She Never Let Color, Gender or Age Stop Her
By Teri Baker
Don’t try to stereotype Marian Harrison. It just won’t work. She’s a woman, she’s black and she’s a senior, but belonging to three “categories” prone to discrimination has never stopped her from making her own way in the world or, from being a positive influence in the lives of others.
Marian Norwood, the second child of Glenna and George Norwood Jr., was born in Everett in 1931. The family home was located on State Street. The Norwood family traded their home for a farm of 62 acres near Arlington on the Jordan Road. Marian was eighteen months old at the time. A second son was born while they lived on the farm. Her mother and father divorced, but her mother stayed on the farm for seven years. “At least with the farm, we could always eat,” Marian says. “We never had money, but we weren’t ever poor.”
Marian started school in Arlington, but during the war went to Marysville for fourth and fifth grade. She describes a different experience than many might expect about growing up the only black child in her grammar school class. She says, “There wasn’t much teasing, perhaps because I wasn’t as dark, but I think it was more that I grew up in an area that was mainly Norwegian, Swedish, Danish and German. They didn’t come from a prejudiced society. Also, it was the Depression and it was neighbor helping neighbor.”
She attended Catholic school for awhile, went back to Marysville High School in tenth grade, graduated in 1949 and then attended the University of Washington for a few months. She married Lyman Lewis and had a son her husband never got to see. “Before I knew it,” she explains, “I was the 19-year-old widow of the Korean War.”
A few years later she wed Van Harrison, but the couple eventually divorced, leaving Marian with a son in college and six children at home. She says her older children had less difficulty growing up black in Arlington than the younger ones. “It was at the time when all the civil rights stuff had gone on,” she says. “Boeing was laying everybody off, and they were all leaving, while people from the rest of the country started flooding the area, bringing their prejudices with them. One year’s time can make a lot of difference in a high school, but it didn’t stop my kids from doing what they want to do.”
Glenna Barton (Courtesy Marian Harrison) Much of her children’s success can be attributed to the love, determination and perseverance Marian personifies. “There are no welfare moms in this family,” Marian states. “My mother, Glenna Barton, was a college graduate. She came here from Normal, Illinois with a degree in home economics. After we kids were grown, she went to nursing school at Old Edison Tech in Seattle and became one of the first LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurses) at Veteran’s Hospital in Seattle.”
And so, Camp Fire and Cub Scout leader and PTA member Marian did what had to be done to help her children succeed. “When my son went to college, I went to college,” she says. “I got a special degree at Everett Community College and went to work at Arlington High for eight years as a teacher’s aide, then transferred into custodial because they got a man’s wage. So I worked in that for 14 years.”
It was hard, honest work and Marian did it and more. She was required to join the Public School Employees of Washington Union, and at one time or another held every chapter position there was, became zone director for all chapters in the county and sat on the statewide board of directors. Two-time recipient of the Employee of the Year award, she is a lifetime member of the union and still represents it on the state retirement advisory committee and the employee retirement benefits board.
Marian is pleased that her children are also productive citizens. “I’m so proud of them,” she says. “One went to college on his dad’s GI Bill. The others got scholarships and student loans. One child was an exchange student to Japan, another to Iran. They are all very accomplished.” Best of all, Marian says, is that they learned to know themselves, and to be themselves.
And they have much reason to be proud of the woman who says, “My children went much farther than their mother ever did.” Marian has never used her gender or color as an excuse for anything. Yes, she has encountered prejudice, but she refuses to let it make her bitter. She volunteers her time and expertise for the good of others. She works with the State Family Policy Council and is on the Snohomish County Health and Safety Network and the Snohomish County Children’s Commission. She is also on the board of Evergreen Manor, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.
She works tirelessly on the Foster Care Review board, which she describes as “A bunch of citizens trained to look at out-of-home placements of children and make recommendations to the court for disposition.” The main focus, she says is to see if parents are following the court order and getting into court-ordered services. “We don’t let these kids languish going from foster home to foster home,” she says. “I am passionate about monitoring so kids don’t get shuffled around.”
Marian has also been politically active since attending her first Democratic caucus in 1984. She has worked on at least 30 campaigns, has been a national delegate to the Democratic Convention, was chair of the 10th District Democrats and currently chairs the 38th Legislative District Democrats. She is also a member of the League of Women Voters.
In addition, Marian has a well-developed interest in history, particularly her own family’s. As a child she would visit her great-grandmother Louisa Donalson’s store on the east end of Everett Ave. Mrs. Donalson had been born a slave and along with her second husband and family came to Everett from Abbeville, South Carolina before 1900. Louisa Donalson was a founding member of Everett’s Second Baptist Church. Marian’s grandfather, George Norwood worked in the woods at Granite Falls because black were not allowed to work at local mills.
She searched tax records, business directories, newspapers and family photographs and discovered her own father, George W. Norwood, Jr., served in World War One. She also learned about her family’s history as far back as the Civil War. “I hated history as a kid,” Marian says. “I didn’t care about elephants that went over the Alps. Now look at me. I’m involved in history all the time.” Louisa Donalson, Marian’s great grandmother, courtesy Marian Harrison
While working on the county’s Black History Project, she and fellow researchers discovered an old Ku Klux Klan membership form and an article about a gathering of 10,000 Klan members in Arlington. She learned about black ball players, military men, barbers and others who came to the Northwest after the demise of slavery looking for a chance to own property and make a fresh start. Her research has led her to become a member of Snohomish County Women’s Legacy Project, which seeks to recognize the contributions that women, including women of color, made, and are still making to the county.
Even with all this volunteering, Marian still finds time to enjoy her 11 grandchildren, be active in church, root for the Seattle Mariners and go to the symphony. She loves music and was a member of Everett Chorale until a car crash in 1994 broke several of her bones, including her spine, taking her five-foot-six frame to four-foot-eleven. But she hasn’t let even that become an excuse to sit back and become idle either.
How could anyone dare stereotype such a woman!
Source: Interview with Marian Harrison, February 2005
© 2005 Theresa (Teri) A. Baker All Rights Reserved; WLP Story # 16