Issaquah History Museums

Confronting the Past in the Quest for an Antiracist Future: Introducing The Series

The introduction to a series of blog posts about racial inequity in Issaquah's past.

By Kayla Boland, Communications Coordinator at the Issaquah History Museums

CONTENT WARNING: Racism, violence

As part of both Issaquah’s and the nation’s history, and to inspire further progress, these are stories that the Issaquah History Museums need to tell. We encourage parents to review the content here and throughout the series, and invite families/the community to discuss this article together.

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Oftentimes it seems easier to ignore mistakes from our past. Other times, it seems more productive to brush them under the rug and instead focus on the progress we’re making now. Issaquah’s deep roots in racism and exclusion, for example; it’s something that many of us are aware of. It’s something that community leaders and members have fought against for years. But, like nearly any town out there, underneath all of this incredible progress are sometimes dark, even violent sides to the past. We benefit from examining these periods of exclusion and violence because they help us gain a deeper, more all-encompassing knowledge of who we have been versus who we are today. By learning from history, we can begin the attempt at ensuring that the same mistakes are not made again.

Speaking in contemporary terms, Issaquah still has a ways to go concerning ethnic diversity: the 2019 Census tells us that the Black population in Issaquah was 2.1%; 0.1% Native American; 9% Latino; 23.2% Asian; and 0% Pacific Islander. [1] Still, we’ve come a long way; the City has an equity initiative, students all across the District are committing themselves to diversity and inclusion work, [2] and the community in general is more interested in learning about antiracism. But what have we come a long way from? What was life like for a person of color in Issaquah 150 years ago? 70 years ago? 20 years ago?

Historic sites from a June 1986 issue of The Issaquah Press.

The first white settlers of Issaquah were not welcoming to—well, anyone, really. [3 (2:26-12:45)] If a newcomer was white, but from a European country, that newcomer likely faced some kind of discrimination. If their skin color was also different, it only got worse; for example, in 1855, three local Chinese laborers were killed and three more injured, likely at what is now Confluence Park (article forthcoming).

There are many facets of racism in Issaquah’s history that need to be unburied, which is why we will be publishing several articles that will examine the racial, and sometimes racist, past of our city. The first one, to be published soon, will confront the history of the KKK in the area. We will also write about inequities experienced by Native Americans, early Chinese immigrants, and Japanese Americans during WWII.

The articles will be released slowly over the next year, as we want to ensure that we devote serious time to research and write about these important topics. Acknowledgement and accountability are key steps in healing, growing, and breaking the pattern of seeing history through a single lens.

As a Museum, we have not been proactive about researching the racial history of Issaquah. We have not been diligent enough in seeking out stories from and about BIPOC Issaquahns, either, which means that we do not have the fullest understanding possible of the area and those who built it. For that, we sincerely apologize, and pledge to continue pursuing this vital line of research. Although the content in this series will primarily be centered around inequities experienced by racial minorities in the area, it is important to clarify that we are also researching and celebrating the achievements of local BIPOC.

In that vein, we are seeking out individuals of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, and individuals with disabilities to conduct oral history interviews with; so far in 2021, we have interviewed six people of color, have two more in the works, and are always looking for more. These stories are incredibly important because they help paint a fuller picture of Issaquah in their own words. They help future residents understand Issaquah’s evolution from an exclusive small town to a more diverse, thriving city, from the perspective of the person who lived it! If you or someone you know is interested in having an oral history interview with us, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Read our statement of antiracism, along with our action plan to make our Collection a more diverse one, here.

Stay tuned for our first article on the KKK’s presence in Issaquah. If you have any questions about our research, please let us know.



[1] 2019 Issaquah Census data

[2] Issaquah School District Equity Council website

[3] YouTube video from the City of Issaquah’s Welcoming Week 2020. Watch 2:26-12:45 to watch our Director, Erica Maniez, give an overview of Issaquah’s unwelcoming early days.