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Wing Chong Luke (1925-1965, Chinese: 陸榮昌; pinyin: Lù Róngchāng) was Assistant Attorney General of Washington state in the Civil Rights Division from 1957 to 1962, and a member of the Seattle City Council from March 13, 1962, to his death in 1965. He was the first Asian American to hold elected office in the state.

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History

Luke was born in 1925 in a small town near Canton, China. At the age of five, his family moved to the United States, but he did not settle in Seattle until the age of six. Upon their arrival in Seattle the family saved to open a modest laundry and grocery store in the University District.

While in school, Luke was often teased simply because he was Chinese American. One day, he couldn't put up with it anymore so he stood up to the bullies — earning the respect of his peers as well as his adversaries. He eventually became the Roosevelt High School student body president and in 1944 his grades and civic activities earned him one of 9 slots as a high school consultant for the White House Conference on Juvenile problems.

College and the military

Only half way through his senior year, Luke was inducted into the Army. Initially in the Army Specialized Training Program, he then joined the infantry and field artillery and was acting first sergeant and regimental S-1 sergeant in the 40th division Field Artillery. He served in Guam, Korea, New Guinea, New Britain and the Philippines where he received the Bronze Star.

Following his service, Luke entered the University of Washington. As in high school, Luke was a prominent leader. He was President of his sophomore class, the U.W. YMCA, the Baptist Discipline Center, the U.W. Red Cross, U.W. Young Democrats, and the committee chairman of A.S.U.W. Publications. He graduated from the university with a B.A. in political science and public administration. He did graduate work in the same fields at the American University in Washington, D.C. returning to the U.W. he earned a L.L.B. in law.

Initially in private practice, he soon was appointed the Assistant Attorney General of the State of Washington, in the Civil Rights Division and served in that capacity from 1957-1962. In December, 1961 Luke took a leave of absence from his duties to file for position number 5 on the Seattle City Council. Running on the slogan "You are not electing a platform, but a Councilman," Luke maintained a pragmatic position on the issues. Defending criticism of "fence sitting" as well as racial slurs, Luke won the council seat and was sworn in March 13, 1962 and became the first Asian American to hold elected office in the Pacific Northwest.

Views

Luke saw many of his contemporaries forced to live in racialized pockets like Beacon Hill (largely Asian Americans) and the Central District (largely African Americans) and felt strongly that the ability to decide where one will live should be a basic right of all citizens. Knowing first hand the effects of racial discrimination, Luke was instrumental in Seattle's passing of an Open Housing Ordinance in 1963 with punitive provisions against racial discrimination in the selling or renting of real estate. He fought for civil rights, urban renewal and historic preservation.

Luke's plans for the future came to a tragic end in 1965. Returning from a fishing trip to Lake Wannacutt in Okanogan County, a light plane he was riding in crashed. The wreckage was not found for more than three years.

Believing that the culture and traditions of Chinese and other Asian immigrants should be preserved and taught, Luke envisioned a place to present the history and important issues of Asian Americans. The Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle's International District was founded to fulfill that vision.

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