Early African-American Pioneers in Spokane

From John B. Parker, a successful barber at the Hotel California to Danil K. Oliver, carpenter and businessman, these early African-American pioneers helped to define the city's black community.

In the 1880s Spokane grew from waves of immigration. Though white individuals were the majority, the city soon developed other minority populations. Along with the more famous Chinatown, Spokane had its own small African American community.

In 1880 only three African-Americans were in the Spokane region. By 1885 this number increased to thirteen, including a few families. John Bryon Parker, a barber from New York, and his wife Adella, a black Canadian, came to Spokane with their three small children in 1885. Census records show that they lived in Utah and Nevada for a time on their way west. Adella's Canadian birth suggests that she or her parents might have come to Canada on the Underground Railroad in the 1850s.

By 1887 thirty-eight African-Americans called Spokane their home, though there were certainly more African-Americans in the region. The Parker family still resided in the city and had several more children. J.B. Parker would open the first Black-owned barbershop at the famous California Hotel in the city that year. Several other African-American migrants also found success in the Spokane region in next few decades. Daniel K. Oliver, a carpenter from Pennsylvania moved to Spokane earlier in 1878. In 1887 Oliver invested in a local mill company, the Wiscombe, Oliver, and Johnson Wood Mill, and later served in Company management. Oliver would then become involved in Spokane mining and real estate.

Peter B. Barrow, Sr., was another prominent black businessman in Spokane in the late nineteenth century. Born into slavery, Barrow escaped his home state of Virginia and later served with the Union Army. After moving to Mississippi with his family, the Barrow family came to Washington in hopes of escaping the racial oppression prevalent in the South. Barrow would eventually help with the start of Spokane’s Calvary Baptist Church, the first African-American Baptist Church in the region. Barrow’s grandson Charles and J.B. Parker’s own son Charles would both join the business created by Barrow, The Deer Lake Irrigated Orchards Company.



The California Hotel burned down in Spokane's Great Fire in 1889. The map shows the original location of the building.