top of page

PSARA Oral Histories Project:
Larry Gossett

Screenshot 2024-02-01 at 11.11.44 AM.png

Larry Gossett Interview

PSARA Advocate

February 2023 Page 4 Part I

March 2023 Page 9 Part Ia

July 2023 Page 8 Part II

August 2023 Page 8 Part IIa

 

 

A Story of the Great Migration North 

(As described by Larry Gossett)

By Angie Bartels

 

Larry Gossett is a former King County Council member, a longtime activist, and a member of PSARA's Executive Board. Angie Bartels is PSARA's Membership VP. This story is part of a series of interviews she's doing with PSARA members.

 

Angie Bartels is PSARA's membership VP. This is one in a series of interviews she's conducting with members of PSARA.

 

The Gossett family joined the Great Migration of Blacks leaving the old Confederate States between World War I and the end of World War II. Nearly 6,000,000 Black people headed for northern cities during this time period. Joining this historic migration were Nelmon and Johnnie Gossett. Johnnie was born in Nigton, an all-Black town- ship in southeast Texas.Nelmon was born in Marshall, a very small country town also located in southeast Texas.  They had met while students at Texas College, a small historically Black college located in Tyler, Texas.

 

The only work available to Black young adults was picking cotton, so that is what Nelmon was doing in May, 1944, whenthe white boss paid him only one dollar for working from sunup to sundown. Nelmon was no fool – his slip said he wassupposed to get $1.75 that day. He protested to the white boss man and demanded his full pay. The white man replied,“Boy, you don't talk to me like that. You're not going to get no $1.75, nigger. You keep talking, I'm going to whip your assand have you put in jail!” Nelmon was extremely upset and wanted to argue. But he knew there was no way he could win, given the operations of the Jim Crow south. He went home to his new wife, Johnnie, and said, “Honey, we're getting out ofhere, this is it! These white folks are crazy. We are going to leave before I do something I will regret or die from… Where's that place where your sister Editha moved to?” Johnnie said she and her husband Woodson had moved to Seattle, Washington.

 

Nelmon didn’t know where Seattle was, but he knew it was up north.  Editha told her younger sister that her husband justgot a job in the war industry up in Seattle. She said they were hiring Negroes in the lower-pay- ing jobs. Nelmon and Johnniepacked their things and joined the Great Black Migration to northern cities. It was mid-July, 1944, when they got on the Greyhound bus heading to Seattle.

They had a box of chicken to eat when they boarded the bus in Tyler. Neither of them knew how far Seattle was. After aday on the bus, they got scared and asked the driver, “How much longer before we get to Seattle?” He said, “It will takeabout one more day.” They both wondered, “Oh, my God, where is this place?” The bus driver explained that they weregoing up near Canada, which made them even more nervous. They didn't know what to do, so they just stayed on the busthat sec- ond day and eventually disembarked in Seattle.

 

Nelmon got a job working at Todd Shipyards making $8 a day, way more money than he had ever made picking cotton down South.

When they arrived in Seattle, Johnnie went to a doctor and found out she was pregnant with their first child. The only clinicthat would accept her as a low income patient was Thompson Clinic, located on East Broadway Street near the old KingCounty Hospital. When Johnnie, Nelmon, and Editha arrived at the clinic with Johnnie in labor during the early morninghours of February 21, 1945, the white nurse at the front office immediately saw that Johnnie was a “colored girl” and toldher she would have to pay $175 for childbirth care. Nelmon didn’t have any money on him, so the staff said Johnnie and Editha could stay, provided that Nelmon went home and brought back the money.  They agreed, and Nelmon went to see if hecould hustle the money up. In the meantime, Johnnie’s water broke while they waited for a room.

