WSU Tri-Cities unveils monument commemorating Black pioneers

RICHLAND, Wash. — Washington State University (WSU) Tri-Cities unveiled a new monument to commemorate the Bush family, a line of African American pioneers who made significant contributions to the state’s agriculture and legislature.

George Bush and his son, William Owen Bush, were Black pioneers in the 19th century. Eventually, William went on to draft legislation to fund an agricultural college in the state of Washington. That college is now known as Pullman’s Washington State University.

The dedication was honored with a ceremony in front of WSU Tri-Cities’ Consolidated Information Center. Several speakers discussed the importance of the Bush family, and the impact they had on the Evergreen State.

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African American Community Cultural and Education Society (AACCES) Chair of History and Recognition, Leonard Moore, gave this information on the Bush family:

George Bush was a veteran of the war of 1812, he fought in the Battle of New Orleans. After the war he worked for the Hudson Bay Company and explored the North West territories. He was the first Black person to own property in Washington territory: Bush Prairie. It’s near [the] Tumwater/Olympia area. The closest tribe to that area is the Nisqually tribe. George developed a life long friendship with their chief, Chief Leschi. George had many crops and orchards, he logged lumber. He was known as a very generous man who helped many people in hard times.

William Owen Bush built on his father’s success in agriculture and he exhibited produce at the Philadelphia exposition, a centennial celebration in 1876. Bush purchased the first ship owned by early Washington settlers. It was called the Orbit, for the price of $35,000. This ship was used to transport wood products to ports in California.

George Bush died in 1863, before he was able to vote. William Owen Bush served in the first Washington legislature. Even before Washington was a state, he was involved from 1880 until 1890. 1890 being the year that WSU, better known back then as Washington State College, was established.

George Bush’s contemporaries were Marcus Whitman, Jason Lee, Isaac Stevens, and John McLaughlin. His name should be as well known and prominent.

The marker was made possible thanks to contributions from the AACCES and Washington State Historical Society.

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“It means a lot to us,” said Vanessa Moore, Treasure of AACCES. “We’re both Washington natives, grew up in Tri-Cities. And through grad school, junior high, high school, you have to learn about your state’s history and country right?

“It’s just unbelievable to me that we were not taught about the Bush family and their contribution and what they did.”

The Bush Family monument at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland.

The Bush Family monument at Washington State University Tri-Cities in Richland.

Students on campus showed excitement for the occasion. “I think it’s just an honor to just be here and be part of this and just witness this as well,” said Reem Osman, a student at WSU Tri-Cities.

This is also the first year that WSU Tri-Cities has a Black Student Union.

“It’s amazing because now that we have the support, we can go forward as who we are, and you know, not pretend to be something different,” said another student named Reshma Omar. “The campus is like ‘Okay, we accept who you are, just go forward with your dreams, look forward for your dreams;’ So it’s big.”

WSU Tri-Cities plans to continue their celebrations of Black History Month with Black Community Leaders Panel: SPEAK OUT!

The event will take place on February 23rd at 4:30 p.m. at the Student Union Building and over Zoom. For more details, click here.

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