Audio on this page read by Benjamin Hunter
As you will discover throughout our tour today, railroads (and to a lesser degree, streetcars) are essential to our story.
In fact, we’ve chosen King Street Station as our starting point because this is where the story of Seattle’s Black & Tan Club truly begins. Near the end of the tour we’ll explain why, but first, about two miles of backstory...
Seattle's train depots, King Street Station and Union Station, opened within just a few years of each other, in 1906 and 1911 respectively. The railroads were critical to Seattle’s early population growth and to its ability to position itself as a deep-harbor port city with Pacific access. Shortly after these two depots opened and connected Seattle to the rest of the interior region and country, the city's population grew rapidly.
The railroads required massive amounts of labor, often provided by Chinese immigrants who were restricted from purchasing land or bringing their families over from their home country. Passenger railcars needed to be staffed, and that labor was often provided by African-American men. The completion of the railroads and stations allowed for rapid growth in Seattle and the continued expansion of each of its already-diverse populations.
Trains enabled migrants, visitors, and workers to access Seattle at a time when cars were rare; streets were meant for carriages, streetcars, and pedestrians. Railroads were a key source of employment in the African-American community: Black people were widely and routinely denied access to many types of work that would have provided steady wages, but in the early 1900s it was common for railroad companies, especially the Pullman Company, to hire Black men as passenger car porters, dining car cooks, and waiters.
The trains and their workers profoundly shaped this neighborhood, and the streetcars completed the link. One theory is that the Jackson Street round-the-clock jazz club scene developed because trains would come in at all hours, and the Black porters, waiters, and cooks weren't merely looking for places to sleep and eat. They often wanted to be entertained with music and gambling, which often went hand-in-hand with the consumption of alcohol in the midst of Washington State’s very long Prohibition.
However, this tour is about the Negro Motorist’s Green Book! Car ownership made new places accessible to more people, but as we go along, keep the trains in mind as a foundation of the community which formed along this corridor.
The Green Book did not publish listings in any category that would have included King Street Station, so it never appeared in the directory. We have included it here because the station was a major point of entry to Seattle, and, like several other tours sites we have included without a direct Green Book link, we also chose it for the example it provides of preserving and restoring historic sites to meet modern-day needs.
King Street Station was renovated and restored throughout the first decades of this century, and Amtrak trains and buses operate out of the station today. The upstairs space houses the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture which in 2019 opened an on-site gallery with the premier exhibit yəhaẃ, curated by and featuring Native American artists. The cultural space and gallery continue to support "opportunities for people of color to generate and present their work and to reflect and foster the creativity and talents of people that continue to create the fabric of Seattle."Read More