 

When the nurse announced to Johnnie and Editha that a birthing room was ready, they were told that this was the roomthey used “for colored girls.” As they walked into the dark and dingy room, the nurse went on, “You colored girls are always having babies, anyway.” The nurse went on with her ignorant and stereotypical lecture, “You colored girls know theroutine.” Then she left the room. Johnnie was only 20 years old and Editha was 26. Neither of them had ever had a baby.They just looked at each other in fear and anxiety. They were young Black women from the South, so they didn’t speak up.And unfortunately, they really didn't know anything about having babies.

 

Johnnie’s labor intensified, and she thought that she had to go to the bathroom. There was a bedside commode, so Edithahelped Johnnie onto it. Johnnie felt like she was having “the worst bowel movement ever.” She kept pushing, and suddenlya baby popped out. The young women were stunned! The nurse had left the room, and neither Johnnie nor Editha knew what to do. Johnnie remembered that she had seen a movie recently with Nelmon in which a baby was born.

She remembered the doctor slapping the baby’s behind to get it to cry. So Johnnie slapped her baby’s behind, and itbegan to scream. After the newborn started screaming, then and only then, did a nurse run into the room and finish thebirthing process of properly cutting the umbilical cord, etc.  Johnnie finally asked, “What is my baby?” The nurse said he was a boy. Upon Nelmon’s return, he was told that he had aboy. Johnnie and Nelmon proudly named their baby boy Lawrence (Larry) Edward Gossett.

 

Nelmon and Johnnie went on to have five other children: Brenda born in ’47, Ricky in ’49, Glen in ‘52, Theresa in ’53, andPatrick in ’55. And in spite of the ugly racism that weighed against them, they continued to have high hopes for their six children.

Johnnie and Nelmon Gossett, Larrry’s parents, stayed with Johnnie’s sister, Editha, the first three months they were in Seattle. In October of 1945, they were lucky enough to secure a one-bedroom apartment in Duwamish Bend, a low- income housing project located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.

 

During the end of World War II, it wasn’t easy for a newly married Black couple to move from the deep rural South to a bigNorthwest city like Seat- tle. Both Larry’s parents had lived their entire lives in rural Texas, where the racial restrictions wereenforced in an ironclad fashion. In addition to Larry’s parents receiving slave wages for jobs they did in Texas, it was illegalin the South for most Blacks to quit their jobs without the permission of their white bosses.

 

Johnnie and Nelmon Gossett, Larrry’s parents, stayed with Johnnie’s sister, Editha, the first three months they were in Seattle. In October of 1945, they were lucky enough to secure a one-bedroom apartment in Duwamish Bend, a low- income housing project located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. During the end of World War II, it wasn’t easy for a newly married Black couple to move from the deep rural South to a big Northwest city like Seat- tle. Both Larry’s parents had lived their entire lives in rural Texas, where the racial restrictions were enforced in an ironclad fashion. In addition to Larry’s parents receiving slave wages for jobs they did in Texas, it was illegal in the South for most Blacks to quit their jobs without the permission of their white bosses.

 

Larry said, “When my parents left the South, it was a veritable police state – they had to use separate toilets, water fountains, and restaurants. Blacks were treated as being inferior to ALL white people, and the police kept them under control.” In the North, the white man’s rules weren’t as restricted. Larry’s parents could eat in any restaurant they wanted. They could drink from any water fountain and use any toilet available. Neither of them was called “Nigger” in the days after they migrated to Seattle, but some of the fears learned down South remained within their consciousness.

 

Around December of 1945, Larry’s parents got on a Seattle bus to ride downtown. The bus was very crowded, so they were not able to sit together. Johnnie sat in one of the horizontal seats, while Nelmon sat nervously nearby in a vertical seat next to a white man. After a few more stops, the white man next to Nelmon disembarked.  About half a mile later, a young white woman boarded the bus and took the seat next to Nelmon. After a few more stops, Johnnie looked over at her husband and saw he was sweating profusely. Then she heard him say, “Johnnie, we gotta’ get off this bus. I am not feeling well.” They immediately got off the bus, and Johnnie nervously asked Nelmon if he needed her to try and get an ambulance. Nelmon responded, “No, I don’t need an ambulance, honey. The problem is that was the first time in my life I had ever sat next to a white woman, and I was scared to death.”

