Photo by Mujale Chisbuka: Capitol Hill Housing CEO Chris Persons gives remarks during the groundbreaking.
Photo by Mujale Chisbuka: Capitol Hill Housing CEO Chris Persons gives remarks during the groundbreaking.

The community celebrated Capitol Hill Housing’s Liberty Bank Building groundbreaking in the Central District on Monday, which is expected to provide 115 affordable homes come September 2018.

Capitol Hill Housing is developing the historic site in partnership with Africatown-Central District Preservation and Development Association, Black Community Impact Alliance, Centerstone and the greater Central District community.

Liberty Bank, 2320 E. Union St., was the first black-owned bank west of the Mississippi when it opened at 24th and Union in 1968. Though it may not be officially recognized, the location of the bank continues to be a community and historic landmark.

In response to the groundbreaking, Michelle Purnell-Hepburn, a daughter of one of Liberty Bank’s founders, said she was glad to see “history being made again.” 

The groundbreaking was held on June 19, also known as Juneteenth. The Juneteenth celebration commemorates the abolition of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865.

“Juneteenth is the celebration of resilience in the face of extreme adversity,” said Africatown CEO K. Wyking Garrett.

The historic day is often remembered with celebration and traditions, such as singing the black national anthem. The same song was sung at the groundbreaking celebration, the audience singing, “Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.”

The Central District has provided a community for African-Americans in Seattle for generations. Still, families are being displaced in the face of gentrification and rising costs of living that push out low-income residents.

“And that’s what this is about, bringing ownership back to our community,” Garrett said.   

Mayor Ed Murray stated the city of Seattle’s commitment to equity and its belief that black lives matter. Affordable housing and projects like the new Liberty Bank building help make this a reality. Councilmember Kshama Sawant quoted Frederick Douglass, who said, “power concedes nothing without a demand.”

“In the face of displacement, we can either throw up our hands and give up or stand shoulder to shoulder,” said Capitol Hill Housing CEO Chris Persons. “This project demonstrates what development can do with community.”

The groundbreaking ceremony started with a commemoration of history with a pouring of libation and dance by authentic African dance group Northwest Tap. A preview of artwork for the new building that also nods to history was on display throughout the event.

After closing with the final speaker, the crowd made its way over to form a circle around the row of shovels and gravel. The ceremony ended as 20 shovels marked the groundbreaking of the new and already historic Liberty Bank Building.