Spokane's Debate for Fair Housing

The 1968 Debates between Carl Maxey and James S. Black

In 1968, two powerful men squared off in a series of debates that would help to shape Spokane

In 1968, the United States was at a turning point. Debates about segregations had led to Washington Senate Bill 378, which specified that in Washington a real estate agent would have their license revoked if they were found to be discriminating against buyers on the grounds of race. The Washington Association of Realtors, many of whose members practiced racial discrimination as they sold real estate, backed initiative to overturn the new law, Referendum 35.

Carl Maxey led the charge for fair housing. Born in 1924, Carl Maxey was orphaned when he was young and faced discrimination at children's home due to the color of his skin. This treatment would influence him for the rest of his life. After graduating from Gonzaga in 1950, where he received a boxing scholarship. he would continue the fight in a different arena. In 1951, he was the Chairman of the Washington State Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.

Maxey was debating James S. Black. Born in 1925, Black became a real estate agent in Spokane and a member of the Washington Association of Realtors where he would be elected president of the association. He would also create the NAI Black Real Estate Company in 1958. Black was against Senate Bill 378 as he felt that the bill "makes it impossible for the real estate agent to serve the owner." Stating that it was not the fault of the real estate agent if the homeowners did not wish to sell to minorities around Spokane. This led to a debate in 1968 between the two men about the right to pull licenses and what would best serve the people of Spokane.

The debate took place at the Kiwanis Club of Spokane. The two men, both respected in their circles, debated about Senate Bill 378 and the right for licenses to be revoked from real estate agents for discrimination practices. Maxey stated that if this practice continued, the country itself was in danger of losing the democracy that the US was founded on.

Black likely made the same points others did while arguing in favor of racial discriminatory housing. Black stated that it was not the responsibility of the real estate agents to ensure that the homeowners were willing to sell to anyone. That it was the right of the homeowners to choose who would be able to buy their homes. It can be determined that Black, like many in his position, supported Referendum 35.

Newspaper coverage of the debates was sporadic as there was little in terms of coverage. Only one newspaper covered the events daily. Spokane's leading newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, was owned by Williams Cowles Jr., who also was a real estate developer who practiced racially discriminatory housing. He had recommended for the readers of The Spokesman-Review to vote for Referendum 35. While the outcome of the debate might not be known, the impact it had on Maxey's career was clearly seen, as he became the face for the civils right movement in Spokane. The reputation of being a fighter would follow Maxey for the rest of his days. After the debate, Maxey would continue to champion for the rights of African Americans in Spokane until his death in 1997. The impact that it had on Black is unknown, however, he would continue to work in real estate until his death in 1984. His company, NAI Black still exists to this day being active in the real estate business.

The impact of the debate can still be felt in Spokane, even with the lack of records of the minutes. Many people refer to it when talking about racial covenants and the redlining, an actions that was taken by individuals to segregate people, that took place in Spokane. Despite the lack of clarity about the final verdict, many people agree that this debate helped to move Spokane into a new age of change. With the Fair Housing Act of 1968 being signed into law in April, Referendum 35 became useless in the November election later that year. However, many people in Washington would vote in favor of Referendum 35. While the minutes and the final verdict of the debate have yet to be uncovered, this debate is often referenced when speaking about Carl Maxey and the impact of Racial Covenants in Spokane.