 

This is a classic example of Black reaction to the ways of white folks in the North versus the South. Larry’s Daddy knew that if had he sat next to a white woman in the South – anywhere in the South – he would be attacked, beaten, jailed, or pos- sibly lynched. In Seattle, Larry’s Dad wasn’t sure what could happen to him if a white woman sat next to him. His southern conditioning made him very scared.

By 1956, Nelmon had the best blue- collar job of his life – working for the United States Post Office in West Se- attle. And he had accumulated enough money to buy the family’s first house. Nelmon told Johnnie, “Honey, I want to look for a house out here close to the West Seattle Post Office, so I don't have to drive a long distance to work.”

 

At that time, most Black people in Seattle lived in the Central Area, but Nelmon wanted a house in West Seattle close to his new work place. He went to not one, but two white realtors, both of whom told him the same thing: “If I show a Negro a house in West Seattle, I will get run out of business. But I will show you a house in the Central Area.” 

 

The first time he heard this, Nelmon got really mad and went home and devised a new approach. He decided that he would approach a second realtor differently than he did the first. He confidently told the second guy, “I'm looking for a house.” The realtor said, “Okay, why don't we take my car and check a few out.” Nelmon thought they were going to drive around West Seattle, but instead, the realtor drove onto 35th Ave SW headed towards the West Seattle Bridge. At this point, Nelmon knew his cause was hopeless and resolved that he would not get a house in West Seattle. Instead, he bought a house on the corner of 18th and Alder, right smack dab in the middle of the Central Area, where all their new neighbors would be Black.

 

The Gossetts learned that white people in Seattle practiced de facto segregation. “There were no laws saying you can only live in the Central Area, but that was the only place a white real estate agent would dare show you a house. After that experience, Daddy started calling Seattle “up south.” He controlled his anger and got on with it, always working to get the best for his family where it could be gotten.

 

For the first time in his life, Larry was enrolled in an elementary school that was 98.6 percent Black. “The only thing white about that school was the teachers, nothing else,” Nelmon said. But Larry, Brenda, and Ricky adjusted quickly and attended Horace Mann Elementary. Larry made a lot of friends at his new school. His friends introduced him to the Rotary Boys Club, where they played ping pong and basketball. In the 7th grade Larry was sent to mostly-Black Washington Junior High School. There he played on the varsity basketball team as a 7th and 8th grader. “When I was in 11th grade, my daddy purchased his second home on Beacon Hill. I transferred to Franklin High School, which by 1962 was 85 percent white. That was the first time that I consciously went to school with a majority of white kids, and I wasn't as scared as my daddy. I rapped on the white girls and they were responsive. That was an interesting phenomenon because when white man rules, you can't power talk to no white girl. I was an athlete.  I wanted to stay at Garfield because I was a basketball player, they were a fabulous team and the kids I grew up with. But I enjoyed Franklin High School in ‘63. Now, I didn't have no racial consciousness or anything like that.  “I dated white girls, many of them.  Also, some of the white girls started the Larry Gossett Fan Club when I made the varsity Basketball Team at Franklin High School. They wore buttons that said Gossett Fan Club and they were 99 percent white. There was one Chinese girl who became a city council member, Cheryl Chow. She was in the Gossett Fan Club and went to high school with me. My sister kind of got fed up. One day, we’re just sitting around after school and she said, ‘Big Brother, so embarrassing. He doesn't shovel any coal, just snow.’ So Momma didn't know what Brenda was talking about so she says, ‘Brenda, doll, while we were living in High Point, your daddy and Larry shoveled coal into that furnace so we would have heat!' And my sister Brenda got upset with me. ‘Momma, he doesn't go out with any Negro girls, he only goes out with white girls!’ Momma said, 'Oh, that's what you mean! Well, honey, he can go out with whoever he wants.' Poor Brenda left the room in disgust.

