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How the Son of a Slave Founded the Town of Centralia

Joe Mabel
The burial plot of George Washington, founder of Centralia.

This story originally aired on October 7, 2017.

Washington State is, of course, named after founding father George Washington. But there’s another George Washington, also a founding father, who settled in a little corner of the territory with his wife Mary Jane nearly 150 years ago. There he founded a town called Centerville, later changed to Centralia.

What makes Washington an unusual pioneer-type is that he was African-American, born in Virginia to a white woman and a black slave.

“His dad was sold right after George was born and his mom faces this heartbreaking choice: She knew that her son would certainly face a life of slavery. So she gave him to a white couple named James and Anna Cochran to raise as their own,” says Brian Mittge, chair of Centralia’s George Washington Bicentennial Committee.

Washington would gradually move farther and farther west, until he settled in what is modern-day Centralia. There he gradually won over his neighbors with his generosity and honor. Mittge tells a story about a white neighbor who moved in next door, who wasn’t happy about living next to a black man.

“So he put up a big wall or a big fence in between their properties. But quickly he got to know George, would go to visit him so often that he cut a hole in the wall so it was easier to visit his friend,” Mittge says.  

The bicentennial committee is raising money through GoFundMe to pay for a statue of Washington in his namesake park.

People in Centralia have long honored their unique founder. Now, 200 years after his birth, they want the rest of the world to give him the recognition he deserves too. Mittge tells Sound Effect about Washington’s exceptional story.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.

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