Find of the Month

Each month we highlight interesting, important, and odd items from our collection, along with the stories they tell.

Most recent Find of the Month

December 2023 - Hotel discrimination

Hungerford Hotel postcard

Renowned Black tenor Roland Hayes came to Seattle in March 1942 to perform at the Metropolitan Theater. He elected to stay in a private home during his visit, as two prominent local hotels had declined to accommodate him except under conditions where he would remain largely unseen by other guests (for example, taking meals in his room).

The situation inspired numerous Seattleites to contact City Council, with many tying the issue to the war effort. Letters argued that the discrimination faced by Hayes brought "disgrace to our city" and " the cause of democracy." One writer declared, "We want no Hitlerism here in any shape or form."

Helen Harris, who was the Minorities Chairman of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, wrote:

...Last week, we read that Roland Hayes, here because thousands of people want to pay money to hear him sing, could not stay in a Seattle hotel unless he stayed in his room, used a freight entrance, had no visitors except in his room, etc.

The city licenses the hotels here, they are supposed to operate under city ordinances. Why is such a condition tolerated? Cannot the city council do something to prevent Seattle getting such bad publicity as comes from this forcing of Roland Hayes to stay in a private home if he is to be treated as a citizen of the United States should be treated? It is not only in this country that unfavorable publicity is aroused, but it provides marvelous ammunition to Germany, for instance, which recounts the tale of American lynchings, injustices and discriminations as justification for itself and evidence of hypocrisy in us in our condemnation of their treatment of the Jews.

Pearl Buck, in a letter to the New York Times, said recently that we shall have to decide whether we are - or want to be - a democracy. If our decision is in favor of democracy, then we must cease having a subject race - the negro, and give full freedom and respect to every individual, whatever the color of his skin. Here, certainly, is one place where the City Council, the Hotel Association and the people of Seattle can demonstrate that they really want a democratic country, with freedom and justice for all.

Hayes himself told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he believed Nazi propaganda had increased racism in the US, but added that "there was enough of it here already without the Nazis."

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Municipal Archives, City Clerk

Anne Frantilla, City Archivist
Address: 600 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA, 98124-4728
Phone: (206) 684-8353

The Office of the City Clerk maintains the City's official records, provides support for the City Council, and manages the City's historical records through the Seattle Municipal Archives. The Clerk's Office provides information services to the public and to City staff.