Editorials

Naming a bridge for a living person is rare. This giant of Tacoma has earned the tribute

Harold Moss deserves to have a bridge dedicated in his honor, as the Tacoma City Council is taking steps to do. Over the last 60 years, is there anyone in Tacoma who’s made more connections and spanned more divisions than him?

The fact that Moss, the local civil-rights pioneer and African-American political dynamo, will see the East 34th Street Bridge named for him in his lifetime required some bureaucratic finesse. Under longstanding city rules, Tacoma streets, bridges and other places could be named for people only posthumously.

We’re pleased that council members changed the rules and will give Moss a high-profile public acknowledgment of his remarkable legacy, just in time for his 90th birthday on Oct. 1.

Place naming should never be used as a form of political payback or cronyism. City officials will have to guard against any abuse of the new rules. They also shouldn’t be too eager to approve all the name changes that may be proposed, which would dilute the significance of the honor — and render Tacoma maps confusing.

But as the city increasingly strives to reflect the guiding principles of diversity, equity and inclusion, nobody embodies those values more than Moss. The former Texan, who settled here after his Korean War service at Fort Lewis, had the tenacity to break down barriers of injustice not just for himself and his family, but for generations to come.

Mayor Victoria Woodards submitted one of several letters nominating Moss for the bridge tribute; she calls him her mentor, and they have a father-daughter type relationship that blossomed in the late ‘90s, when she worked for him. Under streamlined city rules, place naming (and renaming) authority now rests solely with the mayor and City Council.

Woodards’ letter emphasizes historic milestones in Moss’ political career: He became Tacoma’s first black City Council member in 1970, first black mayor in 1994 and first black member of the Pierce County Council in 1996.

One of his proudest achievements was helping put lights on the 34th Street Bridge, which crosses State Route 7 between East B and D streets. Woodards said renaming the illuminated bridge is fitting because it would “stand as a shining monument to the numerous ways that Tacoma is brighter today,” thanks to Moss’ leadership.

But in our view, Moss would stand apart as a bridge-worthy Tacoma icon even if he’d never won an election. He and his wife, Bil, fought bravely against the discriminatory postwar real-estate tactic known as redlining. He helped calm seething tempers and contain violence to a single night during the Mother’s Day Riot of 1969, a turning point in the civil-rights movement.

He won jobs for black contractors, helped found the Tacoma Urban League, built a long record of activism with the NAACP and continues to serve and inspire long into retirement.

Tacoma has no shortage of geographic landmarks named for local legends — the Murray Morgan Bridge across the Thea Foss Waterway are two that quickly come to mind —but the vast majority of honorees are white.

The city recently began to rectify the imbalance when it rebuilt the Puyallup River Bridge and renamed it the Fishing Wars Memorial Bridge, at the request of the Puyallup Tribe.

That change helped commemorate an extraordinary time.

Renaming the 34th Street Bridge will commemorate an extraordinary man.

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