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How the Son of a Slave Founded Centralia: Sound Effect, Episode 120.5

Ed Ronco
The statue of George and Mary Jane Washington, in a Centralia park.

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.

Now, some 200 years later, George Washington has become a rallying point for a diverse group of Centralia residents, looking to steer their town through social and economic challenges. 

In this Midweek installment of Sound Effect's podcast, KNKX's Ed Ronco joins host Gabriel Spitzer for a major update on this story, and some personal reflections on what it means to come from a town that has seen better days. 

Note: This is part of an experiment with Sound Effect’s podcast: We will feed a condensed version of the full show on Saturdays, withholding an especially memorable story. Then we’ll hear that segment, and some of the story behind the story, in a new weekly podcast installment that will be in your feed on Wednesdays. You can still always catch the full, broadcast-style version of the show on the web site (at the bottom of the page).

We’d love to hear what you think of the new podcast format -- give your feedback in the comments below, or email


Gabriel Spitzer is the Host and Senior Producer of Sound Effect, KNKX's "weekly tour of ideas inspired by the place we live." Gabriel was previously KNKX's Science and Health Reporter. He joined KNKX after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago. There, he created the award-winning mini-show, Clever Apes. Having also lived in Alaska and California, Gabriel feels he’s been closing in on Seattle for some time, and has finally landed on the bullseye.