 

“I was an athlete in high school, and that had its privileges. I got pretty good grades because I wanted to play college basketball, even though I was very short, 5’7”. So I told my daddy that I wanted to go to junior college because I thought that would be my best chance to start in basketball. And Daddy said, ‘I have something else in mind for you Larry. I've already checked your grades. Your grades are good enough to get into the University of Washington.’ My daddy was the first person I ever heard reference the University of WA as the University of Washington. ‘And that's where I want you to go, boy.’ Daddy called me boy, I don't know where he got that from! And I said, ‘No, Daddy, I want to go to junior college.’ And then Daddy looked at me and said, ‘Boy, now I got to thinking. I'm gonna’ take you to the Registrar’s Office at the University of WA and enroll you.’ And I don't know if you're aware of this but back in the fifties and early sixties, you don't be saying ‘no’ to your black parents. I was 17 so I didn't talk back to Daddy.

 

“The next week he set an appointment with the Registrar and he took me to the University of Washington. The Registrar and Daddy went over my transcripts and she said, ‘Yeah, Larry's grade point average is right up there. But he needs to take geometry.’ I'd had algebra and you couldn't get in the U back in those days without geometry. So Daddy said, ‘What can we do, because I'd like to get him in.’ And she said, ‘Okay, I will enroll him in the University beginning winter quarter, but not in September of ‘64.

 

Then she turned to me and said, ‘I need you, this summer and fall, two quarters, to enroll in geometry at Central Seattle Community College.’ We were living on Beacon Hill then, so I could get over to Broadway easily. ‘But he has to get at least a C in geometry.’ Daddy said, ‘Yes, I'm going to enroll him in school to start winter quarter.’ So, I got a C both quarters, and they let me in the UW in January ‘65. So that's how I got to be at the University of WA. And I knew that I was way too small to try to be able to make the team at the UW. I wanted to but I didn’t get there until January, the third month of basketball season in college. So I didn't even try out. I just focused on becoming a graduate of the University of Washington.”

Part II: Black Power Captures Larry Gossett’s Soul While in Vista 

 

The American war in Vietnam was escalating in 1965 as President Lyndon Johnson doubled the number of men drafted into the armed services. During this time, selective service require­ments, deferments, and exemptions changed rapidly in the government’s efforts to make the draft appear “fairer.” By 1966, a draft lottery was instituted, which no longer provided exemptions to college students. Young men were all given a draft number between 1 and 366, corresponding to their birthday, and lower numbers were called up first. It was at this time that Larry Gossett's life changed dramatically. 

 

“I found out in late fall of 1965 that there were only two ways you could avoid the draft, and that was to join the international Peace Corps or the domestic Peace Corps, which was called VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). The international Peace Corps required a two-year commitment to serve poor people abroad. That made me nervous, because I had never been outside the boundaries of the United States. I had lived my entire life in Seattle, except for the brief period of time that I lived in Los Angeles. But because I learned that VISTA was only a one-year commitment for volunteers to live and work in a poor urban or rural area in the US, I decided to apply. That felt right to me, and fortunately, I was accepted. I became a VISTA volunteer in March of 1966 and was sent to Toledo, Ohio, for three months of training. 

 

“All our training instructors were professors or graduate students at Uni­versity of Toledo. We lived and worked in the Black community of Toledo during our VISTA training. Like most cities in our country, Toledo was racially segregated. I lived on Door Street, and everybody on that street was Black and lived in big ghetto houses reminiscent of those located in the Central Area of Seattle. 

