Federal Way leaders honor Black History Month with proclamation

Federal Way pioneer John N. Conna was the first Black political appointee in Washington in 1889.

Federal Way leaders honored Black History Month on Feb. 1 at the Federal Way City Council meeting.

A proclamation declaring February as Black History Month was accepted by community members Maisha Barnett, Tirzah Idahosa and Trenise Rogers. The Federal Way Historical Society also contributed to the event.

“African Americans have played a significant role in the history of our nation and Washington State’s economic, cultural, spiritual and political development while working tirelessly to promote equality and a greater more responsible understanding of our shared history,” said Councilmember Erica Norton, reading from the proclamation on Feb. 1.

Federal Way’s proclamation honored pioneer John N. Conna, who settled with his wife, Mary, in Federal Way in 1883. Conna was the first Black political appointee in Washington in 1889. He was an attorney, realtor, businessman, and political leader in Washington and Alaska.

Conna was a captain in the Civil War and was later a member of the Missouri National Guard, according to a biography by Douglas Q. Barnett, his late grandson.

The biography states the Connas and their children were the first African American family to live in Tacoma after moving from Kansas.

Conna owned at least 157 acres of land in Federal Way between Panther Lake and the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, according to the historical society.

He donated parcels of land to Tacoma and the area now known as Joint Base Lewis-McChord, said Maisha Barnett, the great-granddaughter of John and Mary Conna.

After a series of political and business career endeavours, Conna traveled to Alaska in 1900 amid the Klondike Gold Rush where he was appointed as a federal judge for the state’s third Judicial District, the biography states. About 11 years later, he solidified his real estate and mining business.

Mary Conna died in 1907 and John Conna died in 1921.

“The spirit of their lives and their work is present in both leaders like Harold Booker, Representative Jamila Taylor, the Federal Way Black Collective and many others,” Maisha Barnett said.

Tirzah Idahosa also raised a question as to why there are no Federal Way landmarks, streets or schools named after Conna or other prominent Black leaders from the area. Mayor Jim Ferrell said he would look into possibilities honoring Conna with the historical society.

“The City of Federal Way believes in the equality of all people and stands ready to continue the important conversation and work towards a more equitable society,” the proclamation continued, read by Councilmember Lydia Assefa-Dawson.

Photo courtesy of the Federal Way Historical Society
John N. Conna.

Photo courtesy of the Federal Way Historical Society John N. Conna.