Langston Tabor Dies At 56; Inspired Minority Contractors, Young People

Langston Tabor for more than 20 years was a beacon to fellow minority contractors, and also to young people following diverse paths, including his own electrical trade.

"As an African American, I grew up with a sense of social responsibility," he once told a Seattle Times reporter. "I realized that what was needed was employers."

He launched Tabor Electric with a loan secured by a $400 unemployment check and collateral consisting of bills for his finished projects.

Through force of will, knowledge and a desire to teach the trade, he expanded Tabor Electric from one employee to dozens. His Fremont firm has wired airports in several states and many commercial buildings, including skyscrapers. Last year alone it posted more than $5 million in sales.

He also championed young people and single parents and campaigned vigorously for minority contractors.

Mr. Tabor died Thursday (Nov. 12) of a stroke. He was 56.

He died a few days after Washington state voters passed Initiative 200, a measure that he openly opposed. The ballot measure ends affirmative-action practices in public contracting, education and employment.

In a recent Seattle Times story he was quoted as saying he doubted his business would survive the end of affirmative action. Tabor Electric was winning government contracts exceeding $1 million annually - the bulk of its revenue. He said builders might not want to work with even a well-known minority businessman without the encouragement of government agencies.

In 1978, he had trouble being accepted in the electrical trade. That's when he opened his business, hired electricians and apprenticed himself to them. Later he made it a point to help young people; if they were motivated, he taught them.

"He is a wonderful man who has accomplished much in business and in his community," said Maude Scott, a friend. "He has been the single parent for a terrific boy and coached dozens of kids in baseball and basketball. He took everything he did, even coaching, very seriously."

A favorite volunteer project was training low-income women in the Central Area how to rewire their own condominiums. Mr. Tabor donated the electrical systems.

Working with the Central Area Youth Association (CAYA), he taught six youngsters to wire a 20,000-square-foot building.

"He was very much into empowering people," said his friend Eric Swenson. "That included power in the electrical sense. He was so patient, and one of the most admirable people I've known."

In 1991, Mr. Tabor earned 14 percent of the vote for a position on the Port of Seattle Commission.

In 1993, he attended ceremonies at the White House after the U.S. Commerce Department named his company National Minority Construction Firm of the Year.

Born in San Antonio, Mr. Tabor grew up in Berkeley, Calif. He attended Harvard University and the University of Ghana in Africa and earned a bachelor's degree in law and society from Western Washington University in Bellingham, where he also taught.

Before becoming a journeyman electrician and a state-licensed electrical administrator, he was a prison guard and Vista volunteer. After coming to Seattle in 1968, he helped the state Office of Community Corrections find alternative corrections methods for nonviolent offenders.

Mr. Tabor was inspired to become an electrical contractor while studying in Africa. He saw black engineers and technicians building a major dam and wanted to attempt such projects in the United States.

He lived in Seattle 30 years, owned a houseboat and enjoyed sailing, competitive chess and coaching youth sports.

Mr. Tabor was a former member of the Washington State Technical Advisory Committee on Crime and Delinquency, the Federal Contractors Association, and the Ethnic Heritage Association.

Survivors include his 12-year-old son, Biko Tabor of Seattle; his mother, Doris Branch Tabor of Berkeley; and his sisters, Lynnda Tabor and Doris Floyd, both of Berkeley. His wife, Abby, died in 1993.

Services have been held. Seattle Times reporter Tyrone Beason contributed to this report.

Carole Beers' phone message number is 206-464-2391. Her e-mail address is: