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The Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

February 3, 2010 at 9:28 PM

Pieces of Seattle’s African American history

hendrixhat012710m.jpg
Jan. 27 [Click on sketch to view larger]
The first Thursday of the month means free entrance at many Seattle museums, including the Northwest African American Museum in the Central District. The museum has been in Seattle for less time than I have — it opened in 2008 at the old Colman School — but it already has a unique permanent collection and an interesting exhibit called East by Northwest that focuses on Seattle’s East African community.
I learned during a visit last week that many Ethiopian refugees came here in the mid 70s, drawn by relatives in the area who had come to study here in the late 60s and couldn’t go back when a communist state was established in their country in 1974.
A gallery with personal objects donated for the exhibit is particularly moving. These are objects that new immigrants treasured because they reminded them of home, explained Barbara Earl Thomas, the museum’s executive director. Lemma Walde, for example, brought some cassette tapes with music to listen to. For Yeshi Shiferaw, it was a golden necklace given by a relative.
In addition to the exhibit, which also includes a replica of a tukul, a traditional Ethiopian hut, you can also visit the permanent gallery, where an illustrated timeline features some of the first African Americans who settled in the Pacific Northwest, like George Washington, who founded Centralia.
With its location next to Jimi Hendrix Park, it’s only fitting that a hat Hendrix wore at a concert in 1968 welcomes you as you walk into the museum.

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