Preserving the past
July 4, 2008 · Updated 10:30 AM
By CHARLES MELTON
Dianne Robinson is known as the Bremerton City Council District 6 representative, an active member of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, a member of the Bremerton chapter of the NAACP and a myriad of other titles reflective of her commitment to the local community.
Even with that abundance of activity, Robinson hasnt forgotten the past as she is in many respects the matriarch of African-American history in Bremerton and Kitsap County.
In the beginning, Robinson was a one-woman research machine who spent countless hours at the county courthouse and other archival depositories looking for anything she could find about the contributions and lives of African-Americans in the area.
I remember going to the library which was in Silverdale and asking Suzanne Arness where I could find anything on black history, Robinson recalled. I was told there wasnt much, so thats what I set out to do.
Her inspired perseverance produced almost immediate results as she uncovered information about John Garrison, who was one of the first African-American settlers in what is now Bremerton.
Mr. Bremer bought land from Mr. Garrison, Robinson said.
Garrison was married to a Native American woman named Anne and their couple along with their children were among the first pioneers in the area, she said.
While many people believe that the creation of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard brought the first influx of African-Americans to Kitsap County, Robinson said the saw mill industry, which was at its heyday in the late 1800s actually drew a significant number of African-American settlers to the area.
The information she accumulated led to the creation of the Black Historical Society of Kitsap County in 1982, and in 1985 the organization printed its first informational pamphlet about the contributions of blacks in the county.
Now the society has a home of its own at 1204 Park Ave. in Bremerton, where Roosevelt Smiths collection of black Americana is currently on display.
The exhibit was expected to close at the end of the month, but Robinson said she hopes to be able to keep it open for as long as possible.
If we can get some of the school districts to bring kids in, we can keep it open longer, because its a part of our history, she said.
One of the major accomplishments in the preservation of black history in the county was the completion of the Sinclair Heights project in 2005, which was done by the state of Washington with a significant contribution from Robinson.
Sinclair Heights housed blacks who worked at the shipyard during World War II and was home to Quincy Jones among others, but now little is left of the structures and the area is dominated by automobile dealerships on what is now Auto Center Way.
It used to be a village, but now not much is left, Robinson lamented.
On a more positive front, the Black Historical Society of Kitsap County will be featured prominently on March 8 as the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle celebrates its grand opening.
Among those featured on the brochure for the event is Bremerton civic leader and Tuskegee Airman Al Colvin, who recently passed away.