 

“Our instructors gave us an interest­ing list of exciting and inspiring books to read. The most memorable was The Other America, by Michael Harrington, an awe-inspiring his­torian. His book was very enlightening as it told the truth about what it is like being poor across our nation. I had never read any book like this before, and it had a surprisingly dramatic impact on me. This book made me realize the extent of poverty in Appa­lachia, among the poor Mexicans, and of course, poor Blacks and Whites. Mr. Harrington’s writing made me empa­thetic and caring about being poor in America. We were then assigned to read highlighted parts of Manchild in the Promised Land, by Claude Brown, another book which raised my aware­ness about a poor, young Black kid growing up in Harlem. The streets he had to survive on were far tougher than anything I had experienced in Seattle or even knew existed in our country. Once again, I was surprised by the feelings of anger and frustration I felt about what I had read. 

 

“Then our VISTA trainers introduced us to Before the Mayflower, a History of Black America, by Lerone Bennett Jr, one of America's top Black historians. This book, more than any other, made me realize how little of Black history I knew, especially being a third-year uni­versity student. I was already a junior at the UW but had never had a class that exposed me to reading this kind of history. Our VISTA instructors had us discuss what we read with them, but the process that proved most meaning­ful to me was the discussions following our reading of Rules For Radicals, by Saul Alinsky. I realized quickly why this book was a central part of our assigned readings. Mr. Alinsky got right to the point about what a VISTA volunteer’s duty and responsibility must be: “To serve and organize the poor, so that they will desire to be on the front lines in the battle to combat, eliminate, and liberate themselves from the crushing impact of poverty in America.” 

 

“By the end of the 12-week training period, my thinking about being poor in the United States was changing, and I had not yet been told where I would be sent as a VISTA volunteer. The head VISTA instructor finally approached me and said, “Mr. Gossett, you are going to be a VISTA in New York City.” He told me I would be working for an anti-poverty program called the Lower East Side Narcotics Center. He explained, “You’ll be working with young addicts and kids who were on the track to pos­sibly becoming drug addicts.” I said, “WOW!” He concluded by explaining to me, “You will hopefully organize an anti-drug youth center for kids under 15 years old on the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island. 

 

“I became very excited but nervous about my VISTA placement. I had just turned 21 and had never been east of Idaho before I flew into Toledo a few months before. Now I was about to be sent for a year to the biggest city in the United States, the Big Apple, New York City! 

“Little did I know that my year in VISTA would become what I still con­sider to be the signature experience of my life. My flight from Toledo landed at LaGuardia Airport in mid June, 1966. I took a taxi straight to the Lower East Side Narcotics Center. When I got there, a staff person was awaiting my arrival. She had put together a nice packet of information about the agency for me. She had already told me on the phone that the agency had found temporary housing for me at the Henry Street Settlement House, located only a block from the agency. My room did not have a private bathroom, but it was very modern, comfortable, and secure. It was a cool place to spend my first few months living in New York City. 

 

Larry was certain his year in VISTA was going to be an important and meaningful life experience. To start it off, he told his family and friends back home in Seattle that he arrived in New York City just two weeks before Stokely Carmichael, the National Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), articulated a call for BLACK POWER. The phrase spread through all of New York City very quickly, but he reported that it had gone through Harlem like wildfire. Given the trajectory of his life, he felt it had been very fortuitous that he landed in a city so nice they named it twice: New York, New York. In retrospect, he felt very fortunate that he got there at about the same time the Black Power movement ar­rived. He remembers visiting Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant, and greeting groups of Black people on the streets with the salutation “Black Power!” Larry said, “I remem­ber greeting people in shops and at the office, ‘Black Power, man, Black Power!’ Everyone in the Black community began greeting each other with the phrase Black Power! so how could I have not been impacted by all of this? 

