Central District

The Central District or Central Area has historically been the heart of Seattle's African American community, and this multi-cultural neighborhood also has connections to Jewish and Asian heritage. East of downtown, the neighborhood encompasses the area between E Madison Street and Interstate 90.

Several small commercial districts developed in the late 19th century along streetcar routes, and many historic landmarks from that era tell the stories of African American community history. The oldest Black church in Seattle, the First African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, was established in 1886, and the historic sanctuary at 1522 – 14th Avenue was built in 1912. Mt. Zion Baptist Church was organized in 1894, and the congregation met in many locations before building the African-inspired sanctuary at 1634 – 19th Avenue in 1975.

Other neighborhood landmarks include cultural institutions linked to African American heritage. The Pratt Fine Arts Center at 1902 S Main Street, and the adjacent Edwin T. Pratt Park are named in honor of the slain civil rights leader who served as Executive Director of the Seattle Urban League from 1961 to 1969. The Douglass-Truth Library at 2300 E Yesler Way, honoring abolition leaders Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, holds a significant collection of African American literature and history. Several private residences associated with Seattle's African American pioneers and community leaders remain part of the neighborhood, and many of the Heritage Sites featured in this guide are located in the Central Area.

Although the region's African American population is no longer confined to the Central Area by discriminatory housing policies, the neighborhood retains a strong connection to Black history and culture, and remnants of its heyday can be found in the stories told in restaurants, salons and other establishments catering to the Black community.

Did You Know?

Fraternal organizations including the Prince Hall Masons, the Colored Knights of Pythias and the Black Elks Club have a long history in the Central Area. The Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the YWCA was established in 1919 to provide social, educational and employment support for women, and the Meredith Mathews East Madison YMCA has served the community since 1936.

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Image at top: Photo by Holly Taylor

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