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West Side Story: Lectures Reveal Hidden History of African Americans in the West

Anyone who believes that African American history begins and ends east of the Mississippi needs to sign up immediately for the UWAA/Arts and Sciences Winter Lecture Series. Quintard Taylor, who may be the foremost academic authority on the subject of blacks in the American West, will cover nearly 500 years of African American history, touching upon such phenomena as black homesteaders, cowboys and buffalo soldiers in the late 19th century and Western urban life in the early 20th. The five part series starts Jan. 17.

West Side Story

At the beginning of his career, Taylor didn’t question the received notion that “there is no black history in the West,” he told Columns in 1999. But he has spent the past three decades proving that idea is false. African Americans, he points out, have been present in the American West since its settling. But their story is in some respects subtler than the traditional narrative of oppression in the South and migration to the North.

In the West, the black/white racial dynamic has always been complicated by the presence of other, larger ethnic minorities—Latinos in California, Asian Americans in the Pacific Northwest. So in discussions of race, the familiar oppositions don’t always apply. “The real story in the West is not a black versus white issue,” he told Columns. “It is the story of African Americans making their way in a multicultural setting.”

Taylor holds the Bullitt Chair in American History, the oldest endowed chair at the UW. His numerous publications include In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the West, 1528–1990, and Seattle’s Central District: The Forging of a Black Community, and he has edited anthologies on such subjects as African Americans in California and African American women in the West.

The lectures are held at 7 p.m. on five Tuesdays beginning Jan. 17 in Kane 130. The series is presented with the support of Macy’s. Additional support comes from University Book Store and UW Medicine. The UWAA/Arts and Sciences History Lecture Series often sells out prior to the first lecture. Order your tickets.

The History Lecture Series is part of a large program of UW and UWAA events honoring Black History Month. From Feb. 1 through March 15, Suzzallo Library will host an exhibition recognizing “Northwest Black Pioneers.” African American musicians and musical traditions will be celebrated in a pair of events: the Hammer Jazz concert on Feb. 10 at the Brechemin Auditorium in the Music Building, featuring faculty members Tom Collier on vibraphone and Marc Seales on piano; and a performance by piano virtuoso Leon Bates on Feb. 15 at Meany Hall. The School of Drama will present Voir Dire, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated play about race and justice, from Feb. 15–26. For more information about these music and drama events, call the UW Arts Ticket Office at 206-543-4880.