By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Did you know that the late Wing Luke, the first Asian American Seattle city councilman, started the preservation of the Pike Place Market campaign even though no history book credited him for it?
How did he win his enemies over? Why did he remain unmarried? What did he do to fight against discriminatory housing laws? What did he do to help minorities to get jobs?
Wing died in a plane crash in 1965 on a fishing trip when he was only 40 years old. A celebration of Wing’s 90th birthday was held last Saturday at the Wing Luke Asian Museum, which was named after him.
“Wing was soft-spoken, but everybody listened to him,” said Pat Baillargeon, a closed friend. A copy of his radio interview could attest to that.
“Everybody was fascinated by him,” said another friend, Jean Durning. She recalled how engaged people were during his talk about what he wanted to accomplish for the city at a coffee party for his City Council campaign. (Many who attended forgot to take turns to babysit in an upstairs room, and let the kids jump wild.)
When Wing was on the City Council, he was chairing a public meeting to discuss the Open Housing Act. (In the 1960s, Chinese and other people of color were mainly concentrated in Beacon Hill.) The real estate agents mostly white, would not rent, buy or sell housing to people of color in other parts of the city, said his sister, Bettie.
Wing did not use the meeting to nail his opponents. He ran the meeting fairly by giving equal time to the opposing side to express their views. After the meeting, the opposition told Wing that they appreciated that Wing didn’t cut their speaking time.
Wing’s ability and skills to debate, negotiate, and compromise with his detractors served him well. Bettie told the audience that she couldn’t get a cashier job at the World’s Fair in 1961 despite the fact she had experience, and a “blonde” girl got the job. Instead of using the race card, Wing worked behind the scene so his sister Bettie and her six friends got jobs afterwards.
Wing started a group called “Friends of the Pike Place Market” and raised funds for the preservation of the market, according to Baillargeon. He served as the event auctioneer and even served Mandarin salmon at the party.
Wing was ahead of his time. His mentee Faith Ireland shared a story about how she and Wing went out for a drive. She said the sky was fabulous. “That’s pollution,” Wing responded.
You don’t have to know Wing to be inspired by him. One such person in the room was Attorney General Bob Ferguson. He said he wanted to start Wing Luke’s Civil Rights Unit in his office to honor him this year. He is researching Wing’s impact in civil rights in the state when he was an attorney for the Attorney General’s office.
Selina Chow asked if Wing ever got married. No, he didn’t. He wouldn’t want to do that to his traditional immigrant Chinese parents who believed at the time that Wing should marry a Chinese woman, said another sister, Marge. The community’s rumor was that, Wing’s girlfriend was white. She was, Marge confirmed.
Also, the Chinese population was small, about 1000, said Bettie. So his choices to find the right Chinese woman were limited.
Some media articles mentioned the late King councilmember Ruby Chow thought of inserting fortunes, “Vote for Wing Luke” for his campaign, and distributing to Chinese restaurants. Was that true?
Wing’s campaign manager Ken Prichard, 91, said it was Ruby’s idea, but it was never used because it took too much time to print and insert. So the cookies were not ready on time for the campaign.
What would Wing say about the gathering in celebration of his 90th birthday?
“He would love it,” said Prichard, his campaign manager.
“He would love the fact that the museum is Pan-Asian,” said Bettie. “So many of his close friends came to share his stories.” (end)
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.