Tommy Fletcher, Resident Since 1950

"It was quite difficult, I have to tell you like it is . . . . We couldn't buy a house in South Hill because of color."

Like Theo Adams, Tommy Fletcher moved to East Central in 1950 and experienced first-hand the deep racial tensions of that era. His reminiscences are all the more striking considering he grew up in Wilma, Arkansas, near the heart of the Jim Crow South. By the time Tommy moved into the area, East Central had been in decline for decades and was becoming the neighborhood of choice for lower-income families, especially those who were priced out of others or excluded by restrictive covenants. Like other areas in the United States, newly-arrived African Americans often found themselves at odds with working class whites who were resentful of the changing demographics. Despite sometimes harsh treatment, however, many families like Tommy's settled in the East Central neighborhood, made good lives, and formed a strong core around which a community continued to grow.

There were a number of people, like Tommy, who took a pragmatic view of the encroachment of the I-90 freeway. Faced with a number of ongoing, daily challenges, they chose to emphasize the benefits rather than the problems. In the midst of the Cold War, when nuclear holocaust seemed a looming reality, many Americans took solace in the rapid infrastructural growth that was taking place all over the country. So it was with many of the residents of East Central, who saw the I-90 freeway as a solution to a number of growing problems. People could travel easily to workplaces that may have been too far away before. It drained traffic from congested residential streets. It connected Spokane - and East Central - with the rest of the Inland Northwest, which offered prospects for economic growth. It was a step in the right direction. As Tommy puts it, "I never fought progress, because that's what we need."

Images

An unpaved East Central street, 1935 (image L87-1.7035-35 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture)

An unpaved East Central street, 1935 (image L87-1.7035-35 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture)

Streets below the bluff remained unpaved long after Spokane city streets. View File Details Page

Tommy Fletcher (image courtesy of the Spokane Regional Health District)

Tommy Fletcher (image courtesy of the Spokane Regional Health District)

View File Details Page

The construction of I-90 reduced traffic on East Central streets (image of 4th and Carnahan, L87-1.2131.65 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture).

The construction of I-90 reduced traffic on East Central streets (image of 4th and Carnahan, L87-1.2131.65 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture).

View File Details Page

This 1964 image illustrates the way I-90 divided neighborhoods.  All of the structures in this image below the spires of First Presbyterian church were demolished for freeway construction (image L87-1.2280-64 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture).

This 1964 image illustrates the way I-90 divided neighborhoods. All of the structures in this image below the spires of First Presbyterian church were demolished for freeway construction (image L87-1.2280-64 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture).

View File Details Page

Workers install a sewer trunk line between 4th and 5th Avenues as part of a Works Progress Administration project, 1938 (image L86-341.8 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture)

Workers install a sewer trunk line between 4th and 5th Avenues as part of a Works Progress Administration project, 1938 (image L86-341.8 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture)

View File Details Page

Audio

Audio File 1

View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Spokane Regional Health District's Neighborhoods Matter Program, & Frank Oesterheld, “Tommy Fletcher, Resident Since 1950,” Spokane Historical, accessed June 25, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/472.
Tour navigation:  Previous | Tour Info | Next
comments powered by Disqus

Share this Story