The Central District of Seattle used to be mostly if not exclusively African-Americans. I never, ever went to the Central District when I was growing up. I don’t know what I thought would’ve happened to me, but it never occurred to me to go there. Now, years later, I often go walking through the Central District, to the Medgar Evers Pool to swim, or to Ezell’s for fried chicken.
The only time I walked through the Central District before I learned to be comfortable around people of color was during a magical time when the usual social strictures in Seattle were waived.
In December of 1996, when I was home from Atlanta for Christmas, Seattle got a huge and beautiful snowstorm. I was trying to get from my parents’ home in West Seattle to where my sister and her then-husband were living, in Madrona. Normally, the drive would take about 30 minutes. But it took me almost two hours just to get downtown, with a combination of walking and riding buses that slithered along slippery streets.
After four hours of waiting downtown for buses that never came, I walked the 2 1/2 miles to Madrona through the snow, uphill and down, in the twilight and then early night, my backpack on my back, feeling determined and adventurous – walking through the Central District. Whenever I came across someone, we would smile, shake our heads, and exchange pleasantries about how strange it was.
If it wasn’t for the snowstorm, I would never have walked through the Central District.