The Seattle Civic Unity Committee was formed by Seattle Mayor William F. Devin in 1944 in response to rising racial tension in the city. During World War II Seattle, like other west coast cities, received an influx of African Americans raising its black population from 3,789 in 1940 to over 10,000 in 1943. It also received thousands of other white residents, many of whom were from the South. As black and white newcomers mixed uneasily with the older established white, black, and Asian populations in war production facilities, such as the Boeing Airplane factories and in local shipyards, racial tensions rose.
As Seattle’s wartime population increased so did indications of racial separation and discrimination especially between blacks and whites. For the first time there were signs being put in restaurants, movie theaters, and motels that said “Whites Only,” indicating that African Americans were not welcomed. There were also numerous small incidents--usually clashes between whites and blacks in the workplace, on city buses, and in theaters and department stores. Discriminatory housing and hotel practices and even racist cartoons in local newspapers also increased tensions.
Mayor Devin, recognizing this problem, created the Seattle Civic Unity Committee (CUC) in February 1944. The Committee"s primary focus was to try to dampen this tension and thus reduce the possibility of racial violence. The CUC was modeled after similar groups in Detroit and New York, which had already experienced wartime race riots. It was composed of a cross section of prominent white Seattle citizens including a University of Washington educator, an industrialist, a Protestant clergyman, two women active in community work, and two organized labor representatives. The committee also included one Chinese American member and two African American members. By its existence, the CUC recognized that there was racial tension in the city and encouraged groups to discuss differences. It also made radio broadcasts on interracial issues,