This post was originally published on Seattle Medium
By Aaron Allen
Since February of 2022, the Seattle Black Firefighters Association (SBFFA) has been embattled in a legal dispute over property ownership and heritage.
According to Clarence Williams, a past president and one of the original founders of the organization, SBFFA’s property on the corner of 23rd and Pike St. was being put up for sale by their three-person board of directors without the knowledge or input from many of the current and past members of the organization. While the organization’s bylaws did not provide clear guidance with regards to the approval process for the sale of assets that belong to the organization, Williams claims that many of the long-time members of the organization, including those who were responsible for acquiring the property in 1972, are not in favor of selling the property, and that the sale of the property would remove a landmark that has a significant place in Seattle’s Black history.
In response to the potential sale, the Northwest Association of Retired Black Firefighter (NWRBFF) filed a lawsuit to keep SBFFA from selling the property. The lawsuit, which is currently under consideration by the courts, seeks to prevent the sale of the property without a majority vote of the membership. As it relates to the lawsuit, the organization will hold a fundraiser on Friday, October 21 at the newly remodeled Royal Esquire Club located on Rainier Avenue in Columbia City to help raise money for legal expenses related to the lawsuit.
“Where we are now in this chapter, we filed a lawsuit because we didn’t think [the decision to sell the property] was properly put up to the body for it to be a condition of sale,” says Williams. “Many of the current active member of the SBFFA did not think so either. So, we, the NWBRFF, are the instigators of the suit, and it was joined by members who were opposed to the sale who are current active members [of SBFFA].”
The property, located at 2302 E. Pike St., was purchased by the SBFFA around 1972 to provide the African American community with a space housing a museum, a place for community members and members of the organization to use as a gathering venue as well as establishing it as a historical landmark. The property also maintains a lasting African American presence and legacy in the Central Area of Seattle.
According to online real estate listings at the time, the four-bedroom, 2,270 square foot property was listed for sale on Jan 25, 2022 for $675,000.00. The listing had a pending offer, which, according to Williams, has been rescinded until the legal battle is settled.
“We bought [the property] as an office space and to eventually have it as a Black history or history museum,” says Williams. “We have a majority of African American firefighters who do not want to get rid of the building and there seems to be a small number, three people on the executive board, who proposed the sale, and we have been trying to reason with them not to sell.”
“Because of the lawsuit the buyer has now backed out of his desire to buy the property and so that was a temporary victory for us,” added Williams.
The lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, is awaiting a judge’s decisions on whether the SBFFA has the legal authority to sell the property without a majority vote of the organizations membership.
“The lawsuit is all encompassing to stopping the sale of the property and questioning our (the retired members of the organization) becoming members,” says Williams. “We have a court date coming up on the 28th of this month, one of the summary judgements is coming up and we are hoping to be victorious in that.”
“We didn’t feel like [the executive board members] followed all of the bylaws in terms of how the property should have been put up for sale, somethings were missing in that, and we are challenging that fact,” he continued. “We also exercised our right as retired firefighter to become active again which the bylaws state that we can.
The sale of the property comes at a time when the Central Area, which was once a predominately Black area of Seattle, had undergone gentrification and development that some claim has eroded the history and culture of Seattle’s Black community, which is one of the many reasons that many long-time members of the organization wish to maintain the property.
“Oh yes, we think ownership of the property is crucial in that we have a long history in our culture of property being taken away, stolen outright, other people making a lot of money on our properties and what we do know right now is where our property is located is one of the hottest markets in Seattle,” says Williams.
“Our community has been very supportive of our Black firefighters over the years and we would like our community to continue to support our cause to help maintain ownership of this important property,” concluded Williams.
The post Black Firefighters Raising Funds To Help Save Their Historic Central Area Property appeared first on The Seattle Medium.