Heard of Papa Simms grocery store? Lecture reflects on Renton’s black history

Heard of Papa Simms grocery store? Lecture reflects on Renton’s black history

Two virtual lectures will be held at area libraries to celebrate Black History Month.

For Black History Month, local libraries are hosting lectures to teach attendees about the black history of Renton.

The lectures will be looking at that history, and answering questions like, “What brought most African American families to the Renton area? What factors caused the families to settle where they did? How many professional athletes grew up in the early Renton African American community?”

With the help of Renton History Museum’s research, John Houston and Benita Horn are hosting a virtual tour of the history of African American residents, including the original center of the black community, a single street in the Highlands sometimes known as “Renton’s hilltop.”

The tour takes guests from a grocery store, Papa Simms, that carried food items from the South that families couldn’t get at a Safeway and doubled as a hangout spot, to a cemetery with historically segregated burial sites and resting place of Jimi Hendrix.

The lecture champions successful locals while addressing the hardships African American families faced in Renton.

Houston and Horn both live in Renton. Houston is a lifelong resident and owns a local counseling business, Integrated Testing and Solutions, and Horn is an inclusion and equity consultant for the city.

Houston was born in 1953 and grew up on old Honey Creek, on that original street. His parents moved here from the South and were the second-largest black landowners. The property was taken by eminent domain by the school district, but no school was built. It was sold to a private developer for much more than his parents were given, Houston said.

Many black families on that street experienced displacement through eminent domain over the years. But instead of the facilities promised, other private developments sit there. Houston said this was an example of the systemic racism.

But Houston also talks about his love for Renton, and how he returned here to start his business.

“It wasn’t always pleasant here in Renton,” Houston said. “But it’s starting to look like the city that my parents would have dreamed of, where everybody has a chance to succeed if they’re willing to work.”

Most of those original families came from the South to work in the coal mines or farmed their own land. Those who worked in the coal mine faced hostility from white workers. Historical records show that some went back and forth from being a coal miner to a farmer on their acreage.

“Growing up there was seven black families on that street. It wasn’t easy for us to go to school without being called names,” Houston said. “But I want kids to know the way things are today, it just didn’t happen. Some lost their lives to get to where, I call it my city, is today. There were struggles.”

Horn said it is also important kids know there is a history of a strong and thriving African American community. And that, despite the displacement of the original black families, that community helped build and support the city in both leadership and small businesses.

Houston said he believes in the steps Mayor Denis Law with help of Horn, the Renton Police Department and school district have made to be more inclusive and equitable.

The lecture will be more of a conversation format, Horn said. The virtual tour was at the Highlands Library Thursday, Feb. 21 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. with a second lecture scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 at Fairwood Library, 17009 140th Ave SE, Renton.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Life

Johlesa Orm is a senior at Lindbergh High School and will be honored as part of the 2022 WA State STEM Signing Day, sponsored by Boeing.
Guest column: Using computer science to solve big problems

By Johlesa Orm, For the Renton Reporter

2021 Toyota Corolla XSE
Car review: 2021 Toyota Corolla XSE

By Larry Lark, contributor Hatchbacks are all about versatility and fun. The… Continue reading

2021 Mazda CX-30 Crossover
Car review: 2021 Mazda CX-30 Crossover

By Larry Lark, contributor The Mazda CX-30 Crossover made its North American… Continue reading

2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
Car review: 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport

By Larry Lark, contributor The Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport full-size SUV has… Continue reading

2021 Lexus RC 350 F Sport
Car review: 2021 Lexus RC 350 F Sport

By Larry Lark, contributor The 2021 Lexus RC 350 F Sport is… Continue reading

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS
Car review: 2021 Chevy Trailblazer RS

By Larry Lark, contributor Chevy’s 2021 Trailblazer is an entry-level, compact SUV… Continue reading

2022 Telluride Nightfall Edition
Car review: 2022 Kia Telluride

By Larry Lark, contributor Big, bold and boxy, that’s the newly tweaked… Continue reading

2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland
Car review: 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L Overland

By Larry Lark, contributor With almost 30 years and four generations under… Continue reading

2022 Mini Cooper S 2-door. Courtesy photo
Car review: 2022 Mini Cooper S 2-door

By Larry Lark, contributor They don’t come around very often, but when… Continue reading

2022 Infiniti QX60 Autograph
Car review: 2022 Infiniti QX60 Autograph

By Larry Lark, contributor If you want your SUV to make a… Continue reading

2021 Genesis GV80 Prestige
Car review: 2021 Genesis GV80 Prestige

By Larry Lark, contributor Genesis is branching out. With the introduction of… Continue reading