Interview with Jim Stoffels
Civil rights movements
A National Park Service funded project to document the history of African American contributions to Hanford and the surrounding communities. This project was conducted through the Pacific Northwest Cooperative Ecosystems Unit, Task Agreement P17AC01288
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Jim Stoffels on July 13, 2018. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I’ll be talking with Jim about his experiences living in the Tri-Cities and his involvement with the organization, CORE. For the record, can you state and spell your full name for us?
James Stoffels: James Stoffels. J-A-M-E-S. S-T-O-F-F-E-L-S.
Franklin: Great, thanks, Jim. Tell me how you—well, I guess we’ll start from an earlier point. When did you come to Richland?
Stoffels: I came to Richland in June 1962.
Franklin: 1962. Okay. Where did you first live?
Stoffels: I rented a two-bedroom prefab in Richland on Smith Avenue. 1026 Smith.
Franklin: 1026 Smith.
Stoffels: Which is no longer there. It’s been replaced by a modern home.
Franklin: Yes. Yes, it has. I live like right by there, off of Thayer. It has been replaced. How did you first—did you have any involvement with civil rights before you came to Richland?
Stoffels: No. No, I didn’t.
Franklin: How did you first hear about the Congress On Racial Equality, or CORE?
Stoffels: Well, some neighbors moved in to the house next to me, and they were Herb and Rindetta Jones. And Herb was the head of the local chapter of CORE, the Tri-Cities chapter. That’s how I got involved.
Franklin: And it was you and your former wife.
Franklin: What was your former wife’s name?
Franklin: Georgia. Do you remember what, approximately, year that was?
Stoffels: No, I don’t. I know it was probably a couple years after I moved here, but I don’t remember.
Franklin: Okay. The first year I found a mention of you or Georgia was 1965.
Franklin: Does that sound about right?
Stoffels: Yeah. I was going to say ’64, but—
Franklin: ’64, ’65, okay. And what was your role within CORE during your time?
Stoffels: Well, I became the secretary of the organization.
Franklin: And what about your former wife?
Stoffels: Well, she didn’t have an official position, but I took the minutes of meetings and she typed them.
Stoffels: But I was the designated or the—I don’t know if we were elected or what—I was the secretary.
Franklin: What drove you to join CORE?
Stoffels: Well, I certainly knew about the black civil rights movement, and certainly supported it. So that was it.
Franklin: What were the major civil rights issues for African Americans at Hanford and in the Tri-Cities?
Stoffels: Well, segregation was one, certainly, because at that time, all of the African Americans, the blacks, the Negroes, as they were called then, lived in Pasco, literally east of the railroad tracks in Pasco. But other than that, I really can’t speak to what other issues there were. I imagine, discrimination probably in employment and in housing, certainly. Because, for example, Kennewick had no black people living in that city.
Franklin: What did CORE do to address the situation in Kennewick?
Stoffels: Well, I don’t recall if we specifically did anything in terms of Kennewick. The thing I remember most is the one march we had in Pasco. There was quite a considerable turnout for that. We gathered in front of the courthouse in Pasco. I guess we had some kind of a program there, but then we marched from there over to east Pasco. And I think our destination, as I recall, was Morning Star Baptist Church.
Franklin: What was the goal of the march? Or what were you raising awareness for?
Stoffels: Well, just the general issue of, you know, civil rights for African Americans. Discrimination, segregation.
Franklin: Did you work with any African Americans out at Hanford? Did you see many African Americans out on the job?
Stoffels: No. There weren’t any in the group that I was in. I did know—yes, I did know one or two. They were not professionals; they were, you know, blue collar workers.
Franklin: Did it seem that African Americans were mostly restricted to blue collar work at that time?
Stoffels: I would say yes, yeah. Yeah. You know, I didn’t think about it at the time, I don’t think, in that context. But I would certainly say that was the case.
Franklin: Do you remember a march in Kennewick at all?
Stoffels: No, I don’t, I don’t.
Franklin: Okay. So you said that Herb and Rindetta were your neighbors.
Franklin: And they were African American, right?
Franklin: And I assume over the years you developed a close relationship with them?
Stoffels: Well, I wouldn’t say I was close, because it didn’t last that long. I can’t remember when they moved away. And then I think that’s when, probably, the chapter of CORE here went out of existence.
Franklin: What do you remember about Herb and Rindetta?
Stoffels: Well, just, you know, they were a nice couple and they had two children. I don’t know what Herb did, what his profession or employment was. But then they moved away to Yakima.
Franklin: Oh, okay. What do you remember about anyone else in the Tri-Cities CORE? Did you form any other lasting relationships or professional or personal relationships with anyone else?
Stoffels: Well, I remember the Brounses; Dick and Nyla Brouns were in it, and we belonged to the same church. And Norm and Shirley Miller were in it. In later years, they were active in World Citizens for Peace. They were regulars on the sidewalk when we were protesting our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Franklin: Oh, later in the 2000s.
Stoffels: Yeah, right.
Stoffels: And the ‘80s.
