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The Activism of “Little Interactions”: A Historical Case Study


  • Beth Kraig


Following the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama favorably described the role that incidental “little interactions” between people can play in building an inclusive society. Centering on a historical case study, this article argues that historians, educators, and activists should address the characteristics of the activism of little interactions, defined as small personal encounters that reduce prejudice and promote social justice, but generally occur without participants envisioning themselves as activists. The case study analyzes efforts to support an interracial family that moved into an all-white Seattle neighborhood in 1948. With reinforcement from Lewis Gould Watts, neighborhood secretary of the Seattle Urban League, a cohort of white neighbors gradually used conversations and other small encounters, usually within their daily routines, to promote racial integration where they lived. Complementing more traditional and visible forms of activism, the activism of little interactions has contributed to the shaky steps taken by the United States toward full integration.