Audio clips and transcripts from Committee of the Whole hearing regarding open housing (October 25, 1963)

Testimony of Thomas W. Miller

Testimony of Thomas W. Miller, Presbyterian minister (mp3, 722k)


Rev. Miller: No need has been demonstrated for the prohibition of religious discrimination. This portion of the ordinance is a complete farce. Why does not the ordinance include the prohibition against discrimination because of political philosophy? Because there are no observable harmful effects. and also because we have freedom to exercise political discrimination. I hope that you will not allow this ordinance to be adopted when it is so patently clear that it is designed to meet something other than the harmful effects mentioned here today and that are listed in Section 9. Thank you.

Chairman Luke: Reverend Miller, I would like to ask you some questions, primarily because we have several petitions in favor of the ordinance from other Presbyterian groups. Yours is not associated with the United Presbyterian Church. Yours would be called a fundamentalist denomination?

Rev. Miller: There are a half a dozen Presbyterian churches in the city of Seattle. There is the Evangelical Presbyterian, there's a Reformed Presbyterian, there's a United Presbyterian, and there is the Bible Presbyterian, there might be others that are unknown to my knowledge.

Chairman Luke: Yes. Now are you speaking against the elimination of Section 5 Subsection 2 which exempts religious institutions from coverage of this ordinance?

Rev. Miller: No.

Chairman Luke: You believe that should remain in there?

Rev. Miller: Of course. And also to take out all prohibition against religious discrimination because it is contrary to the First Amendment to the Constitution which guarantees to everyone religious freedom and ability to practice that which is in accordance with his religion without being coerced into doing something which is advantageous to another's religion.

Chairman Luke: Now, are you against the provisions which bar discrimination because of race? Or are you supporting them?

Rev. Miller: Say it again, sir?

Chairman Luke: Are you for that provision which prohibits discrimination because of race?

Rev. Miller: No, I am not in favor of that on another basis, on the basis that it violates the eighth commandment of the Decalogue, "Thou shalt not steal." This is an unjust usurpation of property rights.

Chairman Luke: You are against that portion. You are of course a minister, and I don't have it available to me, but what chapter and verse is it in the Bible in the New Testament, "Love thy neighbor as thyself"?

Rev. Miller: I don't know the exact verse right off hand.

Chairman Luke: Thank you.

Rev. Miller: But it's because I love my neighbor as myself that I'm here. I desire to see religious freedom preserved in this city. It's because of my love for my neighbor that I am here. I believe that scripture, Mr. Luke. I hope all the members of the City Council also believe it and practice it.

Chairman Luke: Thank you, Reverend Thomas Miller.

Testimony of Eileen Meacham

Testimony of Eileen Meacham, apartment house owner (mp3, 1.7 mb)


Moderator: Would you identify yourself and where you live?

Eileen Meacham: My name is Eileen Meacham. I live in Bellevue but we own a triplex in Seattle. Perhaps you heard King's town hall meeting on the open housing ordinance last Friday night. I wrote a question that evening which read as follows: Last May we rented an apartment to a Negro, and the other tenants became very angry and moved out. This has caused us anguish, anxiety, and unending financial distress. Why wasn't a provision put in the open housing ordinance to prevent tenants from discriminating against minority groups? If this is indeed a moral issue, then everyone should be obliged to conform.

My reason for asking this question was not because I wanted tenants to be fined or prosecuted for showing discrimination against minority groups. It was asked to try and point out that the problem is not discrimination shown by apartment house owners - because after all, if the tenants would not discriminate against Negroes, the owners and managers would have no reason to.

We not only had the experience of having all of our other tenants move out, but before they moved, they made life miserable in many nasty little ways for both our Negro tenant and us. Fortunately, our Negro tenant is a very intelligent and wise person, and he did not allow himself to be goaded into fighting back. He simply told us when the other tenants did things to bother him, such as loosening all the fuses so that the apartment had no electricity, and we in turn let the white tenant know in no uncertain terms that any more such behavior would cause his eviction without further notice. He had already given us notice that he would vacate at the end of the month.