Franklin: Oh, right, right. Yeah. What were the concerns of CORE in Richland? Was there a problem with housing or employment in the City of Richland?
Stoffels: Yeah, there was. And there was—at one point there was some kind of, I think, a housing commission set up by the city. I remember some meeting I attended that had to do with that issue, and there was a gentleman there, a black gentleman. I can’t remember what his name was, but I think he was an attorney. At any rate, I went to this meeting, and the members of this board, at least some of them, were realtors. And I didn’t understand that. So I went up after the meeting and talked to this man, and he just—you know, I was very naïve, and he just, you know, set me straight about, that’s the way it is. That some of the people that are on that board, not to promote the intended purpose, to frustrate the intended purpose of housing.
Franklin: Right. What was the concern of the realtors in selling homes or renting homes to—
Stoffels: I can’t speak to that. I don’t know. I just—
Franklin: Okay. What do you remember about efforts to end discrimination at private clubs like the Elks?
Stoffels: I think we had some demonstrations over at the Elks in Kennewick. But, you know, that’s about as much as I remember. I remember that it was an issue.
Stoffels: And I think we did some demonstrations. But I can’t be sure of that.
Franklin: Were there any threats or intimidations to either CORE members, white or black, or to African Americans in the Tri-Cities during the civil rights era?
Stoffels: Not to my knowledge, not to my knowledge.
Franklin: Okay. How did the rise of black nationalist groups, like the Panthers and Nation of Islam, affect CORE?
Stoffels: Well, I think by the time that happened, I think our local chapter of CORE was out of existence. And I don’t know how long CORE nationally lasted. I mean, it doesn’t exist nowadays. NAACP is the main black/African-American civil rights organization promoting that cause.
Franklin: What was the relationship between CORE and NAACP?
Stoffels: I don’t remember. I don’t remember. I don’t remember, you know, I don’t know when local NAACP formed. I don’t know if it was before or after CORE. The fact that CORE arose leads me to believe that perhaps NAACP hadn’t organized yet. But I don’t know.
Franklin: Okay. Hmm. To your knowledge, did any of the black nationalist groups form in the Tri-Cities?
Stoffels: No. No. No, there was no one that was that militant.
Franklin: What was the relationship between Richland residents working for the betterment of African Americans in east Pasco and the residents of east Pasco? Was there ever tension between the groups?
Stoffels: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, we in Richland were comfortable and isolated and weren’t bothered.
Franklin: Okay. What were some of the notable successes of CORE in the Tri-Cities?
Stoffels: I don’t know. I don’t know what we can point to as a success. I don’t know what we could take credit for. I think, you know, our purpose was to raise awareness, and certainly working for equality and open housing, integration and those things. But I don’t know that we, as a group, can claim any success in that area. But I think it’s certainly part of what ultimately did take place, in terms of integrating. And certainly—well, the fact that a black couple, family, in CORE was the first family—white family—to move into Kennewick. The Slaughters, John and Mary Slaughter, and their children. So they personally can chalk that up as a victory.
Franklin: Right, kind of helping to break the—
Stoffels: Break the color barrier.
Franklin: Yeah, to break the color barrier there. What were some of the biggest challenges?
Stoffels: I don’t know how to answer that.
Franklin: You mentioned working to raise awareness. How—was one of the missions of CORE—was there a general acceptance of the group in the Tri-Cities, or kind of, you know—or rejection or just kind of a antipathy to the message?
Stoffels: Well, I’m not aware of any general response. I mean, we were there and did what we did, and I’m not aware of any backlash from the community. You know, the African American members of the community could certainly address that better than I.
Franklin: The Brouns and the Millers, two other white couples that participated in CORE, told me that at times they felt social pressure or work pressure from their involvement in CORE.
Stoffels: Oh, really?
Franklin: Yeah, that they had had supervisors or friends question them or chide them for their agitation. I’m wondering if you had ever experienced—
Franklin: --anything like that in your work or personal life?
Stoffels: No, I never did. And I wasn’t even aware of it, you know, on their part.
Franklin: Okay. I think that is all of my questions.
Stoffels: Oh, okay.
Stoffels: The other thing I remember is that Georgia and I once hosted a party at our house for the CORE group. I remember, we had it in the basement, and I remember the Barneses were there, Dallas and Lozie Barnes. And I don’t remember who else. One person I remember is Dick—god, I don’t remember his last name. Anyway, he—god, senior moment. He later moved to Seattle and he became—at one point he was, I think, a member of the state legislature. God, I can’t think—Dick—I can’t remember. And there were a couple of musicians there, and I was thinking of their names the other day. Now I can’t think of it. It was a member. White man. Zane Casey. That’s it, I think. Zane Casey. And maybe it was he and his wife that just were a little two-person band.
Franklin: What was the purpose of the party?
Stoffels: I can’t remember if it was a Christmas party or what. It might’ve been a Christmas party.
Franklin: Any other memories from your time?
Stoffels: No. No. I’m trying to remember where we were when we met. I can’t remember if we met at the Morning Star Church or where.
