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Unveiling marker honoring Black pioneer George Bush and his family

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A new monument honoring the legacy of Black pioneer George Bush and his family has been installed on the Capitol Campus in Olympia. A public unveiling celebration will take place at noon on Friday, November 19, 2021, with remarks by Granite and bronze monument honoring Black pioneer George Bush and his family as viewed from the front where a plaque dictates the story of the family and their significance to Washington state.Washington State Historical Society’s director Jennifer Kilmer, former state representative Eric Pettigrew, and others. Invited guests include legislators, the WSHS Black History Advisory Committee, and the Tumwater Historical Society. The public are invited to attend.

The granite and bronze monument commemorates pioneer George Bush, the first Black pioneer in Washington Territory, and his son William Owen Bush, who served in the first Washington State legislature. George Bush and his family settled near what is now Tumwater, and helped the U.S. establish a claim to this territory.

The monument’s location on the capitol grounds is near a living feature that also marks the family's heritage. When the Bush party left Missouri to migrate west, they brought root stock to establish trees in their new home. From one of those trees, now more than a century old, a nut was cultivated, and was planted on the Capitol Campus in 2010. The Bush monument is located on the lawn south of the General Administration and Helen Sommers buildings in view of the Bush Butternut Tree.

A duplicate of the Bush monument will also be dedicated on the Washington State University Tri-Cities campus in Richland, honoring William Owen Bush’s role in founding the college that grew into WSU. That dedication is not yet scheduled.

The Bush monuments were developed as part of a project to celebrate and share the history of Black Washingtonians. In 2020, in response to an initiative led by Representative Eric Pettigrew and the Black Members Caucus of the Washington State Legislature, the Washington State Historical Society (WSHS) was allocated $100,000 in the capital budget to lead a celebration of Black History Month. WSHS convened an advisory committee, which set project goals including the Bush monument, production of digital materials, and development of Black history curriculum for grades K-12. The committee's aim is to build resources that will connect Washingtonians to Black history across our state.

Stephanie Johnson-Toliver, a member of the advisory committee and president of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State, commented, “The monument is a visual reminder of the significant contributions by Black pioneer George Bush and the exceptional milestones we can attribute to his role in our state history. Beyond this honorary placement at our state capitol, this recognition champions true history and signals to people of all backgrounds that Black people were notably instrumental in building Washington State.”

Jennifer Kilmer, director of the Washington State Historical Society, added, "We are honored to have facilitated the Bush monument, and proud to see this physical marker at the seat of our state’s governance, recognizing the significance of George Bush and his family. The stories of Black Washingtonians have been underrepresented in our history, and this is one step in moving toward an inclusive telling of our state’s past.”

For more about the WSHS Black History in Washington project and advisory committee, visit www.WashingtonHistory.org/washington-black-history-project.