SEDRO-WOOLLEY, Wash. — The City of Sedro-Woolley is confronting its racist past while the city’s lone African-American city council member tries to shape its future.
The Sedro-Woolley Museum recently published a newsletter with a picture from 1926 of a church dedication attended by local members of the Ku Klux Klan. The museum also re-published a glowing newspaper article from that time recounting a parade where hundreds of Klansmen marched through the city.
"The Klansmen presented an impressive appearance,” the article's author wrote.
The museum’s newsletter was mailed to doorsteps all across Sedro-Woolley.
"Just imagine if you are a person of color, Jewish, or LGBTQ, and you pull this out of your mailbox," said Sedro-Woolley Councilmember Germaine Kornegay. "How traumatizing would that be?"
Kornegay has lived in Sedro-Woolley for 17 years and is the only person of color on City Council. She doesn’t object to the museum reprinting the past but said there was no context given about the Klan’s hateful history.
Given the current political climate, Kornegay worries the mailer may have further normalized racist ideology.
"This could say to a bigot today that they are in the norm," Kornegay explained. "It’s been really painful."
The 7-year city councilor said there have been recent episodes of hate groups appearing around town. About 1% of the city population is black.
"I, myself, have been called the N-word," Kornegay said. "One man even told me he wouldn't vote for me because I'm black. But I know that isn't how most people here are."
Kornegay now finds herself in the position of defending her city against people who brand it as racist, some of whom she knows.
"I get a lot of guff for living here. I defend Sedro-Woolley all the time," Kornegay said, wiping away tears. "This makes it really hard."
Museum Executive Director Carolyn Freeman said she feels "horrible" about the situation. She said the publication was meant to help people learn from the city’s sometimes ugly history.
"The shock value of people pulling this out of the mailbox was horrific and that we apologize for," Freeman said. "There were things we should have done differently. We have to learn from this terrible blunder."
Kornegay now plans to sit on the museum’s board, something Freeman welcomes. The two shared an embrace as they parted ways, Thursday.
"Thank you so much for hanging in there with us. We’ll learn," said Freeman.
"We’ll all learn," Kornegay added.