing equity within the fire service at the local, national and international level. The Seattle Black Fire Fighters Association is a member organization of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters and its historical and ongoing mission is to “Keep the Fires Burning for Justice.”