Wing Chong Luke: His Life and Legacy

Wing Chong Luke, a visionary leader in Seattle in the early 1960s, was the first Asian American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.

Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Passport Photograph of Wing Luke (1931) by A. FongWing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Wing Luke's passport photo when he immigrated to the United States in 1931. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act it was unusual for Wing and his mother to be able to immigrate to the United States.

Family of Wing Luke (1925) by Hong Kong StudioWing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Wing sitting on his mother’s lap in a family portrait taken in China, circa 1925.

Spray CanWing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Copper laundry sprayer from Luke Family Laundry

Before the advent of large iron presses, laundries used small hand irons with hot coals and brass water sprays (operated by mouth) to press garments. This laundry sprayer comes from the Luke Family laundry, located in the University District at 1313 NE 43rd Street.

Wing Luke in High School (1942/1944)Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Wing was photographed for the Seattle Post Intelligencer at his family’s laundry with his father, mother and sister, Bettie, just after he was elected student body president of Roosevelt High School, May 1943.

Drawing by Wing Luke for a holiday card by Wing LukeWing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Wing's Art Creates Bridges

“When Wing was in grade school, every day he would fight off bullies who teased the Chinese students on the playground. Now, Wing was an artist. He created his own cartoon panels and decided to share them with the natural leaders at school.  Wing would go home and draw new episodes each night and his new friends would look forward to seeing the next episodes. They liked Wing so much they started speaking up in support of Wing. Soon the fighting stopped.”  - Bettie Luke, sister

Wing Luke in military uniform (1944)Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Wing was drafted into the Army in 1944 at age 18. He served in both the Pacific and European Theaters before returning home from the War in 1946. During his service in World War II, he earned a Bronze Star and received three combat stars.

Campaign poster for Wing LukeWing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

After returning from military service in World War II, Wing studied political science at the University of Washington and at American University, and then returned to the University of Washington to study law. While in college, among many other leadership roles, Wing served as his undergraduate sophomore class president and as president of the UW Young Democrats.

Wing Luke Campaign Headquarters (1962)Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

During his political career, Wing worked for civil rights, open housing, urban renewal and historic preservation. Despite racist smear campaigns against him, his career culminated in his election to Seattle City Council in 1962.

Lantern (1962)Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Wing joined other young Chinese American leaders as part of the Chinese Community Service Organization to launch community improvement projects in Seattle’s Chinatown. One project to beautify Chinatown and promote it for the World's Fair in 1962 was to hang decorative lanterns throughout the neighborhood.

Dedication certificate (1970)Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Wing worked to save historic city landmarks such as the Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square and the Wawona, an 1897 schooner that shipped out of Seattle for many years.

Campaign Photo of Wing Luke (1962)Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Wing served on Seattle City Council from 1962 to 1965.

“He was so enthusiastic and always concerned about individuals. He would listen to you. I can see him in that very first meeting, very wise, presiding over this meeting. I had never seen him before in my life. He would lean forward and had everybody in line.” Ken Prichard, Campaign Manager

Campaign Photo of Wing Luke (1962)Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Wing's Philosophy

“Preserving the ties and institutions that are part of our cultural heritage is not inconsistent with integration and one’s duty as a good American citizen. In fact, the essential vitality of the American life is that it is constantly enriched by heterogeneous cultures. This fact is recognized in the freedoms protected under the Bill of Rights.”Wing Luke, August 17, 1960

Wing Luke Memorial Museum Entrance (1968)Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Legacy

Wing died in a plane crash in 1965. He was last seen at Lake Wannacutt in Okanogan County, May 16, 1965, when he boarded a light plane for a flight back to Seattle. Community members contributed money to search for the plane, which was not found until October 5, 1968. Money left over from the search effort was put into a memorial fund to start a museum in Wing Luke’s memory.

Chinese shoes from Wah Young Co (1910/1920)Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

Preserving History

These Chinese shoes went out of style in the early 1900s, but they had been carried on the Wah Young Company’s inventory for more than 50 years. This sudden and unexpected discovery and glimpse into the past reminded Wing of how rapidly life was changing for the Chinese community and sparked the idea for a museum in our community. His vision was realized on December 1, 1967 with the Museum’s grand opening.

Wing Luke Asia Museum Staff (1993) by Dean WongWing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience

The Wing's Second Home

The staff of the museum in 1993. Photo by Dean Wong

Credits: Story

Dedicated to our visionary community members who started the Museum in 1966

In memory of Uncle Ben Woo (1923 - 2008) who helped us build all three homes of the Museum

Video Production
John D. Pai

Collections courtesy of
WLM Collection

Special thanks to
Bettie Luke
Ken Prichard
Judge Charles Z. Smith
Connie So
Evan Wong

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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