Harold Moss, Tacoma’s first Black mayor and a city icon, has died

Harold Moss, Tacoma’s first Black mayor and a city icon, has died
Former Tacoma, Washington mayor Harold Moss, speaking at the opening of Tacoma's Civil Rights Struggle exhibit in 2009. (Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons)

TACOMA, Wash. — Harold Moss, the first African American mayor of Tacoma and the man who guided the sometimes troubled city through turbulent times, died Monday night. He was 90.

Moss died at his Tacoma home from long-term health complications, according to his family.

Moss became Tacoma’s first Black City Council member in 1970, first Black mayor in 1994 and first Black Pierce County Council member in 1996.

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“Harold Moss was a lion, and he blazed trails that allowed many of us that came after him,” said Marilyn Strickland, who became Tacoma’s second Black mayor in 2009.

Harold Gene Moss was born Oct. 1, 1929 in Gilmer, Texas, to John Harris Moss and Ida Bell Wright, according to History Link. His family later relocated to Michigan.

He settled in Tacoma after serving in the U.S. Army in the Korean War and stationing at Fort Lewis, now Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

In Tacoma, Moss and his then wife, Bil, fought against the discriminatory postwar real-estate tactic known as redlining.

"When you called a real estate office, you used what I call your ‘white voice,’ " Harold Moss said in 2018, sharing his strategy for roping a white real estate agent into showing a home.

In 1969, he helped calm seething tempers and contain violence to a single night during the Mother’s Day Riot on the city’s Hilltop. It is considered a turning point in Tacoma’s civil rights movement.

Moss won jobs for black contractors, helped found the Tacoma Urban League, built a long record of activism with the NAACP and continued to serve long into his retirement.

In 2019, the Tacoma City Council renamed the 34th Street Bridge, spanning state Route 7 between East B Street and East D Street, as the Harold G. Moss Bridge.

Current Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards called Moss “a shining bridge builder” on Tuesday.

“When people look at that bridge, they should see two things: A connection from one side to another, and the light that shines on it,” Woodards said. “I think that is how we should remember Harold.”

Both Woodards and Strickland said their political careers in Tacoma was inspired in large part by Moss.

The same is true for younger Black elected officials like Tacoma City Councilperson Keith Blocker, Metro Parks Commissioner Jessie Baines and University Place School Board member T’wina Nobles, Strickland said.

“The influence that he’s had on so many generations is understated,” Strickland told The News Tribune on Tuesday. “Harold always said, 'It’s an honor to be first, but you never want to be the last.”

Matt Driscoll of the Tacoma News Tribune contributed to this report.

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