Tyree Scott, 1940 – 2003: Civil-rights, labor leader dies of cancer

Longtime Seattle civil-rights and labor leader Tyree Scott, who helped break the white monopoly of the construction trades in the 1960s and '70s, died yesterday morning at the age of 63 after a long battle with prostate cancer.

Mr. Scott will be remembered as both an idealist who envisioned a more just society and a humble man who was a skilled electrician, those who knew him said yesterday.

"He was a person with strong and intense charisma, and yet he was an easy-going everyday person," Metropolitan King County Councilman Larry Gossett said.

"He was the epitome of a civil-rights leader," said Oscar Eason, former president of the Seattle chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Scott was born in Wharton County, Texas, on May 29, 1940. After serving in the Marines in Vietnam, he arrived in Seattle in the mid-1960s, appalled that his father's electrician business faced so much discrimination, Gossett said, adding, "So he started organizing."

Thus began a long career fighting for civil and labor rights, with a special emphasis on economic development in the black community.

His activism, including high-profile work stoppages at sites such as Harborview Medical Center, forced what had been all-white labor unions to accept black members and local governments to give black builders and tradesmen a fair chance to win contracts. He later went on to the do the same in dozens of cities in the southwestern United States.

In 1972, Mr. Scott joined with Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes to form the Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office (LELO) to fight racial discrimination in Alaskan canneries and the corrupt regime in the Philippines of Ferdinand Marcos. Domingo and Viernes were assassinated in 1981 by agents of Marcos at their Seattle union office.

As globalization became the hegemonic economic reality in the 1980s, Mr. Scott began taking his labor and civil-rights mission abroad. He formed worker-to-worker relief organizations to help laborers in developing countries and held international labor conferences.

Mr. Scott and his family moved to Mozambique in 1990 for two years to work on an irrigation project. He was later an international observer in the country's first election in 1994, which followed a bloody civil war.

He wrote this of the experience in The Seattle Times: "The time to broker the peace is now and, as the case has been all along, there are no international observers. We are all participants."

Through the 1990s, Mr. Scott called attention to inequalities and tried to unite workers in common purpose for better wages and working conditions.

In 1997, he staged a kind of shadow conference to a conference of corporate leaders that was hosted by Bill Gates. Mr. Scott brought together 35 laborers from a dozen disparate countries in an effort to see how they could unite.

"This is one world today," Mr. Scott said at the time, "But it's one world for capital. Frontiers still exist for the rest of us."

Michael Woo, LELO spokesman, said, "He more than anyone helped shape my life and my perspective, and a lot of people can attest to that."

Mr. Scott is survived by his wife, Beverly Sims of Seattle; their two children, Seth Scott and Eula Scott; as well as four children from his previous marriage to Estella Scott: Tyree Scott Jr., Gregory Scott, Sharolyn Scott, and Surella Scott; sisters Doris Greene of Houston, Myrtle Westbrook of Hearne, Texas, and Shantelle Mears of Seattle; brothers Lorenzo Hendricks of Graham, Pierce County, and Roger Evans and Clifton Evans of Seattle; stepmother Loveda Scott of Seattle; and eight grandchildren.

He is preceded in death by his father, Seth Scott; mother, Surella Hendricks; and sister Daisy Brooks.

J. Patrick Coolican: 206-464-3315 or jcoolican@seattletimes.com