In recognition of Black History Month, the Heritage Museum is hosting a small pop-up show Feb. 16 to 19. It will include portraits, photos, documents, and correspondence laid out to tell the story a family with ties to Vashon. Island resident Tyrone Cunningham and co-collaborator Paul Brown (former heavy weight boxer and boxing trainer for Tonya Harding) are bringing the display to the island and will be on hand to offer the historical context for the display.
An African American man named George Washington is the founder of the town of Centralia, and he is being celebrated this year, the 200th anniversary of his birth. The son of an African American slave and a woman of English parentage, he came west from Virginia with the Cochrans, a white couple who raised him. At that time, African Americans were not allowed to claim a homestead in Oregon Territory. Washington moved further north and asked the Cochrans to file a claim for him on 640 acres of land. When Washington Territory was formed, they deeded the land to George, and in 1875, he and his wife platted the town of Centralia.
When Washington was 74 years old, he had a son by his second wife. George Cleveland Washington was just 13 years old when his father died. He was attending Vashon College in 1910 when fire broke out on campus. According to his obituary, “He rendered considerable assistance at the fire and was soaked with water. His fatal illness was the result.” He died at the age of 19 of smoke inhalation and pneumonia.
The Vashon Heritage Museum was contacted by a writer working with a group in Centralia to plan the celebration there. She asked if the museum had any materials about Vashon College that might include a photo of George Cleveland Washington. Museum volunteers searched and found a Vashon College catalogue dated 1909- 1910, which listed G. Washington as a student. He was also listed as a member of the second basketball team, which will be on display as part of the exhibit.
Deb Damman, development chair of the Vashon-Maury Island Heritage Association, said the pop-up exhibit will be displayed on the former piano from Vashon College and includes important elements of Vashon history.
“It’s significant that a Vashon College student was the grandson of a Virginia slave,” she said. “The museum has a strong interest in talking about diversity on the island, whether it be Coast Salish aboriginal, Chinese, Japanese, or eastern European.”
The museum is located at 10105 SW Bank Road and is typically open from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday afternoons and will be open on President’s Day.
This version of the story includes the names of the people who brought the show and corrects the title of Deb Damman.