by Logan Camporeale

Tag: Race

Charles Stewart Parker: Community Leader, War Hero, and Accomplished Botanist

Charles Stewart Parker was born in 1879 in Corinne, Utah Territory, a non-Mormon transportation hub in the northern part of the state near present-day Logan, Utah. He was born to John Byron Parker (watch for a future blog post about John Byron) and his wife Odella Parker nee De Reyno. John Byron worked in Corinne as a barber where he cut hair for travelers who stopped over in the town. 

Railroad companies skipped over Corinne when they rerouted which quickly turned it from a boom town into a ghost town, as was common in the American West. The Parker family picked up and moved to another boom town, Eureka, Nevada, in search of new clientele for John Byron’s barber business. According to the census, Charles gained two siblings while living in Nevada, one in 1881, and another in 1883. The family had both Black and white ancestry and they were often characterized by census takers as “Mulatto.” 

In 1883, when Charles was six years old, the family of five moved to Spokane, Washington. He attended public schools where he was a standout athlete in track and football. He graduated from Spokane High School as part of the class of 1898. After graduation, Charles headed to Washington D.C. where he attended classes at King Hall seminary, a theological training school associated with Howard University. He fell in love with Annice Marguerite Lewis and they married in D.C. The newlyweds returned to Spokane in 1901 before Charles could finish school due to health issues. 

Historic photo of the Parker family home at 2826 West Dean Avenue. This photo was featured in the Seattle Republican, a Black-owned newspaper, as an example of a successful home-owning Black Spokanite. The house still stands today, check out this recent Facebook post from the Spokane Historic Preservation Office.

Once back in Spokane, the couple moved into the family home at 2826 West Dean Avenue and Charles found work as a shipping clerk at the Crane Shoe Company. Beyond work, he became an active member of Spokane’s Black community. He was a leader of a congregation, the St. Thomas Episcopal Mission, where he would often read sermons and participate in ceremonies. In 1908, Charles and fellow Black leaders began planning for the centennial celebration of President Abraham Lincoln’s 100th Birthday and he was appointed secretary of the Lincoln Centennial Association. In 1909 Charles co-founded the Nonpartisan Colored Improvement Club, which is likely the first non-religious and non-partisan organization in Spokane dedicated to advocating for the rights of Black Spokanites. 

The front page of a 1912 edition of The Citizen newspaper, a Black-owned newspaper that Charles S. Parker edited.
A portrait of Charles S. Parker printed in the The Citizen newspaper.

In 1908 Charles partnered with another Charles, Charles Barrow, the son of Spokane pioneer and former slave Peter B. Barrow Sr., to found Spokane’s first Black-owned newspaper, The Citizen. Charles Parker served as the paper’s editor from 1908 to 1913 when the paper ceased printing. After the newspaper, Charles continued to work at X-Ray printing, a Black-owned print shop, while also pursuing agricultural education at Washington State College in Pullman, WA. Parker’s interest in agriculture and botany was almost certainly spurred by his involvement with the Deer Lake Irrigated Orchard Company, a Black-owned fruit orchard located north of Spokane. Parker was a co-owner and treasurer of the company. 

In June of 1917, just two months after the United States entered World War I and one month before Spokane conducted its first draft lottery, Charles enrolled in the United States Army (joining his brother who had served in the United States Navy for over a decade). Charles was sent to Fort Des Moines in Iowa to attend officer training specifically for Black candidates. In October of 1917 he received an officer’s commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 366th Infantry Regiment and was quickly promoted to 1st Lieutenant. In June of 1918, the 366th departed for France where they were active in combat at Alsace and at Meuse-Argonne, the principal offensive for U.S. forces in France. Charles led his platoon to the frontlines under heavy fire and through thick fog of noxious gasses. In a letter from the front to a friend back in Spokane, 1Lt Parker remarked that “the question as to whether the American negro will stand the pressure of trench warfare is no longer a problem. He has been called to the bat and hit a home run the first inning.” Parker and his troops advanced into Germany where they remained until the Armistice was signed. 

1Lt. Charles S. Parker (second from left) with fellow Black officers from the 366th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army. The officers from left to right—Capt. L.H. Godman, Lt. and Adj. Chas. S. Parker, Capt. Chas. G. Kelley, Capt. Wm. Hill, Capt. C.W. Owens, Capt. Geo. A. Holland, Capt. W.T. Thompson, 2nd Lt. Wm. D. Nabors. Public domain image.
Charles S. Parker in a newspaper clipping detailing his distinguished service.

