Black History Month: Roberta Byrd Barr

In celebration of Black History Month, we are hosting a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and events connected to the history of Seattle’s Black community.

Roberta Byrd Barr’s career path was anything but a straight line. As an educator, civil rights leader, actor, librarian, and T.V. personality, she awakened the Seattle community to civil rights and social justice issues often overlooked in mainstream media.

As a Seattle Public Schools elementary teacher in 1966, she headed a local Freedom School – a temporary, alternative, and free school for African Americans – after the Black community protested the lack of progress toward desegregation. That same year, she was appointed to the State Board Against Discrimination. Barr went onto serve as vice principal of Franklin High School for five years and was appointed as principal of Lincoln High School in 1973, becoming both the first female and the first African American in Seattle to hold such a position.

Her acting and television career spanned the 1960s and early 70s and began with a Cirque Playhouse production of “Raisin in the Sun.” She hosted a children’s story broadcast called “Let’s Imagine” and a weekly television show called ​”Face to Face” in which she welcomed guest speakers to discuss race, education, and welfare. Barr consistently pushed the envelope in discussing important, but controversial topics and often interviewed people considered too radical for other shows, like community organizer and labor activist, César Chávez.

Barr was a strong voice against racial discrimination and segregation. Her work to promote equality and social justice is an important part of Seattle’s history. Her legacy continues in the city today, most notably through Byrd Barr Place, an organization that provides basic needs services and programs that promote self-sufficiency. Learn more about Roberta Byrd Barr at: https://www.historylink.org/File/306

Photo: Historylink.org
Photo: Byrd Barr Place