Seattle Housing Authority: Interview with Kristin O'Donnell

  • Posted 11/19/2014
  • Essay 10771

In this interview, conducted by Dominic Black, Kristin O'Donnell, a Yesler Terrace resident -- and enthusiastic community activist -- since the early 1970s, recalls some of her Yesler Terrace neighbors and fellow activists and organizers.

Neighbors as Co-workers

KO: Well, friends ... most of my friends are outside the neighborhood. But these are people that I think of as co-workers really. Betty Lyons, who was in her late eighties when I moved in and who walked all the way up and down Broadway getting signatures to put the 60 bus in along Broadway. And when she was in her late sixties rode a motorcycle all the way across the country. Juanita Butler, who ran the garden club with an iron hand and made the best darn lemon cake in the entire world, did bake sales, did plant sales. She was a moving spirit of the community council when I moved in. When I moved in, the community council was almost all people, women, who were in their sixties or older, and they were rather alarmed to see my friend Carol and I coming and say, "This is a community council, what can we do, this isn't really a senior citizens' club." And they said, "Yes it is!" But we persevered and Carol eventually went to law school and is a lawyer now. But we persevered and ended up being the great leaders of the community council except for the moment when we were impeached because white people were not supposed to be officers of the community council. And that was just a moment because the people who were elected after us then didn't show up except for one of them and we kept on coming. And we said, "Okay Angeline, we'll work with you." And then for two years we had that going.

DB: When you then look back over the landscape of your life so far ...

KO: There's somebody else I need to mention. That is Hayman Richardson, who was a close neighbor and a friend, and Hayman is the one who said to me things like, "There are people you should feed with a long spoon," and something that I do absolutely need to remember which is, "One monkey don't stop no show." And Hayman was one of the best organizers that I've ever known and he knew how to work with people far better than I ever shall. And then Alan Morris, who was the one who was around when the original P-Patch gardens were built. The gardens were named after him, but that got lost. Oh! Ray Riser, he was retired army and had jumped out of a plane and landed much too hard and was there being a single parent to his daughter. And he at that time had had much more experience accessing outside resources than I'd had. Learned a lot from Ray about that. And at that time they were putting formaldehyde insulation in the buildings as they were remodeling them, that was back in the late '80s I think. And it was just before they finally banned the stuff, but we got them to stop putting it in before the ban because Ray got hold of some stuff from some folks from the UW, who'd done some studies on it, and we convinced the housing authority to stop right now.

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