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King County’s first Black legislator became the district court’s first African-American judge

Photo credit: The Black Heritage Society of Washington State, Inc.

Charles Moorehead Stokes was a civil rights attorney and judge who had a profound impact on Washington state employment law pertaining to minorities.

Born and raised in Kansas, where he attended law school and got his start as a lawyer, Stokes moved to Seattle in 1943. He was drawn to Seattle by the fact that there was only one practicing lawyer in the city at the time.

Stokes was the local lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and became an executive member of the Washington State Committee Against Discrimination in Employment, which played a major role in the passage of the 1949 Washington State Fair Employment Practices Act, according to NW Sidebar.

Stokes’ foray into politics started in 1950, when he was elected to the Washington state legislature from the 37th District in Seattle, becoming the first African-American legislator from King County and the third in the state, according to Mary T. Henry at His accomplishments in public office included co-sponsoring the Civil Rights Omnibus Bill, which was considered one of the most progressive civil rights laws in the country and placed Washington at the forefront of civil rights legislation.

In 1962, Stokes co-founded one of Seattle’s first black law firms, which produced two of King County’s first three black judges. Stokes himself was appointed judge in 1968, becoming the first African-American to serve on the King County District Court.

Stokes died on November 25, 1996 at the age of 93. Five years later, an overlook in the Sam Smith Park on the I-90 Freeway lid was named in honor of the distinguished judge and civil rights advocate.


Throughout Black History Month, Emery Reddy is celebrating Black legal professionals and institutions that were pivotal in the advancement of Black lives and civil rights more broadly.

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