Rosa D. Malone arrived in Spokane as a Works Progress Administration supervisor and founded the Booker T. Washington Community Center in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church in 1937. African Americans could meet and socialize there at a time when signs reading “No Colored Patronage Solicited” were common. The center’s daycare cared for about 35 children each day.
When WWII started, the movement of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines across the nation led to the formation of the USO, an umbrella organization which brought together service organizations to provide hospitality and entertainment for military members serving across the country and far from home. USO clubs were dubbed a “Home Away from Home” and the first one opened in 1941. Clubs were segregated and African American soldiers were not welcome.
In Spokane, the community center shut down during the war and Malone organized the George Washington Carver USO inside a former meat market at Division St. and First Ave. It was for Blacks only, where servicemen could eat, attend dances, read a book or get a shower.
Malone recruited as many as a hundred women to act as hostesses, greeting soldiers, preparing food, playing games and dancing with the men who visited. Playing cards was a favorite pastime. The club was important for the resident soldiers and airmen at the local bases who would otherwise be stuck in their barracks with few welcoming places to go.
Like most of the USO clubs across the nation, the Carver USO club was shut down in 1947 and Malone restarted the community center. A local NAACP leader, Frank Stokes, publicly accused Malone of perpetuating segregation at the center, which was now funded by the Community Chest, a forerunner of today’s United Way. A bitter public spat played out and the Community Chest withdrew funding. The center closed in 1948.
Malone, a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute, died from injuries in a car accident in 1959. Her obituary mentions that she was friends with Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and boxer Joe Louis.
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