Aug 31, 2022 - News

Groups work to preserve legacy of civil rights icon Nettie Asberry

A light colored house with a porch and a gabled roof.
Nettie Asberry's former home in Tacoma. Photo: Historic Preservation Office, City of Tacoma.

State, local and national groups are banding together to preserve the Tacoma home of Nettie Asberry, a civil rights activist who co-founded the first NAACP chapter west of the Rockies.

Why it matters: Asberry, a music educator, fought for women’s suffrage and for the civil rights of Black people in Washington state.

  • In 1913, she fought a proposal that would have outlawed interracial marriage.
  • She also protested local showings of the racist "Birth of a Nation" in 1916, writing a letter to newspaper editors objecting to the film and its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan.

Driving the news: Last month, the National Trust for Historic Preservation awarded a $150,000 grant to help preserve and restore Asberry's home in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood.

What they're saying: Cynthia Tucker, the Tacoma group's president, said the project represents an important step in preserving African American history on the Hilltop, a historically Black neighborhood that's experienced rapid gentrification.

  • "In actuality, we do not have a lot of organizations or buildings for African Americans on the Hilltop," Tucker told Axios recently.
  • In addition to forming Tacoma's NAACP chapter, Asberry helped launch Tucker's organization.
  • Asberry also taught music to generations of children out of her Hilltop home, which became a center for community activism and outdoor concerts, Tucker said.

The big picture: In a statement to Axios, Brent Leggs, the Executive Director at the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund and Senior Vice President at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, wrote that Asberry was "a civil rights and women's rights icon" whose push for progress was felt not only in Tacoma, but nationwide.

What's next: Tucker said her organization wants to restore Asberry's 130-year-old home, including its music room, while turning parts of the property into a museum and a Black history library.

  • The work is likely to take at least two years, possibly longer, Tucker said.

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