Seattle students and parents boycott schools for integration, 1966

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Time Period:  
23 February
1 April
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Seattle, Washington
From “Letter to Seattle Public School Officials Concerning Civil Rights Groups School Boycott March 31 and April 1, February 23, 1996”:

“1) Develop and publish a comprehensive plan to integrate the schools within a reasonable period of time.

2) Begin immediately a program of compulsory in-service training for all school personnel in human relations with an emphasis on the understanding and acceptance of racial minorities in previously all-white schools.”


In 1966, 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. De facto segregation in housing meant that the public schools were effectively segregated as well, with North End schools serving predominantly white students, and South End schools serving predominantly African-American and Asian-American students. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, various civil rights groups in Seattle attempted to convince the public schools to desegregate through different means, but since the segregation wasn’t legally enforced, the school board refused to recognize or address it. After submitting many letters and plans to the school board, local civil rights groups became frustrated, and decided to take more decisive action.

In February of 1966, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Central Area Committee for Civil Rights (CACCR) gathered with Reverend John Adams of the First A.M.E. Church, members of the Urban League and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to begin planning a two-day boycott of the public school system. Their hope was that by getting the attention of the school board and greater community that their calls for integration would be heard more broadly, and finally acted upon.

On February 23, 1966, the group submitted a letter to the Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, Dr. Forbes Bottomly, and the President of the Seattle School Board, Dr. Edward Palmason, notifying them of their intention to call for a total boycott of Seattle Public Schools on March 31 and April 1. They stated that they would continue to organize boycotts and other means of protest until Seattle Public Schools began to implement a program of total school integration, and trained all of its school personnel “in human relations with an emphasis on the understanding and acceptance of racial minorities…” The boycott was advertised through fliers around the city, and by word of mouth.

On March 6, Rev. Adams of the First A.M.E. Church announced that instead of going to school on March 31 and April 1, children would attend “freedom schools,” modeled after the schools that CORE operated during the Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964. The campaigners formed a committee of educators and sought out eight churches and community centers. One hundred teachers and two principals staffed each site, and the curriculum focused on black history and civil rights.

The boycott and freedom schools were endorsed by a number of organizations, including the New Conference of Women’s Auxiliaries of the International Longshoremen’s Union and the Seattle Local 200 American Federation of Teachers. Strong support was also given by the Catholic Interracial Council and Unitarians for Social Justice.

On the first day of the boycott, nearly 3,000 students attended Freedom Schools instead of Seattle Public Schools. The churches and community centers containing the Freedom Schools overflowed to the point that parents dropping off their children stayed to supervise if they could. On April 1, 3,918 students were absent from school. In the Central District, where many black families lived, the absentee rate was over fifty percent. Approximately 30 percent of the students who participated in the boycott were white. In many cases, the freedom schools were the first place that these white students went to school with students of color. Many of the students wrote letters to the Superintendent, explaining why they wanted to attend fully integrated schools.

After the completion of the boycott, students returned to school as normal. Although there were a large number of participants in the boycott, the School Board failed to take immediate action. Rather than continue with the originally planned extended boycotts, protesters decided to deal with integration through other means. Seattle Public Schools weren't integrated until the early 1970s. As just one of the campaigns for racial equality and civil rights in Seattle during the 1960s, the combined force of these efforts resulted in huge strides for the equity of the city and its schools. However, the influence of the Seattle Schools Boycott itself is unclear.

Research Notes
Clark, Brooke. "The Seattle School Boycott of 1966."Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project. University of Washington, 2005. Web. 21 Nov 2010.

University of Washington. Copy of Letter to Seattle Public School Officials Concerning Civil Rights Groups School Boycott March 31 and April 1, February 23, 1996

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Hanna King, 21/11/2010