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Biography - Who is Powell Barnett?

“I have always felt that my community is no better or worse than what I help make it, likewise, my country. I can’t delegate my own responsibility. I can’t assume anyone else’s.” Powell Barnett, 1883-1971

This was the motto and creed of Powell S. Barnett, the son of a former slave, who came to then Washington Territory in 1888 at the age of five. His father, Powell Benjamin Barnett, had uprooted his family to work the coal mines of Roslyn, Washington, and the Barnett family has resided here ever since. Powell S. Barnett married Katherine Conna of the pioneering John N. Conna family in 1906, and they settled in Seattle. Therein followed a lifetime of community work as encapsulated in the list below.

  • Gold Card member/NAACP

  • Lifetime member/Mt. Zion Baptist Church

  • Board Member/Volunteers of America, 1901-08

  • Founder-Mgr/Royal Colored Giants baseball team

  • Democratic Precinct committeeman, 33rd District/15 years.

  • Board member/Lee House for Senior Citizens

  • President/Seattle Urban League, 1948-1950

  • Air Raid Warden, 1941-1945

  • Chairman, Committee to establish East Madison YMCA

  • Board member, East Madison YMCA

  • Treasurer, King County USO, 1944-1961

  • Executive Committee, United Good Neighbors, 1942

  • Chairman, Committee to amalgamate Local 76 (white) and Local 493 (black) Musician’s Union, 1956

  • Founder/President, Leschi Improvement Council

  • Chairman, Welcoming Committee to integrate Japanese American citizens after World War II

  • Jackson Street Community Council “Man of the Year” 1964

  • Seattle Urban league Annual Award

  • Founder/Pacific Northwest Baseball Umpires Association

During his lifetime, Mr. Barnett received commendations and awards from the Jackson St. Community Council, King County Council on Aging, Seattle Urban League, the Mayor of Seattle, and the Seattle City Council. In 1969, the 4.4 acre park on Martin Luther King Way which formerly served as a running track for Garfield High School, was named Powell Barnett Park. Powell Barnett died on March 16, 1971, having lived a rich, full, and substantial life.

Over the years the park fell into disrepair, and a massive community fund raising effort led by his grand-daughter, Maisha Barnett, was successful in raising $1.3 million dollars. Over a one week period the park underwent a massive overhaul resulting in a children’s park of nonpareil status.

The park was re-opened in 2006 with Mayor Greg Nickels presiding. It is generally recognized as one of the top five children’s parks in the country.

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