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Black Facts for December 1st

2008 - Maxie, Peggy Joan (1936 - )

Peggy Joan Maxie was the first black woman elected to public office in Washington State.  She served as Washington State Representative, position no. 2 in the 37th Legislative District in Seattle, from 1971 through 1982.

Maxie was born August 18, 1936, in Amarillo, Texas to Cleveland and Rebecca Maxie, an auto mechanic and a housewife.  By 1942, her parents were divorced and Rebecca moved with her four children to Seattle in hopes of a job with Boeing Aircraft Company—which she landed the day after she arrived.

Peggy Maxie earned a bachelors degree in psychology from Seattle University in 1970.  That year, her brother, Fred Maxie, decided to run for state legislature, but changed his mind.  Her other brother, Bob Maxie, called her from the sign shop and said he already had a campaign sign printed with their surname, and encouraged her to run.  Her brother Bob, with the help of a Seattle University professor, ran her successful first campaign for the State House of Representatives.

As she campaigned, Maxie began graduate school at the University of Washington.  She got special permission from the Dean of Social Work to be a student and a legislator at the same time.  She graduated in 1972 with a thesis on no-fault divorce law—which the legislature passed in Washington State the following year.

One of her first tasks as a legislator was to preserve the district that elected her.  The 37th was in danger of disappearing under a potential redistricting plan, and a lawsuit over redistricting was underway.  Maxie filed an affidavit to assert that her district, Seattles mostly-black Central Area, had been under-counted.  (In 1972, after years of legislative negotiation and debate, a federal court ordered Washington to redistrict according to a non-political map drawn by a geography professor.)

In 1973 Maxie was the prime sponsor of the House version of a bill that became the Landlord-Tenant Act of Washington State.  The law established landlord responsibilities such as maintenance, and notification before entry into

1955 - Abernathy, Ralph (1926-1990)

Ralph David Abernathy was born on March 11, 1926 in Linden, Alabama.  His boyhood was spent on his father’s Alabama farm but he joined the U.S. Army and served in World War II from 1941 to 1945.  After his service Abernathy returned to his home state where he attended Alabama State College in Montgomery, Alabama, receiving a degree in Mathematics in 1950.  

During his years at Alabama State College, he became involved in protest activities.  He led demonstrations protesting the lack of heat and hot water in his dormitory and the inferior food served by the college cafeteria.  Abernathy also became a Baptist minister in 1948 while still in college.  Abernathy attended Atlanta University, where he earned his M.A. degree in 1951.  That same year he became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, the largest African American church in the city.  It was this pastoral post that eventually propelled him into the civil rights movement.  

Rosa Parks’s refusal to sit at the back of a segregated city bus on December 1, 1955 sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Rev. Ralph Abernathy soon joined Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, in the protest.  Both men became leaders of the effort and founders of the Montgomery Improvement Association which was the coordinating arm of the boycott.  In 1957 King, Abernathy and other Southern black ministers created the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Atlanta, Georgia to continue the civil rights activism that began with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  King was selected as SCLC’s first president and Abernathy became secretary treasurer of the organization.  

In 1961 Rev. Ralph Abernathy became the pastor of the West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta.  From this new pastoral post he led the Albany Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King that year.  For nearly a decade Rev. Abernathy was involved in every civil rights campaign launched by Dr. King.  After the assassination of Dr. King in 1968, Rev.

2002 - Watts Jr., J.C. (1957- )

J.C. Watts, Jr., the first black Republican to be elected to a political office in Oklahoma. He was born in Eufaula, Oklahoma, on November 18, 1957.  A superior athlete, he starred as quarterback on a University of Oklahoma football team known for rarely passing the ball.  Consequently, after Watts graduated in 1981, the National Football League showed little interest in him.  Watts played professionally in the Canadian Football League for six years as a member of the Toronto (Ontario) Argonauts and the Ottawa Rough Riders.

After his athletic career ended, Watts entered politics.  Recruited by powerful Republican leaders in Oklahoma, Watts became a candidate for one of three seats on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), a body that regulates utilities and the oil and gas industry. As soon as Watts took office, however, critics began to charge him with accepting campaign contributions and favors from the owners of the businesses that the OCC was supposed to regulate.

After serving four years on the state regulatory body, Watts in 1994 ran for the United States House of Representatives in Oklahoma’s Fourth Congressional District which included part of Oklahoma City and the town of Norman, the home the University of Oklahoma.  Watts won that election and was reelected three times, serving in Congress from 1995 to 2003.  In 2002, Oklahoma’s membership in the House of Representatives shrank from six to five.  Watts’s seat and that of another Republican representative were essentially merged, and GOP leaders prevailed upon Watts not to run for a fifth term.  He retired from politics and established “J. C. Watts Companies,” a business consulting and lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.

During most of the years J. C. Watts was in Congress, he was the only African American Republican in the House of Representatives.  He was also one of the few African American House members from a district that did not include a majority of black voters.  Watts was a darling of the conservative Republicans who controlled the House