 

“I loved my work with the Lower East Side Narcotics Center, especially the satisfaction I got from setting up a youth center on 5th Street between Avenues C and D. This street was one of the poorest on the Lower East Side. About 80 percent of the youth we served were Puerto Rican and 15 percent were Black. Two other VISTAs worked on the project, and five NYU students came down regularly to volunteer and work with us for school credit. We built a very effective program for about 300 kids who joined the 5th Street Clubhouse within the first month of advertising the club's opening. We set up some of the best English-Spanish tutoring programs, which teachers identified as the best they had ever observed. We took hundreds of kids on field trips that emphasized cultural exposure. I remember in the fall of 1966 taking a group of Black and Puerto Rican youth to the Apollo Theatre to see Gladys Knight and the Pips. As soon as Gladys came out on the stage she said, ‘Black Power Y’all!’ Our youth from the Lower East Side loved it. The whole audience broke out in thunderous applause, responding ‘Black Power’ to her at least 15 times. On the subway home, the kids kept saying ‘Black Power’ including the 9 of the 12 kids who were Puerto Rican, not African American. I loved and learned from these very memorable experiences. Most of these youth had never experienced or thought that they would ever experience a success­ful drug resistance program. Juvenile counselors would come and check out our program and then work to replicate it. 

 

“I think that the Puerto Rican and Black history lessons we taught at the clubhouse raised all of these kids' consciousness about being Black and Puerto Rican in New York. These inter­ventions made a huge difference in whether or not these kids passed their school classes. It also enabled them not to fight against their own people. In this regard, I was surprised how quickly they learned and remembered Puerto Rican and Black creators, who invented things like the concept of zero, the invention of the stop light, and filters that keep electric lights burning for a long time. They loved stories about the Black Buffalo Soldiers and the role they played in the West after the Civil War."

 

Despite the sense of enjoyment I got from working with all these youth on the Lower East Side, I always had a special yearning to work in Harlem. I found out, after about six months of working exclusively on the

Lower East Side, that VISTA was looking for supervisors to lead the expansion of their programming in Harlem. Our efforts on the Lower East Side made me a frequent visitor to the office that coordinated VISTA work in the five Boroughs of New York City. So when they found out I would be amenable to working in Harlem, we were able to work a plan where I supervised VISTAs in Harlem for four days a week and continued working about two days a week on the Lower East Side. I was excited because I was already spending a lot of time going to Black Power meetings and demonstrations in Harlem, organized specifically around the unjust effort by the US Congress to kick Adam Clayton Powell out of his House seat where he had been representing Harlem for over 20 years. They accused him of womanizing and missing important meetings. His constituents let it be known that they did not support his expulsion, but Congress successfully, for a short while, voted him out of his seat and called for a new election to replace him.  “Harlem was the largest Black ghetto in the United States in 1967. I was told that more than 565,000 people lived in Harlem, nearly all of them Black, Puerto Rican, or Dominican. At the same time, Seattle had a population of about 600,000. But Seattleites occupied land about one hundred times larger than the 45-blocks-long and seven-blockswide space that Harlem occupied. “I was assigned to supervise four VISTAs at Harlem Youth, Inc. The first thing we did was a door-to-door survey on the most crowded block in Harlem. That block was 117th Street between Lenox and 7th Avenue. (Today, Lenox Avenue has been renamed Malcolm X Blvd.)  We were also assigned to set up youth programs for kids 11 to 15 years of age on three other blocks: 122nd, 137th,

and 143rd Streets.

 

Our survey of 117th Street revealed that about 9,000 people lived in oldand dilapidated eight- and nine story tenement buildings. We couldn’t believe it was possible to have that many people living on one block. I had this same curiosity on the Lower East Side, so I got eight young students at NYU to help me go door to door on 5th Street between Avenues C and D. That block had an estimated 6,000 people living on it. About 1,000 were youth 10 to 15 years of age. This concentrated poverty really impacted and astonished me. I thought it unbelievable that any human being would be forced to live in overcrowded spaces, like the Lower East Side and Harlem. I'm from Seattle, where we had 250 people living on both sides of the street. Yeah, they were all Black, but in Harlem, they were all Black too. In Harlem and on the Lower East Side they had five, six, seven people living in every tiny one- and two-bedroom unit, on every floor, in these roach- and rat-infested tenement buildings that occupied every block. I read in the Amsterdam News, the Black newspaper of Harlem, that 60 percent of all the Black people in Harlem lived below the poverty line.

