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Profiling William Amos Craven, Washington’s First African American Mayor

Mayor William Craven Speaking (with Daughter Assisting) Roslyn, Washington, August 7, 2021 (Jamila Taylor Collection)

 

William Amos Craven was the state of Washington’s first African American mayor. He was appointed mayor of Roslyn, Washington, in 1975 and later elected mayor in 1976.

William Craven was born on September 18, 1938, in Los Angeles, California, to Samuel Lawrence Craven (1895-1969) and Ethel Williams Craven. He grew up in Roslyn. His grandfather had moved from Texas to Roslyn to work in the area’s coal mines. The presence of Black miners in Roslyn can be traced back to 1888, when a strike was called by disgruntled white, mostly Eastern European miners.

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Dissatisfied with the long hours, low pay, and lack of safety precautions, the miners, now unionized by the Knights of Labor, demanded changes and began picketing the mines.

The mines’ owner, Northern Pacific Railroad, responded by arranging for James E. Sheppardson to bring in more than 300 African American miners from Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky to work as replacements. It was the greatest increase in African American population in the territory’s history at the time. Soon after, more than 20% of Roslyn’s population was African American.

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Roslyn’s fortunes and population began to decline in the mid-twentieth century. The town’s population had dwindled to around 1,000 people by the 1970s, with the Craven family being the only Black residents.

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Washington Governor Jay Inslee Pinning Mayor William Craven at Ceremony Honoring the Former Mayor in Roslyn, Washington, August 7, 2021 (Jamila Taylor Collection)

 

William Craven worked as a grave digger and a school janitor in Roslyn. He was a member of the Roslyn city council in the early 1970s. When the position of mayor became available, his fellow council members elected him on June 10, 1975. Roslyn residents elected him major on September 16, 1976. Craven received 272 votes out of the 305 cast. He was the first African American elected mayor in the state of Washington, and he served as mayor until 1979.

Craven married Virginia Lee Smith in December 1966. Tony, Tommy, Corrine, Timmy, Teddy, and K.C. were born from this union.

When the Thirtymile Fire swept through the area in July 2001. William Craven and his wife Virginia Lee provided a place for the four firefighters killed in the forest fire to be remembered. Tom Craven, their 30-year-old son, was one of them.

On February 20, 2021, Governor Jay Inslee declared the day “William Craven Day,” and on August 7, 2021, a monument honoring William Craven was dedicated in Roslyn. At the event, the governor and other state dignitaries spoke.

 

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