After the white tenants moved out, we found ourselves with a terrible mess on our hands, so good housekeeping is not inherent in the white race either. [Laughter] We had to completely redo both apartments before we could rent them again. This meant gallons of paint, rolls of wallpaper, some furniture replacement, rug shampooing, and hours of other cleaning, and even completely new walls and ceiling in one room. It also took weeks of hard work on our part, sometimes working ten to twelve hours a day. During this time, not enough money was coming in from the one rented apartment to even begin to pay the mortgage each month, to say nothing of utilities and the great cost of redecorating, and then advertising when we finally had finished. We had to borrow money and run up charge accounts, and we have to just pray that someday we will be able to climb out from under this mountain of debt.

We now have one of the apartments rented, but the other one remains empty. Everyone who sees it agrees that it is a lovely apartment and reasonably priced, but even those who have put a deposit on it have backed out when they found out their neighbor would be a Negro. Can you imagine what the situation might be if an apartment house owner were forced to accept a Negro tenant under the open housing ordinance and the same sort of situation developed that we had in our apartments? We can shake our heads and cluck our tongues and state indignantly that the way our white tenants acted is not the way for civilized people to behave, but you cannot escape from the fact that this is reality. This is the way people behave, and like it or not, it is a very real problem which must be given consideration.

Under the Open Housing Ordinance, the apartment owner will know that when an eligible Negro comes to rent an apartment, his - the owner's - economic doom is sealed. If he refuses to rent to the Negro, he will have to pay a heavy fine and suffer a jail sentence. If he rents to the Negro, his tenants, who still retain the right to discriminate without being penalized, will move out and cause a situation such as we have.

Mr. Westberg claims that since everyone will have to rent to Negroes, there will be no place for prejudiced white tenants to go to escape. He also says, however, that most Negroes don't really want to move; they just want to know that they can. He says that if the Open Housing law passes, there will be only a few who will rent in places where they are not now allowed. I agree with the second part of this statement. Only a handful of the hundreds - and there are hundreds - of rentals now available will be occupied by Negroes, which means there will be plenty of all-white buildings for prejudiced tenants to move into. This gives us a very unequal situation indeed. We will have a few apartment house owners going bankrupt because their buildings have been chosen by a Negro to be his residence, while other apartments will prosper with unusually full houses.

Another question arises: Will a Negro be happy in his new apartment, with an owner in charge who feels bitter because of all the hardship he is being caused? Will the owner protect the Negro tenant if he is harassed by white tenants, and will he put forth every effort to make him comfortable, if all the time his greatest wish is that the Negro will just leave?

Moderator: Mrs. Meacham, your time is running out. Could you submit that to us, or summarize in one paragraph...

Eileen Meacham: I just have about a minute more - may I? I haven't gotten to the point of this yet.

Moderator: Please hurry; we're on a very tight time schedule.

Eileen Meacham: If the aim of the Negro people is to be accepted wholeheartedly into any area of the city, then I think the open housing ordinance will fail them miserably. It will fail them because the use of force cannot create good will among people. I believe it was stated by Mr. Robertson last Friday night that the cost to the city of one complaint of discrimination would be about $20,000 if it went through all the necessary hearings, investigations, and so forth. Why wouldn't it be wise to use that money to reimburse apartment owners for rents lost when a Negro moves into his building and whites move out? This would meant that the owner would not have to dread the day when a Negro shows up to rent an apartment. He no longer would have to fear financial ruin because of prejudiced white tenants. He would need no ordinance to force him to rent to Negroes, but with the threat of lost rents no longer haunting him, most owners would open their doors to Negroes and welcome them as tenants.

