Category Archives: 2017 Interviews

Gary Emmons, Telegrapher for the Northern Pacific Railroad

By Karin Crelling

“I enjoyed every moment I worked, and some people can say: ‘Gosh, you know…I don’t like that job’ and so forth, but I truly enjoyed every second I went to work. I thought that was sort of the neatest thing I could go do and would lament the fact when I didn’t get a call to go to work on a weekend job or something like that because there was no need for my services. So I never did think about it as a job; I just thought it was kind of a neat place to go and interact with all these… all these trains” — Gary Emmons.

Gary Emmons working as a telegrapher for the Northern Pacific Railway in Tacoma, Wa (1962). Photo courtesy of the Emmons family.

Retired AirForce Colonel Gary Emmons talks about his time as a telegraph operator and train dispatcher in the 1960s. His career with the Northern Pacific Railroad started at the age of 16.

During his eight years of employment with the railroad, Gary Emmons witnessed the changes that progress brings with it; not all of them good.

Still Fighting After All These Years: A Puyallup Tribal Member’s Perspective

By Rachael Williamson

“I found it exciting…Going to the protests, going to the fish-ins. It was being in a moment that nobody else will ever be in. This movement will never happen again, and I was involved in it. It was very educational” — Nancy Shippentower-Games.

Nancy Shippentower-Games is a member of the Puyallup Tribe in Washington State. Nancy grew up on the banks of the Nisqually River and Puyallup Rivers and currently resides in Yelm, Washington. Nancy’s family were very active during the fishing wars that took place on both the Nisqually and Puyallup Rivers. Her mother Janet McCloud and her uncle, Billy Frank Jr., are widely recognized activists that fought hard for Northwest Indigenous fishing rights during the battle over salmon in the mid-20th century.

Nancy Shippentower-Games

Nancy remembers vividly the violence, racism and injustices that she and her people suffered as they fought against the states of Washington and Oregon for what was rightfully theirs.

By revisiting the circumstances and propositions set forth in the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854, a better understanding of what the Puyallup and Nisqually tribes have been fighting for comes into focus. While the Boldt Decision of 1974 was a turning point for Northwest Tribes, concerns such as climate change, overpopulation, and proposals such as the LNG plant in Tacoma continue to put the salmon runs and Indigenous culture at risk.

After all these years, Nancy continues to fight the battle for her people. Recently, she traveled to Washington D.C. to accept on behalf of her uncle Billy Frank Jr. the Medal of Freedom, presented by President Obama. Nancy also traveled to Standing Rock, where she represented the Puyallup tribe in the peaceful protests for clean water.

 

 

Perspectives on Tacoma School Desegregation: From Wallflower to Rabble Rouser

By TeyAnjulee Leon

“I was just one of the poor white kids that lived on the Hilltop…I was a freakin’ wallflower and I did not wanna be noticed.” — Laurie Arnold

The child of left leaning social activists, Laurie Arnold grew up during a time of great change in the country and the Tacoma community. Throughout her educational journey, Laurie attended many schools, and the one that remained clearest in her memory was McCarver. Though she did not know it at the time, Laurie attended McCarver the year it became the first magnet school in the country and began the process to help desegregating Tacoma Public Schools.

From Friday Activities and locker room fights to Tacoma Urban League and community organizing, Laurie Arnold remains a fixture in the Hilltop and Tacoma communities always working to protect and improve the place she calls home.

 

Willie Stewart and the Desegregation of Tacoma Public Schools

Oral history and blog post by Katherine L. Jennison

“There would be many black students who would just come to my door and peek just to make sure. A couple of them even wanted to touch my hands to make sure I was real. It was a culture shock for the black students as much as it was a culture shock for me to be in that environment…. Many of the white students had never seen a black teacher” — Willie Stewart.

On the heels of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Tacoma School District took voluntary measures to desegregate a select number of schools with high non-white enrollment. The district superintendent, Dr. Angelo Giaudrone, drew attention to the de facto segregation, and primarily focused on two elementary schools: Stanley Elementary, with a black population of 64 percent and McCarver Elementary, with a black population of 84 percent. In 1963, a subcommittee was formed to analyze and study the de facto segregation and provide recommendations for potential solutions. On July 8, 1966, a plan was announced by the school board for an optional enrollment program that relied on closing McCarver Junior High and to provide limited open enrollment to students affected by the closing.

In 1960, Willie Stewart was hired by Tacoma School District and assigned to Gault Junior High to teach life science and physical science. Stewart taught at Gault until 1966, when he was promoted to assistant principal. He stayed at Gault for three years until he was hired at Lincoln High School as assistant principal. A year later (1970), he became that first black principal in the Tacoma School District.1.

Willie Stewart c. 1966

According to Stewart, the biggest hesitancy for black families was the loss of historical lineage with their neighborhood school. “I’d have to work with the family, whose school is no longer there, and the principal by convincing them that this was the best program and most viable option for these kids based on where they lived.”