 

“This survey made me dig out an article I had read in the summer of 1966, in The New York Times. It said that if every person in the United States were to live in New York City, and the population of each block would be based on the average number of people living on the average block in Harlem, which at the time was about 7,000 people, all 300 million Americans would fit on just one-half the blocks in New York City.  This was a shocking reality to me, the estimate of how crowded these conditions in Harlem and the Lower East Side

were.

 

“In his autobiography, Malcolm X said that on average, two to three Blacks were killed every week in Harlem by police, that Blacks owned no more than two percent of all the stores on 125th Street, and that there was only one high school, Franklin, serving 565,000 people in Harlem – and nearly 70 percent of the students in Harlem dropped out of school by the 9th grade. These school statistics really shocked me. I recalled that in Seattle there were 12 public and 4 Catholic high schools, while Harlem had only one. That's how oppressed and segregated the African American population was in Harlem.” Larry became a frequent visitor to Michaux’s bookstore, (technically called the National Memorial African Book Store, but known to the community as Michaux’s), Harlem’s premiere bookstore, located on 125th Street. This bookstore was a great reservoir of Black history and culture. Larry started reading everything he could afford to purchase on Malcolm X and on past and present great Black writers, who wrote about the experiences of Black people in Harlem during the 20th Century. 

 

“One of the clerks in the bookstore with whom I had struck up a friendship said to me one day, ‘Larry, you should read something a little broader than just Black history. You seem to be serious about social movements. Why don't you read Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels? Why don't you read the Communist Manifesto?’ I replied, ‘Where I grew up, everyone says that Communism is bad and evil.’ He said, ‘You have to broaden your horizons. You need to be able to make interconnections between the struggles of poor people here in Harlem, Seattle, and with other places around the world. Karl Marx and Fred Engels will provide you with some good food for thought that you should be aware of.

 

 

“His persistence had an influence on me, so I bought the Communist Manifesto. I took it home and read it, and went back to the brother who had urged me to read it. I said, ‘Wow, I wonder why I was never encouraged to read this at the UW!’ ‘What made the most sense to you, my man?’ he asked. You have to remember, I'm a descendant of Africans brought to America to work as chattel slaves for 246 straight years for no pay. It made sense to me when they said, ‘the people who do the work in any society or community ought to have a major say in determining where the fruits of their labor go and for what it is spent.’ Maybe they call that communism or whatever, but it made a lot of sense to me. I was thinking, why was I so scared to read stuff about socialism before?  “In short, when I left Michaux’s bookstore, VISTA, and NYC at the end of my year and a half in VISTA, I was a radically changed man – philosophically, dress, attitude, values, everything. I even changed my name from Larry Gossett to Oba Yoruba. I would never go back to being bourgeoisie and brainwashed again. VISTA had changed me, the Black Power movement had captured my soul, and I was down for the cause and the people.

 

“At the end of my VISTA term, I wanted to go back home. Many VISTAs stayed in the community that they worked in, but I always had the intention of going back home to Seattle. I landed in Seattle on September 15th, 1967, and my mother and youngest brother, Patrick, came to the gate of the airport to pick me up. But guess what happened? Both walked right by without recognizing me. I had a lot of hair, a big natural, and I wore a dashiki and African beads, and like other Black Power advocates, I wore sunglasses. Finally, I said the magic word, ‘Momma.’ She and Patrick recognized me by my voice. Momma looked at me and said, ‘Larry, is that you, boy?’ She kept calling me Larry, and I should have waited until I got home, but I said, ‘Momma, my name is Oba Yoruba.’ And she said, ‘Yuba who? Boy, I gotta get you home so your daddy can see you.’ I smiled confidently and walked to the car with Momma and my little brother, Patrick.

 

“The entire Gossett family embraced the changes I had gone through, after a while that is, and supported me in my work for social justice through the Black Power movement we were about to establish on the campus of the University of Washington and in Seattle's Black community."

bottom of page