Got to Have the Missionary Zeal

Golly, I get more information on a lot of past events that can’t be fitted into my way of writing. Some were incidents that didn’t have much of a story, but were amusing—thanks. However, those short and varied old time tales can be used by after dinner speakers to liven up their program. 

However, I did hit it lucky when Alice Nelson stopped in and left me some material on Glen Mansfield. I knew this guy before he left Davenport. What Alice handed me was a 1975 Magazine section of the Seattle Times that featured our own “Sleepy" Mansfield. He turned out to be a fighter for human rights, and is worth writing about. 

Glen left our fair city when World War II ended. At that time many people thought they were superior to blacks, Jews and other unacceptable races. Some still do, sad to say. 

Mansfield knew all about discrimination. He was deputy director of the Washington State Human Rights Commission. Mansfield opened the office of the original State Board Against Discrimination in 1949 in Seattle. At one time the agency dealt with about 2,000 complaints of discrimination a year. 

What does it take to be a civil-rights pioneer and work at halting discrimination for more than a quarter of a century? “You can have more degrees than a thermometer, but you’ve got to have the missionary zeal,’’Mansfield said. A colleague also added, “Glen has the capacity to stay in there...he is a guy who made the damn thing work.” 

When the human-rights agency was established, discrimination was regarded as a part of life by many, except for a group of "radical agitators" who didn’t believe it was right at all. “Oh, you got us all wrong! We don’t discriminate, we just don’t hire ‘em,"was the comment of a department-store personel director in Seattle in December 1949. 

Mansfield achievements ‘till his retirement was a long one. Originally the law applied to employment only, but later expanded to cover age, sex, marital status and the handicapped. It was no bed of roses. In all the years as a human rights advocate Mansfield had to put himself where the action was. 

It was reported that he was shy about taking credit for helping people who felt the sting of discrimination. But he did say of his years with the commission: “I think I’ve earned the title of chaplain.” 

Mansfield could be caustic when he heard tales of injustice. His fury was obvious when a young Chicano woman’s complaint came before the commission. She had been asked by a prospective employer what her religion was, and wasn’t it true that most Mexicans are Catholic? And what means of contraception did she use?

When it was reported to the press that her complaint had been settled, her employer called Mansfield, “How can I keep things like that out of the newspaper”? “Don’t discriminate,” Mansfield said, and abruptly hung up. 

Of all the many things that happened during Glen’s administration, you are bound to run into some amusing incidents, like when a black man filed a complaint with Mansfield, charging a motel with racial discrimination: 

“The complaint alleged that he and his wife had made a reservation for a motel room, but when they arrived they were told there had been a mistake. All rooms were taken. The man believed they were denied a room because of their race”. 

Mansfield said that investigation showed the motel had been half empty that evening, and the commission made a finding of "probable cause" of discrimination by the motel operators.--The motel owners agreed to apologize and offered free accommodations for the couple as well as pledging to cease discriminating. 

Two days after a copy of the order was mailed to the complainant, Mansfield received a phone call. The caller identified herself as the wife of the man who filed the complaint and asked: ‘ ‘What’s this business about us being turned down at a motel?” 

She told Mansfield that she had been at home that night and her husband had been out of town on business. * ‘Why would we want to go to a motel that is just a few blocks from our home anyway?” She asked. "You’ll have to take that up with your husband,” Mansfield told her. 

Shortly afterward Mansfield heard from the husband. “I think he called me a home wrecker, among other things,” Mansfield says. “I certainly hadn’t learned anything about handling that kind of situation in textbooks.” 

The most stirring story for Mansfield was the plight of a black Seattle policeman and his wife whose four year-old son drowned and was denied a burial spot in a cemetery because of race. 

Mansfield was unable to help that couple because then the anti-discrimination law did not include cemeteries in the definition of public accommodation. But Glen’s efforts made a big impression on the parents. 

One day in 1974—almost 17 years later, Mansfield was greeted in his office by the black woman. She identified herself as the mother of the child who had drowned. “Our son would have been 21 years old now, and I want you to know how much we appreciated what your words have meant to us through these years.” 

That case, recalls Glen, led to legislation which bans racial discrimination by cemeteries. With his eyes watering at the memory, he says: “Because of what that couple suffered, no other parents need ever suffer such humiliation and heartbreak in the state.” 

Gov. Dan Evans paid high tribute to the homespun man from Davenport, in October 1974, when Glen and the Human Rights Commission observed 25 years in business. The governor said Mansfield had made this state, "a better place to live for people of all racial and cultural back¬ grounds. He is a citizen that we can all be proud of."

As a young man, Glen started out life with a desire to see that no violence should settle disputes. I wasn’t there the night out at North Star Grange Hall, when lots of dancers were interrupted, because some guys lost their cool out in the entrance hall,—Glen rushed out from the dance floor and told the guys to stop their fighting. But instead of him stopping their fist swinging, he got hit over the head with a piece of stove wood. 

His first attempt failed, but that didn’t discourage Mansfield from working towards fair play.—A colleague in his office stated, “Mansfield has always been an activist, but more important, he usually kept us from flying apart. I always have found him in matters of race, sex or whatever disadvantaged party in our society, to be steadfast, deter¬ mined, patient, compassionate and wise. ” 

When Mansfield enrolled at Eastern Washington State College in Cheney, his previously all-white world received another jolt when he met his roommate. “I was scared to death—here was one of these blacks. We didn’t have any in Davenport. But he was a track man and so was I. So we ate together, worked out together and roomed together. I found him to be a good person and I resented the guff he had to take, the things said behind his back.” 

According to friends, Glen got his first start by teaching at the Hart one-room schoolhouse north of Davenport. —He and his wife, Susie, who also made a career for herself, were still living in Seattle. (1988) they come over to Davenport every once in a while to visit with his sister, Elsie and husband, Ted Lyse. 

Members of Mansfield’s immediate family have been victims of discrimination. Two of his four daughters and a son are deaf and have retinitis pigmentosa, a disease which causes blindness in later years. 

"Davenport's Fighter for Human Rights" Kik-Backs No. 3, page 53 (home)     (thread)

Seattle Daily Times  Sunday, November 23, 1975