Shelf Life Community Story Project
Amplifying community voices, learning from neighborhood stories, and interrupting narratives of erasure in Seattle's Central District.

Racism in the Schools

Photo by Inye Wokoma

Photo by Inye Wokoma

Cecil Beatty moved to Washington state from Oklahoma, during World War II, to work as a machinist in the shipyards. In the early Fifties, he bought a home on 31st and Olive, in the Madrona neighborhood (pictured here). Phyllis is his daughter. She grew up in the house at 31st and Olive, and raised her own children in that house, after marrying John Yasutake.

Cecil Beatty and Phyllis Yasutake

Cecil: She was down at Franklin, and I don't know much about girl stuff, but the girls was fixing their hose with lipstick.
Phyllis: Oh, fingernail polish.
Cecil: Fingernail polish. They passed it to her, and (she got caught) and they put her out of class and put her in a study hall. This was an algebra class. I found out, I went down there and talked to the assistant principal. And he gave me a lot of lip, and I says, "Well, I tell you what, my wife is Secretary of the NAACP and..."
Phyllis: And your lawyer is President and your brother-in-law is the Chairman of CORE.
Cecil: I said "Now within 30 minutes I'll have so many people down here picketing this school that it'll be so hot for you that you'll have to go up to Alaska to cool off." I said "There's gonna be a Beatty in that algebra class. Now you can put her in there, or you'll look and see me and about half a dozen NAACP members in that algebra class. Take your choice." He went in and said something to the principal, next thing I know they yanked her out of that study room and put her back in the algebra class. I went down to that school so much, one of the kids down there asked me, he says, "What class do you teach? I've never been in your class."
Phyllis: I mean Franklin was very, very racist. I had completed everything and could have graduated at Christmas, but there's nothing to do, so mom said to take this college prep English course. So I signed up for it, and the counselor called me down to the office and said, "Oh, you don't need to take that class." And I said, "Yeah my mom says I have to take it." And finally she said, "Well you know that class is for college-bound, you'll be competing with college-bound kids in that class!" And I said, "Yes, I know, I'm one of them, and my mom said sign me up for that class." But she did not want me to take that class. It was for college kids. It was not for me. Franklin was very racist. Garfield wasn't far from it, but they had a better principal. So my parents were always down there fighting.