Suggested Student Projects

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Library Research guide

Suggested Research Topics


Pacific Northwest Labor and Civil Rights Projects


Here is a list of possible topics. Each is described in more detail in the descriptions section below

1900-40 topics:

  1. Labor, Radicals, and World War I antiwar activity in Seattle
  2. Spying on Labor 1918-1922: Broussais Beck and Roy Kinnear
  3. Colored Marine Employment Benevolent Association and Maritime unionism 1921-34
  4. Barons of Labor: Seattle Carpenters Union 1910-1930
  5. Black Seattle Civil Rights Activism in the 1930s
  6. Newspapers on Strike: the 1936 Newspaper Guild Strike
  7. Organizing Women Garment Workers in 1930s
  8. The IWW after Centralia
  9. Seattle Labor College
  10. Washington Teachers Unions in the 1930s
  11. Launching the CIO on the West Coast 1937-1940
  12. 1936 Longshore strike

1940s-50s topics:

  1. 1948 Boeing strike
  2. Shipscalers Union: Pioneering Interracial union
  3. Filipino deportation campaign 1948-53
  4. Anti-Defamation League of the B’Nai B’rith—Fighting Anti-Semitism
  5. The Civic Unity Committee and the 1940s campaign against discrimination
  6. Sydney Gerber and the campaign for Open Housing

1960s- 1970s topics:

  1. Development of Women’s Liberation Movement in Seattle, out of the antiwar, civil rights movements
  2. May 1970 Student strike at the UW
  3. Mineo Katagiri and the Asian Coalition for Equality (ACE), 1968-70
  4. Oriental Student Union (OSU) Protest, SCCC, 1970-1971

Mapping projects:

  1. Seattle’s Civil Rights Movements: A Walking Tour and Interactive Map
  2. The businesses of Seattle’s Nihonmachi (Japanese community) 1920s .
  3. Strikes and Labor Activism in 1930s Seattle

Descriptions of RESEARCH TOPICS

1900-1940 topics:

Colored Marine Employment Benevolent Association and Maritime unionism 1921-34: Excluded from white unions, black and Asian workers sometimes formed their own labor organizations. The CMEBA represented black cooks and stewards on passenger ships that operated on the West Coast. Sources:

  • James A. Roston Sr. Papers, 1897-1924
  • Jackson, Joseph Sylvester. The Colored Marine Employees Benevolent Association of the Pacific, 1921-1934; or, Implications of vertical mobility for Negro stewards in Seattle. Unpublished Sociology MA Thesis, University of Washington, 1939.
  • Taylor, Quintard. Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994. pp. 59, 69, 70
  • Dembo, Jonathan. Maritime labor in the Pacific Northwest : newspaper and periodical index. 1984
  • Fox, John M., 1902-1978 papers
  • Pitts, Robert. Organized Labor and the Negro in Seattle. Seattle: Unpublished Economics MA Thesis, UW, 1941. Chap 3, “The Negro Seaman.” pp 19-37
  • Stevedore play:,
  • Markholt, Ottilie. Maritime solidarity : Pacific Coast unionism, 1929-1938. Tacoma, Wash. : Pacific Coast Maritime History Committee, 1998.
  • The Seamen's journal / official paper of the International Seamen's Union of America (Apr.1918-1937)
  • Coast seamen's journal, (Sept. 1915-Apr. 3, 1918) Incomplete; Lacks v.28 no.51
  • Taylor, Paul Schuster. The Sailors' union of the Pacific. New York: The Ronald press company, 1923

Labor, Radicals, and World War I antiwar activity in Seattle -- World War I came in the midst of a wave of rising labor radicalism in the United States, and it was labor and radical activists who formed the bulwark of opposition to World War I. The strong distrust among labor militants and radicals of a war to open foreign markets to American capital, combined with a national economic depression, made the war unpopular, particularly among organized labor. This was especially true in the radical labor stronghold of the Pacific Northwest, where the Industrial Workers of the World and the Socialist Party were particularly effective. IWW members and socialists worked to pass antiwar resolutions in their union halls, joined by broader labor forces like the AFL and the Seattle Central Labor Council. Local chapters of the American Union Against Militarism brought together radicals, labor activists, church groups, and liberal organizations to conduct street polls on the war, and 3,500 people protested a pro-war Preparedness Day Parade on May 28, 1916. After the US entered the war, the 1917 Espionage Act was passed, making “disloyal” statements illegal, and leading to the prosecution and trial of prominent Northwest antiwar activists, socialists, and IWW members. Sources:

