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Racist history of Coon Chicken Inn is a 'beacon of bigotry' in so-called progressive Seattle

This story originally aired on March 23, 2019.

Despite Seattle’s reputation as a progressive place, it has a complicated history to reckon with. One chapter of the city’s story is branded with a racist caricature — which pervaded the region beyond the restaurant the image represented: the Coon Chicken Inn.

“The image was everywhere,” Catherine Roth said of the logo depicting an African-American male known as “The Coon.” Few Seattleites took issue with the North Seattle establishment, even as the racist imagery traveled across town on spare tires of vehicles.

“(Owner Lester Graham) gave them away as a sort of gimmicky advertising stunt,” said Catherine, who wrote about the Coon Chicken Inn for a civil rights history project.

She talked with Sound Effect host Gabriel Spitzer about the brand, the segregation of Seattle and “white indifference” of the era, and the individual and organized protest in opposition to the restaurant's pervasive racism.

“A lot of people don’t really understand just how deeply rooted racism is in this region,” she said. “The Coon Chicken Inn was really this beacon of bigotry that existed in Seattle during the 30s and 40s.”

Listen to the full conversation above.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.
Kari Plog is a former KNKX reporter who covered the people and systems in Pierce, Thurston and Kitsap counties, with an emphasis on police accountability.