1Lt Parker returned to Spokane in May of 1919 where he was greeted with a celebration from his friends, family, and the local NAACP chapter. Soon after he returned, the Department of War awarded him with the rank of Captain for his heroic leadership on the Western Front. 

In 1919, Charles was awarded a professor position at the Tuskegee Institute, a university for Black Americans in Alabama founded by Booker T. Washington. While teaching, he continued to pursue his own education culminating in a doctorate degree in plant pathology from Penn State University in 1932. After graduation, he was hired as a professor at Howard University, a famous Historically Black College and University known by some alumni as “the Mecca,” where he was Chair of the Department of Botany for sixteen years. The Charles S. Parker Herbarium on Howard’s campus, a collection of specimens he assembled, is named in his recognition. 

Professor Charles S. Parker sitting at a microscope at Howard University circa 1936. Photo courtesy of the Harmon Foundation Collection at the National Archives. 

During his academic career, Charles returned home to the Pacific Northwest in search of distinct flora native to the region. He collected thousands of specimens which he documented in two journal publications. Some of the specimens he collected are still held at Washington State University’s Marion Ownbey Herbarium. Charles’ contributions to the field of botany were recognized by renowned botanist Harold St. John when he named a species of pea plant after him (Lathyrus parkeri St.John). 

A specimen of Lathyrus parkeri St.John, the pea plant that Harold St. John named to recognize Charles S. Parker.
Professor Charles S. Parker observing the leaf structure of a plant on Howard University campus circa 1936. Photo courtesy of the Harmon Foundation Collection at the National Archives.

Charles Parker was a product of Spokane’s public schools. He was an influential community leader and he served his country selflessly in World War I. He became an accomplished botanist and left a lasting legacy at Howard University. In 1950, at 71 years old, Charles passed away in Seattle, Washington.

Mapping Segregation: Racially Restrictive Covenants in Spokane

The inclusion of racially restrictive covenants in property documents was widespread in Spokane. These covenants include a clause that reads something similar to: “No person of any race other than the White or Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or any lot except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with the owner or tenant.” In my last blog post I mentioned three specific additions that still have racially restrictive covenants on the books today. They were Comstock Park Second Addition, High Drive First Addition, and High Drive Second Addition all of which fall within the Comstock Neighborhood. At that stage in my research, it appeared that the covenants were an isolated phenomenon on the South Hill. I could not have been more wrong.

In the past few days I have uncovered thirty-seven more racially restrictive covenants that are still on the books in Spokane County. With the help of friend and archivist, Anna Harbine, we created a map to show just how pervasive this practice was in Spokane. In the process of mapping we discovered that there are racially restrictive covenants on the South Hill, Audobon neighborhood, Shadle Park, Spokane Valley, the “Y”, and northeast Spokane. Take a look at the map below and check if your addition still has these covenants on the books. After you click on an individual covenant area you can navigate to the covenant document itself.

I still have four more covenant areas to map and unfortunately, I think there are still a number of racially restrictive covenants that I have not yet found. I will continue to add these additions to the map as I find them, with the gracious help of another friend, Matt Wright.

Now that we know where most of the covenants are, we can start working on a plan to get them removed or amended. Would you support removing these covenants in your addition?

Race and Violence in Washington State: A Commissioned Report

Occasionally I will post briefly about an interesting document, publication, or historical record that is available digitally. Let us start with this fascinating state commission on the status of race and violence in Washington State in the late 1960s.

Race and Violence in Washington State: A Commissioned Report

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On Friday the archivist at my work, Anna Harbine, strolled out of the depths of the stacks with a thin little book in her hand and a proud grin on her face. She plopped the book down on my desk and I was instantly fascinated. The book, Race and Violence in Washington State, was a commissioned report by the state of Washington in 1968. Just quickly paging through the book it was surprising how similar many of the problems, findings, and recommendations cited in the report were to some of the situations we are facing today. The sections on police-community relationships are particularly poignant as the Spokane City Council attempts to steer the future of the Spokane Police Department. 

The publication also includes some interesting maps that show where the Black community was concentrated in Spokane, Tacoma, Seattle, and Washington State in 1960s. Look at this one from Spokane:

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The book is widely available in public libraries and I found it available digitally from an interesting repository called the Digital Mayoral Archives. The repository “seeks to capture the breadth of stories and perspectives that have shaped municipal leadership throughout” the history of the city of Indianapolis. Somehow this Washington gem found its way into their collection. Thank you for that, we appreciate it.

Look for a more in depth blog post on this publication from Anna Harbine in the near future.

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