DEBRA GOLDSBURY'S students put on their coats and streamed down the front steps of Happy Medium School on 20th Avenue. The other kids lined up with them in the rain, and they marched off through the smell of bread in the morning, wafting over from the nearby Gai's bakery. Three blocks later, in parade formation bearing a large "Thank You" banner, they rounded a corner and saw the mayor waiting for them under a striped tent in Pratt Park.
"I'm learning something new every day," said Greg Nickels, with pooled water dripping onto his collar during his 74th day as mayor, "and one of them is that when you have a park opening in March, you ought to think twice about how big your tents are." The kids laughed hard and jumped around. Goldsbury stood in the middle, hands clasped, delighted.
It was almost a year to the day that she, her students, and other teachers at the private, racially diverse inner-city school began working with community and Parks Department officials. Together, they planned a new play area at the aging park named for Edwin T. Pratt, which spans five acres along 18th Avenue in the Central District and features African-theme flowers and fixtures. The kids and teachers felt honored. They were aware that someone died for this park.
"Edwin T. Pratt. Do you know what he did? Why was it important to name a park after him?" Nickels asked the kids over a microphone last Thursday morning. About 75 adults and children were shoulder to shoulder under the tent, awaiting a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The park's sparkling new playground of slides, bridges, climbing bars, and platforms was paid for with $245,000 from the National Park Service.
Jake Wallach, 8, was first to raise his hand as others shot up around him. "Because he gave up his life for, um, for other people," he said, standing on his toes to be heard better.
That's right, Nickels confirmed. "Edwin T. Pratt was a man who was at the forefront of the civil rights movement here in Seattle in the 1960s, and at the end of the 1960s, he was assassinated. How many of you know what that means, assassinated?" A few kids answered up. "Right," the mayor said, "that's what happened with Martin Luther King Jr., and that's what happened to Ed Pratt right here in Seattle."
With a few differences. Pratt's assassin has not been caught. The Seattle Urban League leader was shotgunned to death when he answered the front door at his Shoreline home on a snowy Jan. 26, 1969. Sheriff's investigators think they know who did it, but the case officially remains active and unsolved 33 years later, its files still mysteriously sealed from public view. The FBI, among others, still hopes to name a killer.
Still, there's little doubt that Pratt, 39, was shot for the same reasons as King, also 39: He was a black man crusading for civil rights. Richard Nixon called Pratt the "Martin Luther King of the Northwest." And like King, Pratt had been subjected to lengthy surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, which built a file trying to discredit his cause.
Little of this history surprises Debra Goldsbury's kids. At Happy Medium, they teach Pratt 101. "He's part of our anti-bias curriculum," says Goldsbury, 50, a teacher for 12 years at the 180-student pre- and primary school. It was established 28 years ago and recently moved into the historic redbrick former home of Zion Prep. "Some schools have Black History Month. We have it year-round."
Happy Medium hands out more scholarships than any private school in the state, Goldsbury says. There's an emphasis on "learning about racism and similar tough topics. The mistake people make is thinking that young children should not be exposed to the true story about the history of our country. When children are given the truth, they begin to construct knowledge and understand what unfairness really is."
Jake Wallach seemed to be trying. Over on the new merry-go-round, he wanted to expand on his earlier answer. "Mr. Pratt, he tried to convince the people that white people and black people should be able to live wherever they want, um, in the country—in the whole place." He smiled, pleased, and twirled away.
"It's such a fine park," said Goldsbury, ever the teacher. "A learning experience."