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Seattle's Franklin High School students sit-in for reinstatement and civil rights, 1968
In 1968, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing in the Southern and Eastern parts of the United States, but it was just beginning to reach Seattle, Washington. Buoyed by a series of speeches given by Stokely Carmichael, a group of black students from the University of Washington founded a Black Student Union (BSU), to advocate for the rights of black students at the university and area high schools.
On March 19, 1968, an altercation occurred at Franklin High School, a majority black high school in South Seattle. The nature of the altercation is contested, but it involved either perceived or actual racial discrimination by the principal of the high school in reaction to one or more students’ behavior. Regardless of the incident itself, two black students, Charles Oliver and Trolice Flavors, were suspended as they neared graduation. Flavors, concerned about the future of his education, contacted Carl Miller, the former head of the University of Washington’s SNCC, and current member of the BSU. Miller, along with Aaron Dixon and Larry Gossett on behalf of the BSU, attempted to meet with Loren Ralph, the principal of Franklin High, to convince him to reinstate Flavors and Oliver. They were unsuccessful.
Franklin students, angered by the outcome of the negotiations, began threatening to “burn the school down.” Worried about the potential of a riot, the UW BSU members decided to organize a response. As a few upset students threw eggs in the hallways, the BSU members ushered students to an eatery across the street around noon, where they plotted a nonviolent response to Principal Ralph’s decision.
At 1pm, 100 students, 60 of them Franklin students, marched on the Principal’s office, chanting “Ungawa, Black Power!” At the office, they held a sit-in, where they demanded that Oliver and Flavors be reinstated, and in addition, “1) that a black administrator be hired at the high school level in the Seattle Public School system; 2) that an African American history class be taught at Franklin; and 3) that images of black heroes grace the school walls along with the other American historical figures already featured.” For the first 20 minutes, they blockaded Principal Ralph within his office, but then allowed him to leave after the police intervened. This being the first time a sit-in had been held in a high school in Seattle, school district officials were scared about the potential of violent altercations and summoned a great deal of law enforcement, who began to seal off the school. Around 3pm, a group of community members coaxed the demonstrators from Principal Ralph's 16x16ft office, and into the much more spacious auditorium.
At 3:45pm, Principal Ralph agreed to all the demands of the protestors, and the confrontation ended. One of the suspended students was reinstated, but there is no other evidence that Principal Ralph kept his word and met the demands. The demonstrators and school administrators scheduled a meeting to continue the dialogue about racial dynamics in the high school. The next day, Gossett, Dixon, Miller and Oliver were arrested on charges of unlawful assembly. Although they were all released on bail shortly after, their arrests motivated them to use more radical means to achieve equality at the University of Washington, as well as elsewhere. The movement continued in Seattle, mainly focused at the University of Washington, where some of the Franklin High School students went on to college. There, a great deal of progress towards civil rights was made.