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How a sit-in at Franklin High led to lifelong activism and friendship

MOHAI, Cary W. Tolman Photographs, [2002.68.9.10]
In this photo, defendants (left to right) Aaron Dixon, Larry Gossett, and Carl Miller speak to the press at King County jail some time after their arrest for unlawful assembly in connection with the Franklin High School sit-in, March 1968.

In the 1960s, an era when activism across racial lines was uncommon, four Seattle activists became allies. They were called the Gang of Four.

Larry Gossett, Roberto Maestas, Bernie Whitebear and Bob Santos collaborated and supported each other’s efforts throughout their activism careers.

Larry Gossett, the last surviving member of the Gang of Four, spoke with KUOW’s Ruby de Luna about how he met Robert Maestas in 1968. Gossett was a student activist at the University of Washington at the time, and Maestas was a young Spanish teacher at Franklin High School in Seattle.

When three black students were expelled — one was a boy who fought with a white student, and the other two were girls who came to school with natural hair — Gossett said he received word that black students at Franklin were “about to tear this mother down.”

He showed up to advocate for a peaceful protest — a sit-in at the school. “We didn’t want that kind of violence,” Gossett said.

Maestas attended the sit-in and asked questions. And after students told Gossett that he was a nice teacher, the two men talked for a while.

“The next morning, Roberto Maestas went into the teachers’ lounge and said the following,” Gossett said. “‘My name from this day forward is not Bob. It’s not Rober​t. It is Roberto, and that’s the only thing I’ll respond to.’ And then they said he turned around and walked out of the teachers’ room. That was symbolic of the changes, of the impact of that sit-in.”

Year started with KUOW: 1994