May 29, 1940: Tyree Scott, 1940-2003
Many of Seattle’s activist icons have been strongly identified with a particular event or era. Anna Louise Strong is most often mentioned in the same breath as the 1919 Seattle General Strike; Edwin T. Pratt with the 1960s Open Housing movement. By contrast, Tyree Scott–although he, too, first made a name for himself in the 1960s–is best identified with an activist career spanning decades.
Scott was best known as a civil rights and labor leader who opened the door to women and minority workers in the construction industry, both locally and nationally. Born in Hearne, Texas, on the date in focus here, Scott moved to Seattle in 1966 to help his father, an electrician in Seattle, build his construction business. At the time, the trade unions that controlled jobs in Seattle’s construction industry were off limits to blacks.
In 1969, as Seattle was undergoing a building boom flush with federally-funded projects, Scott became the leader of the Central Contractors Association, a group of black contractors who sought equal opportunity in federal building projects. That summer, Scott led the CCA in shutting down every major federal construction site in Seattle to protest discrimination against black contractors and construction workers.
One protest shut down the construction of Red Square on the University of Washington campus, while another temporarily halted work on the construction of an airport runway at Sea-Tac Airport. Other such actions led or co-led by Scott included shutdowns at Harborview Medical Center, Medger Evers Pool, and the King County Administration Building. These actions led to the first federal imposition of affirmative action upon local labor unions.
In the following decade, Scott would go on to lead other local labor struggles, crucially helping to found the Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office (LELO), which forged international ties among workers in the struggle to gain better job conditions for low-income workers through class-action lawsuits.
During the 1980s, Scott took his activism abroad and helped form organizations to assist laborers in developing companies. In 1997, he led a LELO-sponsored Seattle conference which drew delegates from a dozen countries to discuss leadership of labor and civil rights activism throughout the world. Two years later, in early 1999, Scott was among the activists who laid the early organizational groundwork for the WTO protests.
Scott died in Seattle on June 19, 2003, after a long battle with prostate cancer. His legacy lives on in LELO, which continues to do effective work on social justice and worker rights issues. In addition, the Tyree Scott Freedom School, a nine-day summer educational program sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, teaches young people aged 15 to 21 about social justice issues and the history of community organizing in Seattle.
–Jeff Stevens. Sources: Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project (www.civilrights.washington.edu); HistoryLink.org; Quintard Taylor, “The Forging of a Black Community: Seattle’s Central District from 1870 through the Civil Rights Era” (University of Washington Press, 1994).