As the nation honors Black History Month, there is a local connection to celebrate: Federal Way was once home to Washington’s first black political appointee.
John Newington Conna is considered a key figure in Washington state’s early history. Born into slavery in 1836 in Texas, Conna eventually served as a free man in an all-black Union regiment during the Civil War.
In 1883, John and Mary Conna traveled by train from Kansas City to Tacoma. They settled on 157 acres in what is now the Panther Lake area of Federal Way, near the present location of the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center on SW Campus Drive.
Conna became a wealthy real estate agent and was active in politics, particularly in Tacoma’s black voting bloc.
Washington became a state in 1889, and Conna was appointed Sergeant of Arms for the first Washington State Legislature. He was the first black political appointee in state history.
He helped lobby for Washington’s first Public Accommodation Act in 1890, which expanded civil and legal rights for all citizens — especially minorities — to access public establishments such as hotels, theaters and restaurants.
At age 64, Conna moved to Alaska where he ran a real estate, mining and investment company along with a secondhand furniture store in Fairbanks. He ran unsuccessfully for the Alaska Senate and the Fairbanks City Council. He died in 1921 at age 85.
• Check out a timeline of history in the Federal Way area at the History Society of Federal Way’s website.
• Black History Month is celebrated every February in the United States and Canada. Click here to learn more.