Your Voices: The story behind the founder of Tacoma’s ‘hidden Black historical college’

TACOMA, Wash. — Now comes the story of a pioneering educator who dreamed of providing a college education for underserved African-Americans in the Pacific Northwest, and made that dream a reality when she founded Evergreen State College in Tacoma.

This is the Evergreen State College, Tacoma, the college she founded.

Dr. Maxine Mimms, mother, educator, mentor to hundreds, is 95 years old. She has lived long enough to see the college she founded more than 50 years ago educate untold numbers of African-American, helping them realize their own dreams on Tacoma’s Hilltop.

Turns out this amazing woman and I have an unlikely connection.

To spend time with Doctor Maxine Mimms is to be among an entourage of fans, truly a woman in full.

“My maiden name is B-U-I-E, Buie, and the married name is M-I-M-M-S, Mimms,” she said. “I like to be able to spell my own name -- ownership, ode to who I am.”

Who she is began nearly 96 years ago in a place special to me: Newport News, Virginia.

“You ended up here, but you grew up, incredibly, in my hometown,” Dr. Mimms was told.

“Did we always know that?” she exclaimed. “Did you know it? I was so ecstatic!”

And like me, she found a home in the Pacific Northwest. following her husband, an engineer, lured here by Boeing.

“I’ve been here since ‘53,” she said.

Still, she left for the other Washington in 1969, persuaded by Pasco politician and fellow Black Republican Arthur Fletcher.

“So, Mr. Fletcher called me and asked me if I’d be willing to serve in the Nixon administration,” she said, “and I did.”

“So, all these young guys, Larry Gossett, E.J. Brisker, Aaron, all of them, they were raising cane,” she continued. “They were just furious with me for accepting a job in the Nixon administration. But it was so exciting. I learned so much.”

She returned three years later.

“To come from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, Washington to talk about education in an area like this was the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” she said.

In 1972, Dr. Mimms joined the faculty at newly-minted Evergreen State College in Olympia. Soon, she bemoaned that an entire swath of Western Washington was being left behind.

“Wherever you found Black people, you didn’t have an inexpensive way for them to continue their education,” she said.

So, she started quietly providing that education around her kitchen table in her homes in Tacoma and Shelton.

“We understood, and still do, the damage of racism,” she said. “But to get out of it requires a lot of transformative learning.”

Thus, Evergreen State College, Tacoma was born.

“It’s a hidden secret,” said Dr. Mimms. “It’s a hidden historical black college.”

And so, in January 2001, the Evergreen State College Tacoma campus, moved into its new Hilltop home.

“Just to see how they have carried on this vision,” said Dr. Mimms.

What vision is that?

“To expand learning in the Black community,” she said. “Period.”

A legacy of learning, the realization of one woman’s dream.

Comments on this article