Honoring Chief Claude Harris: A Legacy of Leadership in Seattle’s Fire Department at the 11th Annual State of Africatown


On March 2, we will come together with community stakeholders, public and elected officials, and supporters of our mission to build a more vibrant and thriving Black Seattle at our 11th Annual State of Africatown (SOA). Under this year’s theme, Building Our Legacy Together, it is our privilege to spotlight those whose endeavors significantly reflect our collective efforts towards a more equitable and just community. In keeping with our tradition of honoring community elders who have profoundly impacted our community, we are honored to recognize Chief Claude Harris as the SOA 2024 Elder of Distinction.

Chief Claude Harris’s legacy is distinguished not only by his historic role as the first Black fire chief in Seattle but also by his unwavering commitment to fostering equity with a justice focused lens during his time of service. His 40-year tenure as firefighter and chief was marked by groundbreaking achievements in advancing the representation and success of Black firefighters in a profession where they have historically and grossly underrepresented

Chief Harris has been a pivotal figure in mentoring Black firefighters, offering guidance, support, and encouragement to ensure they not only join the fire service but also thrive and ascend within its ranks. His mentorship has been instrumental in creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for Black firefighters, helping to pave the way for future leaders in the profession. Through his efforts, Harris significantly contributed to building a fire department that better reflects the diversity of the community it serves providing for necessary open doors and opportunities for those who would undoubtedly follow in his footsteps. 

Harris’s leadership extended beyond the fire department. His advocacy for social justice and his active engagement in community initiatives have made him a respected figure in Seattle’s Black community and beyond. By breaking barriers and challenging the status quo, Chief Harris has inspired countless individuals to pursue their aspirations in public service and to advocate for meaningful change within an industry that remains limited in its ability to provide equitable access to career seekers from the Black community.

In a recent article from The Seattle Medium, Chief Claude shares:

“I’m most proud of the other Black firemen I was able to recruit, counsel, mentor, and the ones I was able to motivate to take the exams,” said Harris. “I would insist all my battalion chiefs try acting driving jobs, acting battalion jobs, so they could see that they could do the job.”

We invite you to join us in celebrating the contributions of Chief Claude Harris and to honor a true pioneer – drawing inspiration from his life’s work as we continue to advance our mission.

Join us for this year's event. Space is limited. RSVP today.

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