This would create a much happier and more harmonious situation all the way around, and I believe it would cost the taxpayers much less than the presently proposed system of force. The Negro people would receive the acceptance and the good treatment they expect and deserve by a landlord who would no longer have any reason to be bitter. If Mr. Westberg is right when he says that not many white people will actually move out when a Negro moves in, then there won't be much money paid out because of lost rents, and it will certainly be much easier to check on whether an owner is sincerely trying to re-rent an apartment than it would be to check on whether a Negro is refused because of discrimination or one of a hundred other reasons.

As people grow used to the idea of a Negro living in the same building with them, they will finally come to realize that nothing horrible results from it, and they will ultimately accept the situation and stop moving out. The claims for lost rents would then stop coming in and the whole situation would be solved economically, painlessly, and without bad feelings on either side. The only argument I have ever received against this solution to the open housing problem is, it has never been tried before. I sincerely hope that Seattle and its leaders are more progressive than to insist that we follow in the more unsuccessful and ineffective footsteps of other cities just because they are afraid to try something new.

Moderator: Thank you, Mrs. Meacham.

Testimony of Nancy McGhee

Testimony of Nancy McGhee, property owner and ordinance opponent (mp3, 553k)


Orville Robertson: Mr. Chairman, the next speaker is Nancy McGhee, homeowner.

Nancy McGhee: Mr. Chairman and members of the Council. This open housing ordinance is an attempt to deprive all of us of one of our basic democratic rights, which is to dispose of our property, both real and personal, as we see fit. I do not oppose this law because it deprives one race and gives to another. I object because it deprives all of us of a basic freedom which is a part of our American democracy, this being the right of personal selection. This is not a matter to be legislated. It is a moral obligation to be determined by the individual when the circumstance arises or presents itself. Should such a situation present itself, I might be forced, as the ordinance reads, into selling my property in a manner which I do not feel is satisfactory. This pressure, of such a housing ordinance, could very well affect my good judgment, because I can't as an average homeowner, afford the support of Council to defend my honest intentions.

Many minority groups in our own area have, in the eyes of their fellow citizens and neighbors, become openly welcomed in housing and in any public place. They gained this acceptance through their individual efforts and individual accomplishments. They did not need the federal, state or local governments to deprive others to obtain these goals. They gained their recognition through honest hard work and by establishing a record of being a good neighbor and a good citizen in this community.

This is not a public housing ordinance. This is a thought control bill. Some good proponent this morning made a statement in nature. He said, "I feel that because we have elected these Councilmen they will do what they think is right in this instance." I would like that same freedom. Thank you.

Wing Luke: Thank you, Mrs. Nancy McGhee.

Testimony of John Hurst Adams

Testimony of John Hurst Adams, Chairman of Central Area Committee for Civil Rights (mp3, 359k)


Kenneth Colman: As our first speaker, Dr. Rev. John H. Adams, who is chairman of the Central Area Committee for Civil Rights, is representing the entire Negro community and wishes to present their view.

John Hurst Adams: Thank you, Mr. Colman, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Mayor, Mrs. Edwards, members of the Council. The Central Area Committee on Civil Rights, which is composed of CORE, the NAACP, the Urban League, community leaders, Protestant and Catholic clergymen, believe that the inalienable and self-evident rights of American citizens are not to be debated, or to be negotiated, but to be fulfilled. The problems of prejudice, segregation and discrimination in America are the moral problems of the white community. We know this and you know this. Your right and resolute action is the only answer and your capacity to take that action is the only debate. On the one hand is your conscience and the Constitution. On the other hand are bigotry, fear, and cowardice. One leads to good will, understanding, and the American dream. The other leads to the bitterness, suspicion, and distrust of another generation of broken promises. A clear choice is yours. We are leaving this hearing for you to make your decision in calmness, in love, and without rancor. We simply await your judgment.

Citation: Public Comment at Seattle City Council Committee of the Whole Meeting, October 25, 1963. Event ID 9, Seattle City Council Legislative Department Audio Recordings, 4601-03.

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