What is Civic Courage?

What is Civic Courage?

Civic Courage is when an individual or group of individuals act, advocate, organize or lead on an issue of importance to the community at great personal, political or professional risk. These individuals may not necessarily prevail in the short run, but their courageous actions guide our community toward better values and greater equity.

Perhaps the best way to define civic courage is by telling the stories of those individuals who best exemplified it in their lives.

Gordon Kiyoshi Hirabayashi

Born in Seattle, he attended the University of Washington. Although he at first considered accepting internment during WWII, he ultimately became one of three people to openly defy it. In 1942 he turned himself in to the FBI, and after being convicted for curfew violation was sentenced to 90 days in prison. He invited prosecution in part to appeal the verdict all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court with the backing of the ACLU. The Supreme Court, however, unanimously ruled against him in Hirabayashi v. United States (1943), albeit with three justices filing separate opinions that concurred with the court’s decision only with certain reservations. (Source: Wikipedia)  Learn more about Gordon Hirabayashi.

Roberto Maestas

Born in New Mexico, Maestas worked his way north through the migrant stream, permanently settling in Seattle in the 1950s. Maestas was educated as a teacher and taught at Franklin High School before leaving to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Washington in 1968. There, he became involved with the Chicano student activism, the black freedom struggle, and farm worker organizing in the Yakima valley. After completing his studies at the UW, Maestas helped form a program at South Seattle Community for Adult Basic Education and English as a Second Language (ESL). When funding for the program was abruptly cut off in the fall of 1972, Maestas, his fellow teachers and students, and a number of community activists peaceably occupied the abandoned Beacon Hill School and negotiated its conversion into a community center, El Centro de la Raza. (Source: University of Washington.)  Learn more about Roberto Maestas.

Bernie Whitebear

Born in Eastern Washington, Whitebear was raised on the Colville Indian Reservation. After graduating from high school, he joined the Army where he served with the 101st Airborne Division and became a Green Beret. After experiencing prejudice while in the Army, he dedicated himself to helping Native Americans all over the country. On March 8, 1970, he was among the leaders and instigators of about 100 Native Americans and sympathizers who confronted the 392nd Military Police Company at Fort Lawton in Seattle. The protesters were trying to claim, as part of their historic lands, a part of the 1,100-acre military reservation, which was being declared surplus by the Army. The military police took the Indians and sympathizers into custody. The incident was not over, however, and the Native American encampment outside the fort, as well as the involvement of celebrities became a constant reminder of the Indian claims. The protest ultimately (in 1977) resulted in a solution permitting development of Daybreak Star Center by United Indians of All Tribes and directed by Whitebear. It also resulted in the creation of Discovery Park, one of Seattle’s largest parks. (Source: HistoryLink.)  Learn more about Bernie Whitebear.

Roberta Byrd Barr

Barr was an African-American educator, civil rights leader, actor, librarian, and television personality. She was born in Tacoma and lived for much of her life in Seattle. She taught at Jefferson Elementary School and then became librarian at John Muir Elementary School. During the 1966 school boycott through which the black community protested the lack of progress toward desegregation, she headed the Freedom School at the YMCA. From 1965 – 1972 she moderated the program “Face to Face,” which awakened the community to civil rights issues and other important topics overlooked in the media. In 1966 Gov. Dan Evans appointed her to the State Board Against Discrimination. In 1968, she was appointed vice principal at Franklin High School after 150 students held a sit-in to protest the expulsion of black female students who wore their hair natural. In 1973, she was appointed principal of Lincoln High School and became the first woman in the history of the Seattle Public Schools to head a high school. She actively participated in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Seattle Urban League, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Her picture hangs in the Douglass-Truth Branch of The Seattle Public Library where her efforts, through her sorority, helped promote the development of the African-American Collection. (Source: HistoryLink.)  Learn more about Roberta Byrd Barr.

Larry Gossett

Gossett grew up in south and central Seattle. In the late 1960s, he became one of Seattle’s best known young black radicals. He was active in Seattle’s Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1967, and co-founded the University of Washington Black Student Union (UW BSU) in 1968. Through the BSU, Gossett helped push the UW to create a Black Studies Program. He also helped organize nearly a dozen high school and middle school Black Student Unions throughout the city. As a pioneering staff member of the UW’s Office of Minority Affairs from 1970-73, he helped found some of the key institutions for promoting and sustaining racial and economic diversity at the UW. Gossett developed a close relationship with activists for racial justice outside the black community, and along with Bernie Whitebear, Bob Santos, and Roberto Maestas (nicknamed the “Gang of Four”) founded the Minority Executive Directors Coalition (MEDC) in 1982. Gossett currently serves on the King County Council. (Source: University of Washington.)  Learn more about Larry Gossett.