  • Harvey O’Connor, Revolution in Seattle: A Memoir (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1964), chapter 4: “Radicals and the War”
  • Seattle Daily Call , socialist daily with reporting by Anna Louise Strong on the No Conscription League, held in UW microfilm
  • Anna Louise Strong papers, UW Special Collections
  • Hulet M Wells papers (a socialist and president of Seattle Central Labor Council, and author of the antiwar resolution to the labor council), in Special Collections
  • Carlos A. Schwantes, Radical Heritage: Labor, Socialism, and Reform in Washington and British Columbia, 1885-1917 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979)

Newspapers on Strike: the 1936 Newspaper Guild Strike: One of the first strikes by newspaper reporters anywhere in the country, the Seattle PI strike helped secure the future of the Newspaper Guild and galvanized the local labor movement. Primary sources include local newspapers. Secondary source: William E. Ames and Roger A. Simpson, Unionism of Hearst: The Seattle Post-Intelligencer Strike of 1936.

Spying on Labor 1918-1922: Broussais Beck and Roy Kinnear: Employers financed elaborate spy operations to keep track of unions and radicals. Special Collections library has detailed spy reports and employer records that will provide sources for this project. Secondary source: Dana Frank, Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender, and the Seattle Labor Movement, 1919-1929; Robert Freidheim, The Seattle General Strike.

Launching the CIO on the West Coast 1937-1940 —when the American Federation of Labor expelled the CIO unions in 1937, a west-coast CIO was launched, led by the newly independent Longshore workers union, the ILWU. Timber workers and others soon joined and over the next few years CIO unions fought with AFL unions for jurisdiction in many industries.

1940s-1950s topics:

Ship Scalers’, Dry Dock, and Boat Workers’ Union, Local 541 -- Ship scaling—cleaning the interior and exterior of ships—was one of the most unpleasant, dangerous, and poorly paid jobs in the shipbuilding industry. Organized in the 1930s, the Ship Scalers’ union sought to organize and safeguard workers’ jobs in the massive shipyards of Seattle. After World War II, the ethnic makeup of the union turned from Scandinavian to predominantly African American, and the union infused its vision of labor power with demands for racial equality and progressive politics. Because of the union’s political leftism, the anti-union laws and repression of leftist activists in the 1950s led to a series of purges and red scares during the early cold war. Sources: These records are housed in the Labor Archives of Washington State in UW’s Special Collections, and students working on this topic would be able to work directly with Conor Casey, the labor archivist (

Filipino Cannery Workers’ Deportation Hearings-- By the end of World War II, the Cannery Workers’ Union in Seattle (Local 7 of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packinghouse, and Allied Workers of America) had become the bargaining unit for cannery workers up and down the West Coast. Cannery Workers were primarily Asian and Asian American on the West Coast, and Seattle’s local was mostly Filipino, acting not only as a union but also as a center of radical Filipino/a politics in the Northwest. With the rising tide of anti-communist and anti-labor laws in the early Cold War, the Cannery Workers’ radicalism and ties to the Communist Party made the union a target for anti-communist repression. In 1950, leaders and members of the union were arrested and charged with being subversives, subject to deportation. The union fought the deportation hearings all the way to the Supreme Court and ultimately established residency for Filipino immigrants in the United States. Sources:

  • John Caughlan Papers, Special Collections, UW.
  • Micah Ellison, “The Local 7/Local 37 Story: Filipino American Cannery Unionism in Seattle, 1940-1959,”
  • Cannery Workers and Farm Labor Union Local 7 Records, Special Collections, UW.
  • Chris Mensalvas Papers, Special Collections, UW.
  • National Pinoy Archives, Filipino American National History Society.

Anti-Defamation League of the B’Nai B’rith—Fighting Anti-Semitism —Founded in Seattle in 1913, the Anti-Defamation League worked to educate Seattle about the evils of anti-semitism and was often also an ally against other forms of racism. Primary sources: Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith Collection, Accession 2045-001, University of Washington Libraries,

The Civic Unity Committee and the 1940s campaign against discrimination— created by Mayor Devin in 1944, the Civic Unity Committee was a quasi-governmental organization charged with educating about race discrimination and civil rights. Not a protest group, its investigations and interventions nevertheless helped build the movement for civil rights.

