Seattle, WA

seattle ghetto

The Short Seattle Ghetto Story

The Seattle ghetto has become less and less, as gentrification is changing the makeup of many communities throughout King County’s Seattle, Washington.

Job opportunities of the 1940s helped many families of many different ethnic backgrounds to relocate and come into the city of Seattle, while some were not that welcomed and others were used as recruitment tools to help end strikes by the white workers.

Before the mid-1900s, many African Americans, Asians, and other ethnic groups that were not white, lived around South Jackson Street, which would later be in the area of the original Asian community of the International District and the original black community of Central District.

The Old Central District. Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

The Old Central District. Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr


During World War II, with the need of housing for the wartime workers, many housing projects in Seattle began to be developed like the High Point projects of West Seattle, the South Park Courts, or Holly Park of Rainer Valley, making the city to have five housing projects by the early 1940s.

Over the years, more and more black families would move into the Seattle communities, mostly neighborhoods of the Central District and later into Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley. Before many arrived into Seattle, communities like the Central District was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood.

The Central District, which was centered around areas like East Madison or 23rd Avenue, was originally created through segregation and racial discrimination, meaning that this area was the only place blacks could live at, with the area being 70% black during the 1960s and 1970s.

seattle ghetto

Today’s Central District. Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr

Many of Seattle’s African-Americans originally worked in the few wartime positions that they were able to find, the shipyards, the railroad lines, and as servants and laborers.

Throughout the years blacks of Seattle would have their experiences of trials and tribulations, which helped certified the Black Panthers’ and Seattle’s Civil Rights movements in an attempt to help the community, mainly during the 1960s and 70s.

Outside of the black community, Seattle is very diverse with Latino’s, Asians, and Pacific Islanders or Samoans.

Areas of the Seattle ghetto like South Park became heavily known for the Latino population, which started to grow sometime around the 1960s and 1970s. Today, the Latino community is mostly based in West Seattle and Southwest Seattle.


The city’s Asian community has one of the largest populations in the city, being located in numerous of neighborhoods throughout Seattle, but mostly beginning in the International District and spreading into other parts of the city like Bellevue or the South End, starting around the 1960s.

Around that time, from the 1960s to the 1990s, many white families began to leave parts of the South End’s Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley, as other ethnic groups were slowly moving in, with some of the only places for people that were non-white to live at were in Beacon Hill, and later Rainier Valley.

When the city’s job market began to slowdown, especially as the large employer of Boeing was declining in production, many communities of the Seattle ghetto were hit hard with financial troubles and unemployment.

Some might say with the lack of opportunities turned people into the streets of the Seattle ghetto, while others would say the introduction to drugs or the national trend and popularity of nationwide gangs.

seattle ghetto

Yesler Terrace. Courtesy of Joe Wolf/Flickr

While the streets of the Seattle ghetto are very diverse, with Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, the city’s streets, with a number of various gangs, has a lot of comparisons to other West Coast cities, especially during the early 90s with city’s projects and blocks in places like the Central District or in West Seattle that were some of the city’s most active areas.

With the rebuilding of the housing projects into mixed income apartments, beginning in the early 2000s, and gentrification of the city’s most sought after communities like the Central District or a few other parts of the city, Seattle is changing by the day.

seattle ghetto

Gentrified Holly Park. Courtesy of Brett VA / Flickr

Today, people have been relocating throughout the Seattle metropolitan, in places like West Seattle or in the South End’s Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill, especially with the help of some receiving Section 8 vouchers, or even cities to the south of Seattle’s city limit like Skyway, SeaTac or Renton.

For the most part, the city of Seattle is one of the most diverse cities in the country, even though there is percentage of African-Americans in the city, many claim that with the gentrification of the Central District that there is no longer an black community of Seattle, just people living amongst Asians and Latinos.


Check out more on Seattle and other communities of Washington.

*Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research.  Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate.

Seattle History Sources:

Beason, Tyrone. “Seattle’s Vanishing Black Community”. The Seattle Times. 26 May 2016. Web. 20 November 2016.

Cisneros, Henry G. and Engdahl, Lora. “From Despair to Hope”. Brookings Institution Press, Washington DC. 2009.

Henry, Mary. “Seattle Neighborhoods: Central Area – Thumbnail History”. 10 March 2001. Web. 20 November 2016

Jackson, Reagan. “Who’s afraid of Rainier Beach?”. The Seattle Globalist. 3 July 2014. Web. 20 November 2016.

Merrell, Frederica and Latoszek, Mira. “Seattle’s Beacon Hill”. Arcadia Publishing. 2003

Lyons, William. “The Politics of Community Policing: Rearranging the Power to Punish”. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 1999.

Wilma, David. “Seattle Neighborhoods: South Park – Thumbnail History”. 16 February 2001. Web. 20 November 2016.