Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Pasco City Council Member Irving Brown: Confronting Racism in Washington’s History

Pasco City Council member Irving Brown Sr. faced a series of racist attacks during his campaign to retain his District 3 city council seat. The first incident occurred in January when an anonymous racist letter was sent to City Hall. Then, in late August, near a busy Pasco road, vandals defaced Brown’s campaign sign with a racial slur. 

Brown, the current city council member for District 3 in Pasco, also reported unusual incidents taking place near his residence. 

“Weird things. Yes, I am being followed periodically as a scare tactic, little weird things happening around my property as a scare tactic, but not to me physically,” Brown said.

According to the Tri-City Herald, the letter sent in January alleged that the “Republican party of PASCO will not let a ‘BLACK’ serve forward,’ they would “block the upcoming election” and were building and training a team to apply in numbers to overturn the ‘BLACK’ current council member.”

Brown spoke about his experiences working through the targeted incidents. 

“The letter was an attempt to scare or shift me in such a way that I would leave the Council under those particular threats. It was my decision to squash the letter that was presented in January and to treat it as an isolated incident,” Brown said, and with that, “Now we are ready to run for the next full term for City Council District 3 for Pasco. I am now preparing to retain my seat through this campaign. I believe it was Aug. 25 that I noticed that my campaign sign was attacked, and I then noticed the note left that said, “No – – – – – – for Pasco District 3”.

These incidents highlight the ongoing racial tensions within the Tri-Cities area and have prompted discussions surrounding the nature of racial history in the Eastern Washington region. 

Robert Franklin is an assistant professor of History at Washington State University Tri-Cities and co-author of  “Echoes of Exclusion and Resistance: Voices From the Hanford Region.He explained that the Tri-Cities area has a complicated racial history that has troubling remnants of its practices of informal discrimination. “Well, you can definitely see it, and you can see it in almost any city where people live, where are the homes? Well, how do we talk about what neighborhoods are good neighborhoods in bad neighborhoods? Where are folks living? What areas are cities serving?” Franklin said. “So you still see that there really are two communities here.”

Cheris Current is a professor in the School of Social Work and Sociology at Walla Walla University. Additionally, Current serves as the director of the doctorate in social work program and oversees the Donald Blake Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Culture. Current spoke about her work on racial covenants in the Walla Walla area.

Racial covenants are discriminatory clauses in property deeds that explicitly prohibit the sale or rental of real estate to individuals of specific racial or ethnic backgrounds, often targeting Black Americans. These were used to enforce racial segregation in housing.   

“We found four [racial covenants in Walla Walla] so far, I’m not confident that there’s not more … I think it’s likely there still are some that are on individual pieces of property that were added to deeds at the time of sale,” Current said. 

Current talked about the political contexts in which some covenants were placed in the Walla Walla area. 

“The ones in 1948 and 1949 are passed after the Supreme Court says they can’t be enforced. They technically are legal until the Fair Housing Act of 1968. And so it’s interesting to me that [they’re adopted] here even after being deemed unenforceable,” Current said. “In every place, there’s both local histories that’s particular to the place and how race works there. And then there’s also national contexts that are also part of that story.”

Franklin also addressed the political environment, drawing connections between the Tri-Cities’ racial history and the contemporary landscape. Upon hearing about Brown’s attacks, he expressed both sadness and a lack of surprise. 

“It saddens me but it does not surprise me, because of where we live, I see all of the Q-non stickers and Trump flags and I’m not indicating that those people are responsible. But I see the strain of political thought on the right, which is very antagonistic towards discussions of race,” Franklin said. 

Brown spoke about Pasco’s legacy and emphasized that the attacks against him are not representative of the City of Pasco.

“This is not the face of Pasco; we have someone or some group(s) of people running rogue. But if we do not talk about it, we cannot create the change that needs to happen. The education and information that needs to be shared is so that we can eradicate ignorance by using that word,” Brown said.

Brown is determined to turn the negative situation into a positive one. He talks about the importance of education, and how he views things moving forward.

“I want to inform people on how to turn your negative into a positive, to create a positive change. Yes, we are victims of some things. But it is not how you sit in it but how you come out of it! And that is how you know you are a winner, which makes you the right man or woman for the job, and right now, the Black guy they were attacking needs to know that all they are doing is qualifying me for the job even more. They do not get it; the more they come for me, the more they elevate me,” Brown said.

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