Document Type

Case Study

Publication Date



Olivia Littles Erickson


Susan Kunimatsu


The Colman Elementary School was built in 1910 to serve the families of Seattle’s Central District. Discriminatory housing patterns made the neighborhood population and the school’s student body the most racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse in the city: African Americans from the eastern and southern U.S.; immigrants from Asia; Jews and Catholics from eastern Europe. Following the forced removal of Japanese Americans and the influx of African Americans seeking work during World War II, the Central District became a predominantly Black neighborhood that regarded the school as its own. Closure of the school and attempts to demolish the building were met with fierce community resistance, including its eight-year-long occupation by activists seeking to establish an African American museum and cultural center within its walls. After over two decades of struggle, the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM) opened in the Colman School building, securing its future as a Black community institution.

Organization or Event

Northwest African American Museum; African American Heritage Museum and Cultural Center

Form of Entity


Area of Activity

Presenter, Community Development, Services for Artists, Social Justice, Facility/Venue

Artistic Discipline

Visual Arts, Heritage, Multidisciplinary