Eugene Moszee was a civil rights activist in Seattle during the 1940s. Born in Floresville, Texas, in 1914, the first of ten children of illiterate farm laborers, Moszee moved to Seattle during the 1930s and by 1937 owned and operated his own Mobile gas station on 19th and E. Madison.
Moszee left Jim Crow Texas in search of wider opportunities in Seattle, only to find that most neighborhoods, jobs, and businesses were closed to him. For the most part, nonwhites were restricted to housing in the Central and International Districts, despite the thousands of newcomers who arrived in the early 1940s seeking wartime jobs in Seattle. Even with wartime labor demands, many African American men were still restricted to low-paying laborer, janitor, railroad porter, waiter, or domestic servant jobs.
In 1945 Moszee orchestrated a number of sit-ins at Seattle taverns and restaurants that refused to serve non-whites. Nearly two decades before these tactics were used in the segregated South, he brought in black patrons to fill the chairs of a restaurant counter or bar. They all ordered food or drinks and refused to leave until they were served. The police were usually called in but because the protesters hadn’t broken any law, they could do nothing. Sometimes it took days, but eventually, the protesters were served. They then moved on to the next segregated establishment.
Moszee and the other protesters based their actions on the peaceful tactics of Mahatma Gandhi and the Flint, Michigan, autoworkers’ sit-down strikes in 1938, which would also serve as inspiration for the 1960s sit-ins. The demonstrations Moszee orchestrated in Seattle, however, would be largely forgotten.
On November 15, 1945, Moszee had gone to a tavern after work and bantered with a barmaid as he waited for his order. A couple of customers overheard Moszee asking her for a date and picking a fight with him. As the brawl turned violent, someone called the police, and Moszee overheard the caller naming him as the source of the disturbance. Not wanting to be taken into custody by Seattle police for creating a disturbance, Moszee returned to his gas station.
When four officers arrived at the gas station and told Moszee to come out, he asked if they had a search warrant. Shots rang out and both Moszee and Officer Frederick Hull were killed in the gunfire. The other officers were cleared of any wrongdoing at the inquest, and no one questioned why they had arrived without a search warrant or with what, if anything, Moszee had been charged. Partly because of the week-long newspaper strike that closed down all of the Seattle dailies, partly because of the fabrication of a criminal record for Moszee, the case was dismissed and Moszee’s legacy of peaceful activism was not given the attention it deserved.