Stewart was often a liaison between the black community and the school district. “When there was a decision to close McCarver…. I was asked to be the person to stand between the school district and the black community to accept their students being bused between their home and different schools throughout the city.” When asked to look back on the effectiveness of the voluntary desegregation plan, Stewart said, “I wish there were have been more African American counselors, but we used everyone we had; we just didn’t have enough. We could have used a two-year education process, rather than one year. Many teachers had never talked to a black student, so those were some of the apprehensions.” Stewart thought the district could also have improved their plan, by having high school regional meetings with schools and the community as well as separate meetings for the black community to help with the transition with the loss of school lineage.

Stewart led the counseling program for two years before stepping down to focus on his duties as principal at Lincoln. In 1972, according to the Tacoma News Tribune, the schools district declared an end to de facto segregation in fifty-eight school buildings; with all buildings at or below the forty-percent threshold for black student enrollment. According to the United States Commission on Civil Rights a decade later, the summer counseling program was pivotal to the success of the voluntary desegregation program in the Tacoma School District.

Finding the Way Back – Philip H. Red Eagle

Oral history and blog post by Jordan Woolston

“I think because I became an artist and a writer and kind of leader, that was in me, it’s always been there…You don’t become a poet because somebody says, ‘Oh you ought to be a poet.’ You become a poet because it’s there.” Philip H. Red Eagle

Philip H. Red Eagle was born in 1945 in Tacoma, Washington. His mother, Marian Steilacoom, of Salish decent, was born near Port Angeles, Washington. Philip’s father, Philip Red Eagle, a member of the Dakota Tribe, was born near the Missouri River on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana. Phillip spent the first fourteen years of his life in Tacoma, attending Stanley and McCarver schools before moving to Sitka, Alaska with his family in 1959.

Philip Red Eagle

Philip joined the Navy shortly after graduating from high school, serving in Vietnam for five years from 1969-1973. After Vietnam, Philip returned to Washington and began undergraduate studies at the University of Washington where he earned two bachelor’s degrees.

The return to civilian life after the war affected Philip and he struggled with PTSD and related issues like depression and insomnia. At the time of Philip’s discharge PTSD did not even have a name but emerging studies would prove Philip was not alone. The late and delayed effects of combat exposure in the form of PTSD were a significant source of suffering and disability among veterans in the United States. An estimated 700, 000 Vietnam veterans—almost a quarter of all soldiers sent to Vietnam from 1964 to 1973—required some form of psychological help.

Philip found that art, writing, and taking part in the revival of his culture helped him confront his PTSD. Nearly from the beginning, Philip played an important role in the annual Tribal Canoe Journeys, atradition started in 1989 by Emmett Oliver of the Quinault Nation. A member of the committee planning the State of Washington’s centennial celebration, Oliver organized the Paddle to Seattle to ensure the state’s First Peoples were represented. Philip was asked to take part in the Paddle to Seattle but was unable to attend. Within the next few years, Philip found himself intimately involved in a cultural renaissance that involved multiple generations of a still-growing number of indigenous nations.

As an artist, Philip brings an influential presence to the Canoe Journeys. With help, he has made over 6,500 copper rings that have been used in The Copper Ring Ceremony since 1995. The ceremony calls for no alcohol, no drugs, no violence, and total commitment to the 10 Rules of the Canoe while on journey.  Philip is also the Director of the Carver’s Camp which was formed in 2004 to teach carving to the people of the Canoe Nations. Started with only three carvers, the camp is currently manned by twelve persons, native and non-native, male and female. The Camp is directly descended from The Cedar Tree Institute, which was dedicated to the resurgence, maintenance and support, of Northwest Native culture.  Philip’s presence extends far beyond those involved with the Canoe Journey’s. A publisher and a writer, Philip’s contributions to the Puget Sound’s art community are vast. Philip organized The Raven Chronicles, a Seattle-based nonprofit literary arts magazine, in the early 90s. The organization’s mission is to publish and promote artistic work that embodies the cultural diversity and multitude of viewpoints of writers and artists living in the Pacific Northwest and other regions. Philip’s writings have since been published by various journals, magazines, and newspapers and his book, Red Earth: A Vietnam Warriors Journey, is in its second printing Tom Heidlebaugh, who Philip met in 1992 and was a pivotal actor in the Canoe Journeys program, penned a poetic forward to Philip’s book writing;

When you put this book down, you are able to stand up, to stand for your people, to stand up for that high, sharp-drawn chant coming off the red dawn of the endless plains, coming off the red leaves of late summer, coming off the red earth from which our songs and our healing have always come and to which we are taken back when we have been accepted, by ourselves and our people, back to the circle.

Against the struggles of PTSD, Philip made his life work about bringing people back to the circle. Through his poetry, writings, art, community engagement, and myriad other ways, Philip promotes the revival of and respect of Indigenous cultures. In guiding others, Philip found his own way back.