A Ruston Way park will be renamed for a pioneering African-American Tacoma judge

U.S. District Judge Jack Tanner in 1997. Russ Carmack News Tribune file photo
U.S. District Judge Jack Tanner in 1997. Russ Carmack News Tribune file photo

A Ruston Way park soon bear the name of a longtime African-American civil rights activist and federal judge.

Marine Park is being renamed Judge Jack Tanner Park to honor Tanner, who grew up in a black working-class Tacoma family, served in a segregated U.S. Army unit in World War II and marched for civil rights in Mississippi before being named to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter.

The move was made Monday night by the Metro Parks Tacoma board of commissioners.

Metro Parks commissioner Aaron Pointer, who advocated for the honor, said it will help correct the lack of acknowledgment of the contributions of people of color to Tacoma’s culture and heritage.

“Names mean a lot to people,” Pointer said. “This kind of recognition will inspire a lot of people who might otherwise feel left out. Young kids who see the sign at the park may ask who Judge Tanner was. This may inspire them to learn where hard work and perseverance can lead.”

Tanner helped local tribes fight for their fishing rights, testified on behalf of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings and served as a mentor to young black attorneys.

In a 1989 pollution case, he refused to sign off on a settlement until the chief executive of the East Coast corporation involved flew to Tacoma to appear in his courtroom. In a 1993 drug case, he declared that institutional racism pervaded the entire U.S. judicial system.

He also picked up the nickname “Maximum Jack” for slamming convicted criminals with tough sentences.

Tanner died in 2006.

Marine Park is located on Ruston Way between Les Davis Pier and Duke’s Seafood & Chowder.

New signs will be installed and a renaming ceremony will take place sometime this year, Metro Parks reported.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor