A glimpse into Tacoma’s African-American history

During World War II, volunteers were the backbone of the United Service Organization (USO). In this circa 1946 photograph, eight USO volunteer Senior Hostesses posed around a refreshment table for an event held at the USO No. 2 located at 713-15 Commerce Street in Tacoma. Dedicated on September 4, 1942 for the use of black servicemen, war workers, service wives and junior hostesses, USO No. 2 included a dark room, music room, hobby room, game room, showers, sleeping accommodations (under the supervision of the Council of Churches), library, and snack bar. Tacoma was one of several US cities with USO centers designed exclusively for black soldiers during the war. By the time it closed on March 30, 1947, nearly a million service personnel, war production workers, and civilians had passed through its doors.

Pictured third from the left is Helen Stafford, opens a new window, a long-time community activist and civil rights advocate in Tacoma who worked tirelessly for social change and gave countless volunteer hours to a wide variety of organizations. This photo is from her personal collection, opens a new window of photographs and other materials, held in Tacoma Library’s Northwest Room at Main Branch.

Find this and many more historical photos of Tacoma in our Image Archive, and be sure to visit the Northwest Room at Main Branch to learn more about the history of Tacoma’s African-American community.