Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project

Lesbian and Gay Black Lives     


“I decided I’d take a chance anyway.”

Robert Carter -- born in Seattle, 1929 -- a fourth-generation African-American Seattleite and son of prizefighter “Wildcat Carter.” A “political nut all my life,” he worked for many years on Democratic Party campaigns and was assistant director of community relations for Governor Booth Gardner. He became Lambert House’s original manager in the early 1990s, initiating programs and raising funds.


I was going to Wilberforce University in the 1940s. It was my first time I ever experienced out and out discrimination. My brother and I had a Pullman all the way to Dayton, Ohio. We get to Chicago, when they changed trains, and we were laid over an hour or so. Our next stop was Gary, Indiana.

By the time we got there, in our car there were probably -- including us -- six or seven people. My brother says, "I'm going to see what's in the next car." So this car behind us is packed full of African-Americans. Some of them have to sit on the floor in the aisle. And there was a young girl there, probably fifteen or sixteen, pregnant.

He says, "Come on into our car. We got plenty of room." And she said, "Oh no, sir, I can't do that." Well Gary, Indiana – that was the cutoff point for people going into the South, and they segregated the cars. My brother and I, we're booked through to Dayton. They couldn't put us in there. But blacks coming out of Gary – and sometimes out of Chicago -- they'd go into a black car.

We got to Dayton and this was on our mind. We have to pick up a school bus that's coming every hour. We had about a forty-minute wait. So we went into this run-of-the-mill depot cafe to get something to eat. We ordered stuff like -- it wasn't stew, but something like that, that was ready. We put some nickels into the jukebox and about that time she says, "Your food is ready."

Robert Carter

 photo: Marina Wiesenbach / Trine Multimedia

Now, half the counter had stools. The back half had no stools. We sat down at the stool and she says, "Oh no, your food's back there." She had put our food on paper plates, and gave us these flat, wooden Dixie Cup type things you eat with, down where there were no stools.

My brother was furious. "We're not eating this shit, and we're not paying for it." So we walked outside and waited for the bus.

That year, students were coming in from all over the world. I think we had about a hundred white students, and kids from Africa and wherever else. At their first assembly the students brought this up, about discrimination in Dayton. You'd go to the theater -- blacks were on one side, whites on the other. You'd go into a drugstore -- blacks on one side, whites on the other.

The students decide to go en masse to the theater, to the stores. So they get 20-30 white students, 20-30 black students, go to the theater at the same time. All the white students sit on the black side; all the black students sit on the white side. They did the same thing in the stores. After about two, three weeks they integrated.


In the 60s, in Oregon, we had just finished our finals and were celebrating, and we went to Springfield because the bars opened early. We went into this country place. I had four or five other friends with me, and I was the only black. We all sat at a table. Everybody ordered drinks and I ordered a martini.

The waitress came back -- brought everybody a drink but me. A guy says, “Where’s Bob’s drink?” and she kept moving around. Finally I went up to the bartender. I said, “I ordered a drink too.” He says, quote, “We don’t serve niggers here.”

I said, "Well, that's not what I asked for; I asked for a martini." And he didn't think it was funny. He said, "You're not getting service in here."

Of course, the guys are: "Let's tear the place up!" I said, "No, let me take care of it." I went back to the bartender and said, “You’re in violation of the law. I’m going to call the police.”

He says, “Do you know any of the police here?”

I says, “No.”

“Well, I know them all.”

I decided I’d take a chance anyway. The guy wouldn’t even let me use the phone. So across the street there's a little cafe. Got on the phone and called the police department. They said, “We’ll be down in ten minutes.”

The Chief and his deputy show up and ask me to walk back into the bar and order. He comes in and sits on one side of me, and the deputy sits on the other side. The bartender says, "What'll you have?"

"This gentleman was here before us."

"We're not serving his kind in here."

"Did you tell him that earlier?"

"Yep. We don't serve niggers in here."

The Chief says, "Do you know who I am?" He says, "No."

"I'm the Chief of Police! You're closed."

Oh, the guy nearly hit the floor. My friends are laughing, just busting a gut.

Monday we went to court. The owner was there. We settled for the maximum without going before the judge -- $500. But they had to put a sign there for two years: "We do not discriminate because of race, creed, color or national origin." And everybody knows that they've been cited by the police. But that guy never went back to work there, I guess.

Lesbian and Gay Black Lives

Source: Oral history interview with Robert Carter
Interviewed October 17, 1995 by Mikala Woodward
    and April 17, 2002, by Ruth Pettis and Emily Hazen
Transcribed by: Ruth Pettis
Seattle, WA: Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project.


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