Sydney Gerber and the campaign for Open Housing— Sydney Gerber spent decades trying to improve the climate for Civil Rights. A realtor, he played a key role in the open housing campaigns of the early 1960s. He created an open housing listing service to make it possible for African American and Asian American families to buy homes outside of the Central area. His Harmony Homes project helped break segregation in Kirkland and Bellevue. Primary sources: Sydney Gerber collection.

1960s-70s topics

Development of Women’s Liberation Movement in Seattle, out of the antiwar, civil rights movements-- The women’s liberation movement developed from activists long involved in civil rights and antiwar struggles. In Seattle, a committee within Students for a Democratic Society developed into Women’s Liberation-Seattle, which spread to a chapter at Seattle Central (who published their own newsletter, “Ain’t I a Woman?” Barbara Winslow, a leading member of SDS, was the first history grad student at UW and helped develop the first introductory course on women’s history. In addition to SDS and WL-Seattle, a class on the “Woman Question,” at the Free University in Seattle, involving old activists from CORE and the Communist Party, published a journal Lilith. There’s much more of a history (including Radical Women), but the moment of development from CORE and antiwar work into specifically women’s movement work in the early 1970s would be a great local study.Sources:

May 1970 Student strike at the UW-- After Nixon’s announcement of expanding the war in Vietnam into Cambodia on May 1, 1970, a week of national student strikes was called for campuses all over the country. On May 4, four demonstrating students at Kent State University in Ohio were killed by National Guardsmen firing into the crowd, followed by a similar incident on May 15 killing two students at Jackson State University in Mississippi. Antiwar protests begun on May 1 erupted in Seattle and led to a few weeks of protest, involving a student strike at the UW and a mass march from campus, down Interstate-5, to downtown. The student strike set up alternative universities, organized its own strike committees, and involved all sections of the campus left. Sources:

Mineo Katagiri and the Asian Coalition for Equality (ACE), 1968-70 Rev. Mineo Katagiri was an outspoken civil rights activist who, during his brief time in Seattle, founded and led the Asian Coalition for Equality. ACE successfully fought to have Asian Americans included in the University of Washington’s affirmative action programs in 1969, promoted pan Asian identity, challenged stereotypes about Asian passivity, and helped channel Asian activists into direct action struggles for civil rights. Sources:

  • NW Periodicals Index, Special Collections
    • “Katagiri, Mineo.” (17 hits)
    • “Asian Coalition for Equality” (5 hits)
  • Central Seattle Community Council papers
    • Box 4, Folder “Asian Coalition for Equality”
  • Donald Kazama papers. Special Collections. Acc # 1356
    • Box 33, Folder “Asian Coalition for Equality”
  • Charles A. Evans Papers, Acc # 2598-2-81-14 (no box #)
    • UW Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Folders (about 8 or 10)
  • Santos, Bob. Humbows, not Hot Dogs!: Memoirs of a Savvy Asian American Activist. Seattle: International Examiner Press, 2002. P. 71
  • WU President Papers (Odegaard). Special Collections Acc# 71-34
    • Box 63, Folder “Special Educational Programs Committee” might be useful

Oriental Student Union (OSU) Protest, SCCC, 1970-1971 Co-founded by Mike Tagawa, a former Black Panther, and Alan Sugiyama, a former ACE activist, and modeled after the Black Student Union, the Oriental Student Union at Seattle Central Community College fought for Asian studies courses and the hiring of Asian administrators and professors. In 1971, OSU activists occupied SCCC buildings to dramatize their concerns. It was the first pan- Asian (non-labor union) direct action in Seattle, and one of the first in the nation. Alan Sugiyama oral history, Sources:

  • Mike Tagawa oral history,
  • Santos, Bob. Humbows, not Hot Dogs!: Memoirs of a Savvy Asian American Activist. Seattle: International Examiner Press, 2002. Pp71-72
  • Pacific Northwest Periodicals Index, Special Collections.
  • “Seattle Community College—Oriental Student Union” (7 hits)
  • Zane, Jeffrey Gregory. “America, Only Less So?: Seattle’s Central Area, 1968-1996.” Unpublished History Ph.D Dissertation, Notre Dame, 2001. Chapter 5, pp. 129-183