The Beacon Hill School is a Testament to the Power of the People

Credit: Nuestro Stories

The Beacon Hill School, now known as El Centro de la Raza, was established through revolutionary means in Seattle, Washington in the early 1970s. 

During a time in the United States when a variety of issues were taking their toll on people from state to state, Seattle specifically was going through a heavy onslaught of problems that seemed to create a perfect storm. It was a storm that birthed Beacon. 

A struggle that led to a domino effect

By 1972, Seattle was struggling through its own version of an economic depression. During the ‘60s, Boeing had set up shop in Seattle, and over that decade nearly everyone had someone in their family that worked at the factory. Unfortunately, as rapidly as Boeing expanded, it contracted and began laying off workers starting in 1969. By 1972, terrible impacts were being felt throughout the city. Combined with anti-war sentiments surrounding the ongoing fight in Vietnam, and the bitter cold snap that hit the city that winter, the city was suffering. 

That suffering passed to the city’s students, as the city found multiple programs they relied on for education, suddenly defunded. Through the defunding, multiple Latino students found themselves without a school, and teachers found themselves without a job, as the Chicano: English and Adult Basic Education Program of South Seattle Community College’s Duwamish branch was immediately closed. 

Students, teachers, and the community came together and decided that their government had left them no other choice – they were going to have to set up their own school. Yet, without resources to do so, there was no other way than the hard way. 

Read more: Ahead of Its Time: The Royal Theater in California Offered Spanish-Language Films in the ‘60s

The Beacon Hill School is proof of the power people have

On October 11, 1972, a delegation of three people – who were elected for the task – showed up at a run-down school owned by the Seattle Public School District under the guise of wanting to rent the building for an organization they worked for. Little did the SPSD representative know that waiting in the bushes, and hidden in parked cars, were dozens of parents, teachers, and students at the ready. As the representative opened the doors, the people converged. 

The peaceful occupation of the school began. The occupation lasted for three months. It saw leaders arrested, and even the eventual occupation of the Mayor’s office, before the eventual approval from then-Mayor Wes Uhlman came to lease the building to the community that occupied it for five years. 

Fifty years later, El Centro de la Raza is still open as a non-profit organization meant to assist with community issues through a variety of means, and stands as a testament to the power of the people, and what can truly be accomplished when we come together under the exact cause. 

Fun facts

  • The building was leased by Mayor Wes Uhlman for $1 dollar a year, for five years. 
  • The year after Beacon Hill’s peaceful occupation, Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was occupied.
  • As per their website, although the founding of El Centro de la Raza was sparked by Latinos and acquired a Spanish name, it began, and remains, “The Center for the People of All Races.”

Location: Seattle, Washington 98144

Address: 2524 16th Ave S 

Experience it here.

By Liv Styler

Olivia Monahan Chicana journalist, editor, educator, and organizer in Sacramento whose sole focus is to shed light on stories on our most impacted and marginalized communities, but even more importantly, for those stories to humanize those normally left out. She is an Ida B Wells Investigative Journalism Fellow 2022 Finalist, a member of the Parenting Journalists Society, and has bylines in The Courier, The Sacramento Bee, The Americano, Submerge Magazine among others.

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