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Gathering honors trailblazers in black community

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by Iam Demsky
News Tribune

Sunday was a night of honored firsts.

Anna Carr, first black woman to drive a Pierce Transit bus. Frank Cuthbertson, first black man to serve as a county Superior Court judge. Harold Moss, first black man to sit on the Tacoma City Council.

More than 50 people were recognized for their achievements at “First Blacks: A Celebration of Trailblazers in the Black Community,” which was held at Ray Gibson’s Caballeros Club on the Hilltop.

Earl Smith, the club’s president, said they had first wanted to put on an event for Black History Month.

“We decided we were going to do something different,” he said. “We wanted to recognized the trailblazers of Pierce County and the surrounding areas.

“February is Black History month, but there’s enough black history for every month.”

Among those honored was Ella Capers, 90, who broke through racial barriers to become the first black woman to be hired at Sears in downtown Tacoma in the early 1960s.

After graduating from a local business college, she applied for a stenography job, she said.

Sears gave her timed tests from 8 a.m. to noon. And then more from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Then they asked her to take a letter. Then she moved up the managerial chain and had to take another letter.

Finally, at the end of the day, she was offered a job.

“Not one person in that office ever had to take a test,” Capers said.

Her hiring was such a phenomenon that people came to watch her work through the window.

“The community was so excited,” she said. “You never saw a brown person downtown at that time. They used to say, ‘Ella, you’re on Candid Camera.’ ”

At first the other women in the office turned their backs to her while they worked, but eventually she earned their respect, she said – “Because they didn’t have a choice.” Capers retired after working there 24 years.

Also honored was Carol Mitchell, the first black woman to be crowned Daffodil Queen.

That honor in 1977 opened doors and changed the course of her life, she said.

“The whole purpose was to get money for college,” Mitchell said. “It had nothing to do with looks or glamour.”

She did go to college and then law school. She now works for the Port of Tacoma.

Master of ceremonies Frank Boykin summed up the achievements this way:

“We are blessed with the privilege of celebrating their journeys and not just their accomplishments.

They pressed on when others said it couldn’t be done.”

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