Seattle sites: The stories behind the names

Madison Park resident and author Mary Henry, left, and her daughter-in-law and illustrator Marilyn Hasson Henry stand with Mary Henry’s recently released book, ‘Tributes: Black People Whose Names Grace Seattle Sites.'

Madison Park resident and author Mary Henry, left, and her daughter-in-law and illustrator Marilyn Hasson Henry stand with Mary Henry’s recently released book, ‘Tributes: Black People Whose Names Grace Seattle Sites.'
Photo by Jessica Keller.

When Madison Park resident Mary Henry wrote her first book more than 20 years ago, “Tribute: Seattle Public Places Named for Black People,” it featured 22 sites and the people for whom they were named.

Her latest book, “Tributes: Black People Whose Names Grace Seattle Sites,” released in January by HistoryLink, has more than double that number — more than 50.

As someone who has experienced racism and has done her own work to combat it in Seattle, that pleases her for many reasons.

“Maybe the city and the parks department are beginning to recognize that Black people do contribute to this community in many different ways,” Henry said.

Henry, a retired librarian, said she was inspired to write her first book because of her work at South Shore Middle School. At the time, she used to quiz students, specifically Black students, about places named for Black historical figures. She would have them match the identity of a person with the site, she said, but more often than not, they couldn’t do it, she said.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the fact these bridges, these streets, these buildings and these parks, they had all these names, and you don’t know who they are,” she said.

After she retired, she put that knowledge into print, focusing on Seattle locations. More than 20 years later, she was compelled to update her book to reflect the growing number of Black people and places being recognized. She is just as determined that these people are not remembered only for the places named after them.

“When you pass by these buildings, do you know who these people are? No,” Henry said.


Henry said while her first book mostly focused on the places named for the people, this book places more emphasis on the people whose names grace buildings, bridges, pools, streets and more in Seattle.

Some of the people with eponymous Seattle landmarks are nationally known, such as late civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis, for whom the John Lewis Memorial Bridge in Northgate is named. Many, however, were or are from Seattle, such as former King County Councilman and civil rights activist Larry Gosset, who helped establish the Black Student Union at the University of Washington and formed the local chapter of the Black Panthers. He now has Gosset Place, a housing complex that provides shelter for formerly unsheltered people, named after him.

The subjects in the book came with diverse backgrounds, from civil rights activists, to literature, to medicine, to academia, to athletics.

Her favorite subject she wrote about in her book was Alice Ball, who has a park named after her. Ball was the daughter of Seattle’s first Black photographers and was the first woman to graduate from the College of Hawaii with a master’s degree. As a chemist, she isolated an oil that gave relief to leprosy patients. It was the only medication for leprosy until 1940, Henry said.


While Henry said her first book took her about 10 years to complete, she felt pressure to get her latest book done sooner rather than later because of her age. She almost met her goal of getting the book published before her 99th birthday, but not quite.

“I wanted to get this book done before I died because I just think people should know about these people because they’ve don’t some really special things,” Henry said.

Henry said the creation of both books was a family effort. While she wrote the books, her sons helped edit them, and she enlisted her daughter-in-law Marilyn Hasson Henry to illustrate.

Hasson Henry said she doesn’t have formal training in illustration or drawing, other than a few art classes she took in the past, but she wanted to help her mother-in-law accomplish her goals with the books.

“It was more my tribute for my mother-in-law and my love for her love,” Hasson Henry said.

Since Henry’s new book was finished and sent to the publisher, more places in Seattle have been named after Black residents, but Henry doesn’t mind. She said she is pleased with the continued effort in Seattle to recognize notable Black figures in Seattle and to have played her own part with her books.

“To me, it was my contribution to literature of notable Black people in history in Seattle,” Henry said.

“Tributes: Black People Whose Names Grace Seattle Sites” can be purchased in local bookstores and on Amazon.