Theme: Call To Action
Today, the 1909 converted Firehouse #23 at 18th Avenue between East Jefferson and East Columbia Streets is known to many community members as the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP), renamed Byrd Barr Place in 2018. The site is a designated Seattle landmark and sits on the National Register of Historic Places. From firehouse to delivering community-based programs, the mission of this place has always been about serving people.
By the early 1960s, Black communities in urban cities across the United States were organizing heavily in response to lack of human services, equal justice under the law, and brutalities that were building among opposers of the modern civil rights movement. In 1964, three years after Dr. King’s visit to Seattle, a group of locals formed the Central Area Community Council (CACC) to strategize and create actions to tackle poverty and racism that was evident citywide. They developed a comprehensive anti-poverty proposal just ahead of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
In 1965, the project proposal co-sponsored by CACC and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle received funding from the government’s War on Poverty. CAMP became the first community-inspired program in the country to receive funding, and it is the oldest surviving independent agency originating from the War on Poverty era. CAMP flourished throughout the civil rights era, administering more than 25 pioneering community services. Today, as Byrd Barr Place, it has expanded its services beyond the Central Area to satellite locations in South, North, and West Seattle.
In 2012, CAMP changed its name to Centerstone with the idea that the name best represented an all-encompassing expression of its history and service. By 2018, to further ground its history and identity, the community applauded the final name choice, Byrd Barr Place. The namesake, Roberta Byrd Barr, was a strong and confident community activist, advocate, and educator who hosted community-based television news. It is fitting that she be recognized and honored by an organization who delivers the services she was so passionate about. Not widely known was her early involvement as advocate and actor at Seattle’s first professional Black theater group, Black Arts West, for which CAMP served as a home and headquarters in 1968.
Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle
Prior to 1991, the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle was known as the Seattle Urban League. Community-based and dedicated to improving the lives of not only African Americans but all underserved communities, the Seattle Urban League was established in 1929. The focus of its mission is on housing, education, employment, and health, with a commitment to change racial inequities in King County.
Edwin T. Pratt, Executive Director (1961-1969)
The Urban League has a history of creative engagement as a stakeholder uplifting the community. With visible presence through the charged activism of Seattle’s civil rights movement, the organization was led by the calm, strategic wisdom of Edwin T. Pratt. Under his direction, the Urban League grew by leaps and bounds as an influencer alongside leaders from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He led the Urban League to support the proposal and program development for CAMP. On January 26, 1969, Pratt was assassinated by an unknown assailant on the doorstep of his home in Shoreline. On his death, the community campaigned that the park at 17th Avenue and East Yesler Way be named in his honor, and the nearby art center was dedicated as the Edwin T. Pratt Fine Arts Center, opening opportunities for all ages to create art no matter their circumstances.
Beyond Pratt, in years ahead the Urban League weathered reduced funding that threatened to compromise its mission. Through its drive to serve and build a vital community, it rose to resume its position as an advocate for human rights. Following a courageous occupation of the Colman School building by four community activists that lasted eight years, known as the longest act of civil disobedience in the country (1985-1993), the Urban League led the charge to create the Northwest African American Museum (see the NAAM cultural waypoint on this tour). Staving off pushback from building occupiers over original vision and leadership, the Urban League was positioned to purchase the historic Colman School building, which became the museum with affordable housing units on upper floors.
The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle is located at 105 14th Avenue, Seattle, and remains steadfast in its mission to serve.