Four Leaders. Four Communities. One Friendship
I was very fortunate to be living in Oakland, California and to attend San Francisco State College in the latter 1960s. Back then the civil rights and anti-war movements were peaking in the Bay Area. Community activism, particularly among college students, was surging, even amid the "Hippie" counter-culture scene.
At San Francisco State, I attended every noon rally during the student strike in 1968 and joined other students in boycotting classes. The strike lasted five months and was led by the Third World Liberation Front. While the coalition was led by the Black Students Union (the first BSU in the country), it included Chicano, Chinese and Native American student groups.
I was glad with the unity of those racial groups and extremely impressed with their principle of "self determination," which dictated that racial minorities make their own decisions and determine their own destiny, without others (i.e. whites). Of course, I completely agreed with their demands, which included the establishment of ethnic studies programs, increase enrollment of minorities students, hiring of more minority faculty, financial aid and program support for minority students. I was elated when the administration finally gave in to these just demands. More important, the strike showed me what can be accomplished when racial groups unite for causes that provides mutual benefits to each group.
But, when I returned to Seattle in the early 1970s, it appeared to me that there was not much networking nor organized efforts to get racial groups working together.
Back in the late 1940s, there was the multi-racial Jackson Street Community Council, which was established to bridge differences between racial groups and to improve the economic and physical conditions in what is now called the Chinatown/International District and much of the Central Area. That area was largely a racial enclave where much of the African Americans and Asian Americans in the city resided at the time. The Council, which was funded by United Good Neighborhood (which became United Way) has been credited with some success as a community action organization since it was able to get the "ear" of the City officials, manage to pass some ordinances dealing with blight in the neighborhood, and bring about racial harmony in the city.
In the sixties, however, the Jackson Street Community Council gave way to the more powerful and compelling civil rights movement that griped the nation. It also gave way to racial and ethnic nationalism, and conflict. Many Asian Americans and others fled the Central Area as many younger Blacks protested and rebelled against others in their struggle for equality and "Black Power."
But as the civil rights movement progressed, there was a growing segment of the population that acknowledged America's history of discrimination and prejudice towards African Americans and sympathetic to their struggle for equal rights, treatment, and opportunity. They included a growing segment of Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans, who recognized that they too were minorities, that they were also secondary citizens and objects of racial discrimination and prejudice. They too wanted to become involved in the civil rights movement and to expand it to their own to bring attention to their own problems and issues. Subsequently, each community of color more or less established their own movement and went their own separate way to improve their lot and to meet their needs.
Clearly, racial unity is Seattle had a long ways to go when I returned to Seattle in 1972.
At that time, I lived with my parents at the Beacon Hill Junction upon my return. Coincidentally, the Asian Drop-In Center was located at the house next door and old Beacon Hill Elementary School was just across the street. So, I got to know a number of the Asian student activists, who were engaged in the Chinatown/International District and the King County domed stadium issue and got involved with the Third World Coalition, who met at El Centro de la Raza (old Beacon Hill Elementary School).
I connected with the members of the Gang of Four shortly after my return to Seattle. I got to know Bob Santos, who had just became director of the International District Improvement Association (Inter-Im) at the time, and after attending some of their board meetings, I became a member of the board of that agency.
I met Roberto Maestas and Larry Gossett through the Third World Coalition. The Coalition which took up a number of causes around Puget Sound, including Indian Fishing Rights, the domed stadium and the preservation of the International District, the grape boycott and the struggle of the United Farm Workers, Chicano Studies, jobs for minority youth, construction jobs for minorities, the acquisition of El Centro, city funding for minority programs, and a lot of other causes affecting communities of color.
Bob, Roberto and Larry and others all joined Tyree Scott and the United Construction Workers in closing down a number of public construction sites in the area because of lack of minority workers on those jobs. I did not meet Bernie Whitebear until some time later, but knew of his fight to secure land for urban Indians at what was Fort Lawton and now called Discovery Park, and to acquire the old Sick's Seattle Stadium property.
Roberto, Bob, Larry and Bernie....Each of them developed effective agencies that not only provided a comprehensive range of needed services and programs, but also organizations that became powerful voices for their respective communities. At the same time, each of them maintained their relentless fight for social and economic justice. When they began supporting each other and collaborating, they became the "Gang of Four" or the "Four Amigos," a dynamic Third World force. Together, the unity of communities of color coming together to determine their own destiny.
Each of the Gang of Four have left an indelible mark on Seattle and beyond as this book so compelling describes. Each will go down in history among Seattle's prominent civil rights leaders, joining the likes of Chief Sealth, Horace Cayton, Gordon Hirabayashi, Wing Luke, and Tyree Scott. Already there has been streets, buildings, and housing projects named after each of them.
We have indeed been blessed to have these legends who fought for racial and economic justice for all.by Doug Chin, Community Activist and Historian.
“Every community needs voices of conscience, people for whom business as usual and irrational unfairness are simply not acceptable and leaders who stir the rest of us to awareness and action. Decades of social progress in the Pacific Northwest have been shaped by four impatient men and their tumultuous friendship, audacious leadership and unrelenting commitment to build a better world. Gang of Four tells an important story of how we will make our Country stronger.”
“The Gang of Four provided courageous leadership to make the Seattle area a great place to live both culturally and economically. I added the Four to my team to select my cabinet when elected Governor of the State of Washington.”
“A wry and riveting account, rooted in Seattle's civil rights movement, of the friendships between four iconic leaders of the Asian American, Native American, African American and Latino communities which had a lasting impact on their communities, multi-racial unity and the movement for social justice in Seattle and beyond.”
“Their friendship and work developed in an exciting time when liberation struggles all over the world influenced US social movements. The Gang of Four's internationalist perspective was reflected in their everyday work - opposing apartheid in Africa, fighting against the Marcos regime in the Philippines, ending the repression against the US based anti-Marcos movement and supporting the Sandinistas in Nicaragua - they were there making their voices heard! “
“The Magnificent Four showed us that leadership comes in many colors, strengths, and backgrounds. They believed in creating and sustain an environment where all people should not be denied an opportunity to reach their dreams and potentials. They took risks to make a difference, to change our world knowing that only by having our voices heard could we be agents of change. With their strength and integrity they make our communities a better place, I am so proud they came into my life and the lives of so many.“
“The Apl.de.ap Foundation International promotes empowerment through education on a global scale. The book The Gang of Four, follows the careers of Larry Gossett, Bob Santos, the late Roberto Maestas and the late Bernie Whitebear in the Pacific Northwest. The book will leave a lasting legacy for the many hundreds of students mentored by these four civil rights leaders. With even more enlightened students and activists to follow.“
"The Four Amigos, in their own right, were (Bernie and Roberto) and are (Uncle Bob and Larry) pioneers and change makers. When they worked as a coalition in pursuit of human rights and self-determination, whether fighting for laborers in Seattle, or against our government's misguided intervention in other countries, they were unflappable if not unstoppable. In addition to their shared committment to fight relentlessly for justice and dignity for all, another endearing, valuable trait was their collective ability to not take themselves so seriously that they couldn't take time to laugh, sing, dance and enjoy life."