Everett’s first black City Council member turns 90
EVERETT - Carl Gipson faced racism in the South and broke down barriers in Everett, but those who know him speculate his longevity stems from keeping a calm head and an altruistic interest in helping others.
Gipson turned 90 on Jan. 11 and celebrated with a big party at the Carl Gipson Senior Center, renamed after him in 2009.
He’s made a long journey from growing up as an only child in segregated Arkansas to becoming a well-established businessman and 24-year veteran of the Everett City Council. Gipson was the first black person elected to council in Everett and only the second to be elected in the state.
He is still an active deacon at Everett’s Second Baptist Church, a position Gipson has held for 50 years.
Throughout his life, Gipson always focused on the importance of family and on helping others, his oldest son Carlton Gipson said last week.
A 1975 re-election ad states Carl Gipson is “a man of his word.”
That he is, Carlton said.
“He was always true to his word,” Carlton said. “He said what he meant and meant what he said. If he gave you his word, he would do it.”
Carl would drop what he was doing if someone phoned for help, Carlton said.
Carl was born in rural Arkansas in 1924 and met his wife of 65 years, Jodie, at the Little Rock high school they graduated from. He grew up farming before taking a shipyard job in California in 1943.
He was drafted into the Navy during World War II and sent to Bremerton before being transferred to the naval air base at Oak Harbor for the rest of the war.
Post-war, after brief interludes in Arkansas and California, he and Jodie made it back to Washington state where Everett was one of the few places to accept blacks. In that era, only a handful of black families lived in Everett.
They arrived in 1946, where Gipson worked his way into a job at Sevenich Chevrolet. Gipson worked his way in by offering to cut blackberry bushes, whitewash the walls and a series of other odd jobs Gipson persistently brought to Sevenich’s attention before being hired as an employee.
Gipson quickly made Sevenich Chevrolet a go-to dealership and advanced to shop manager — the first black man to hold this position at a Chevrolet dealership on the West Coast — before opening his own service station in the 1960s at Hewitt and Rucker avenues and a second service station later that decade.
“Gipson was a hard worker, highly personable, and had a talent for making himself indispensable,” biographer John Caldbick wrote recently on the website www.historylink.org.
In the 1960s, Carl and Jodie opened a popular black tavern called The Ebony to meet demand. (Carl told an interviewer that one bar in Everett let in blacks, but they’d break the glass after a black person drank from it.)
Racism was still prevalent in Everett, but it was not as overt as in the South. The Gipsons were threatened and chased out of Mississippi on a trip home by a group of white people wielding tire irons.
Even so, buying a house in Everett was an ordeal as neighbors threatened the seller and the banker.
Jodie and Carl Gipson wanted the house in an all-white neighborhood near the corner of 19th and Hoyt where he still lives today. Jodie died in 2007.
Once the sale was complete, a few neighbors came out of the woodwork to shake Carl’s hand.
Carlton said he doesn’t remember facing prejudice because of his race growing up in Everett, but one incident rang clear in Carl’s life.
In 1976, now a council member in his fifth year, Carl was the only one of 67 applicants to be blackballed from joining the Everett Elks. History suggests someone filled the voting container with black balls. It took only one black ball in the secret vote to be excluded from the club.
He did join the Rotary and was a past president of the Everett High School Parent-Teacher Association.
Carl ran for office in 1971, holding a seat on the City Council until he retired in 1995. He ran for mayor in 1977, but he lost in the primary by 67 votes.
He spent the 1970s and 1980s working for Snohomish County helping people find jobs.
Two of his three sons entered into politics. Carlton, 64, won two terms as a council member in Brier. Ron took over his father’s seat in 1995 and currently is the council’s longest-serving member.
His third son, Alex, who died in 1990, never had an interest in politics, Carlton said.
Around the senior center that bears his name, Carl is known for wearing shirts with funny sayings and comes for lunch once or twice a week before taking an afternoon nap, center director Deb Loughrey-Johnson said.
“Carl has a heart for public service and for developing an inclusive, inviting community,” Mayor Ray Stephanson said. “He is a natural leader and our entire region has benefited greatly from his many decades of service.”
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