Tacoma's first African-American mayor on the heartbreak of racism | KNKX

Tacoma's first African-American mayor on the heartbreak of racism

Sep 22, 2020

Editor's note: This story originally aired on Feb. 11, 2017. Harold Moss died Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, at the age of 90. KNKX is republishing this story in remembrance of the Tacoma icon. 

In 1950s Tacoma, Harold Moss and his wife Willibelle faced racism in the search for a home.

“You learned that when you called a white realtor, you had to use your white voice, and if you sounded Black, you weren’t going to get anywhere,” said Moss.

The couple owned a plot of land on which they intended to build a house, but banks refused to give him a mortgage and contractors refused to build. They decided to keep the land and buy a house instead.

Seller after seller rejected the Moss’ attempts to purchase a home, and potential neighbors met them with the same sentiments. One neighbor went so far as to suggest they quit trying to find a house in the area.

“She said, 'We know how you people trash stuff. Our property values will go straight to hell. Why don’t you go live with your people," he remembers. "My wife cried all night.”

This experience motivated Moss to turn his heartbreak and anger into determination.  He joined the NAACP and Urban League and became Tacoma’s first African-American council member, and then mayor.

Sound Effect contributor Dominic Black interviewed Moss about this ordeal for History Link, the online encyclopedia of Washington state history.