Franklin: From the notes, it seemed like you—the group would meet twice a month, once in Pasco and then once either in Richland or Pasco. Morning Star seemed to be a popular place, as well as, there was like a diner in the east side of Pasco, I believe you met at. And then sometimes in Richland, you’d meet at—or sometimes at Richland or Kennewick, you’d meet at individual people’s homes.
Stoffels: Oh, yeah.
Franklin: And once I saw that—
Stoffels: Brounses, maybe?
Franklin: Yes, the Brounses.
Stoffels: Yeah, right.
Franklin: And once at your house.
Stoffels: And once they met at our house, too? Oh, okay. Yeah, I don’t remember meeting at the diner. But I do remember Morning Star Baptist Church. We were there a number of times.
Franklin: Did you have a close relationship with—did CORE work with Morning Star and the other black churches in its activities?
Stoffels: Well, you know, Herb is the head of the organization and, as a black person, I imagine, he did all of that. In terms of making those arrangements. I don’t remember—they might have gone—his family might have gone to that church. I don’t know.
Franklin: And you went to Christ the King?
Stoffels: Christ the King, yeah.
Franklin: With the Browns?
Stoffels: Brouns. The Brounses. And how did you get in touch with Kathy?
Franklin: I got her name from a friend of mine, Tanya Bowers, because people had mentioned—someone was in contact with the Brouns. There’s one or two of the sons still live here locally.
Stoffels: Yeah, Tom does. I know Tom and his wife.
Franklin: Yeah, and I called her or emailed her and we had a correspondence and she was—
Stoffels: Yeah, because Kathy lives over in Seattle.
Franklin: Yeah, she was passing through on the way to Boise for a wedding and stopped by and she brought a file that I gathered a lot of information from.
Stoffels: Oh, for heaven’s sakes.
Franklin: Yeah, it’s been a lot of good coincidences for the project. That’s how I found your name and I was like, oh, I know Jim.
Franklin: Yeah, let me see here, I might have one or other question. Well, I guess I’ll just go with the ending question. Is there anything else you’d like to mention related to segregation, civil rights, how they impacted your life or others in the Tri-Cities?
Stoffels: I really can’t think of anything. I mean, the thing that I gained out of it is the sense of community with black people. I annually go to the Martin Luther King commemoration over at CBC and I see people there, like the Barneses and the Mitchells. CJ Mitchell is deceased now, but the Mitchells lived just a couple blocks from us. Their daughter, Vanessa, babysat for us.
Franklin: Oh, really?
Stoffels: With our two young—our first two daughters.
Franklin: Oh, okay. Yeah, I know Vanessa really well.
Stoffels: So I always reminisce whenever I see her, and that’s at, usually, at that Martin Luther King event.
Franklin: So it was important, then, for you to be an ally of the civil rights movement?
Stoffels: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, sure, I mean, that’s why I was there. Just like World Citizens for Peace. I’m there because it’s important to me.
Franklin: Yeah. Did you transition to World Citizens for Peace after CORE or did your activism in CORE—
Stoffels: Oh, no, there was a long time between those two. Because we founded World Citizens for Peace in 1982. And that was in response to Reagan, President Reagan’s goal of building 17,000 new nuclear warheads in the ‘80s. In between, I was on the city council in Richland in the ‘70s for four years. I was elected in ’71, I believe it was, and served for four years. Couldn’t wait to get off.
Stoffels: Yeah. Well, I didn’t want to—there was a specific issue at that time. And I and a whole group of people were—got together around that issue. It was that the city council was extending water and sewer lines to what’s now south Richland, to the Meadow Springs area. They were going to be paid through the bills of all the people in the existing city. They had no policies for extending lines and assessing the ones who are served by it. So, we, this group, wanted to replace the members of the council who had voted for that. I think there were three positions open. Two of them, members of the group filed an opposition to. And there was nobody for opposing the mayor. I tried to get someone else to, you know. And nobody would. So, out of a sense of responsibility, I filed, and I replaced the incumbent mayor. Not as mayor, because the mayor is chosen by the council.
Stoffels: But as a—so I never really wanted to be on it, but I was. That was like a half-time job for me for those years. It really took a lot of my time.
Franklin: Yeah. That certainly does.
Stoffels: And at the time, it was not a paid position like it is now.
Stoffels: There was a stipend of $500 a year. And the last thing I did before I went off the council is I proposed an ordinance that the councilmembers should be paid, you know, as a part-time job. And it was adopted. Of course, I never got it, because something like that, you can’t get the benefit of, unless you’re elected again.
Franklin: Right. Interesting.
Stoffels: But I thought that was very important, because the lack of that meant that the councilmembers were predominantly members of the business community. So, they looked out for the business interests. And I thought, well, that’s not representative government. We needed to have that be a paid position, as a part-time paid position, so that the average John or Jane could run and be remunerated for their work.
Franklin: Right, yeah. Makes sense. Well, Jim, thank you so much for coming—
Stoffels: Yeah, you’re welcome.
Franklin: --and sitting down with us and talking about your time in CORE.
Stoffels: My pleasure. Good to reminisce about those years.