B.J. Mangaoang, a longtime leader of the Communist Party of Washington state, died Oct. 20 at the age of 92.
B.J. was born Baba Jean Sears in a homestead house in Bellevue, Wash., in 1915. She grew up in the then-rural area with her brother John.
In her political life, B.J. was principled, dedicated and persistent, inspiring many with her devotion and consistency. She participated in peace movements against the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War, and the current Iraq war. She was active in the civil rights movement, the labor movement and in many other local and state struggles.
She actively participated in the movement for socialism until her death. Her life’s work was recently honored at the western regional conference of the Communist Party USA and at the annual dinner of Jobs with Justice in Washington state. The next meeting of the King County Labor Council will have a moment of silence to honor B.J. for her union work.
As a student at the University of Washington (UW) in the 1930s, B.J. became radicalized by events of that time, including the 1934 longshore strike, and by some of her professors who introduced her to Marxism. Joining the Communist Party in the late 1930s, she also joined the mass movements of the time: the Washington Commonwealth Federation and the Washington Pension Union.
In 1940, she sang with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger while driving them to union meetings to perform.
In the late 1940s, B.J. lived in Tacoma, Wash., and helped lead housing struggles. She married her first husband, Robert Decker, with whom she had a daughter, Susie. In 1950, she ran for Congress on the Progressive Party ticket.
During the 50s she helped lead the fight against prosecution of CP state leaders under the Smith Act, and fought against the Canwell Committee, set up by the state Legislature in part to get radicals fired from the UW staff, including several who had been her professors, Joe Butterworth and “Scoop” Phillips.
She attended the historic Peace Arch Concert given by Paul Robeson at the border between the U.S. and Canada in 1952. The great African American signer and activist had been invited to perform for a Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers union convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, but couldn’t cross the border because his passport had been revoked, so instead the convention (and many other people) came to the border to hear him sing.
She married her second husband, Ernesto Mangaoang, a leader of the Cannery Workers Union, ILWU, in 1954, and helped him in his successful fight against deportation for his political and union organizing activities, a legal case that was finally settled by a Supreme Court decision. They had a daughter, Juana, in 1955.
When Ernesto became ill, B.J. began working for the Mechanical Engineering Department of the UW as a secretary. She became an elected member of the executive board of Local 1488, Washington Federation of State Employees, AFSCME, where she served for many years. She was widowed in 1968.
In the mid-1960s, B.J. became organizational secretary for the CP of Washington state, while continuing her full-time job. In 1975, she became district organizer, doing full-time political work. She held that post for 25 years, retiring in her mid-80s, while continuing as a member of the party’s state committee.
She was a member of the CP’s national committee, and chaired sessions at several national conventions. She frequently testified before the Seattle City Council and the King County Council on issues of public concern, from utility rate hikes to police misconduct. She helped defeat the “loyalty oath” for candidates for public office in the state.
B.J. ran for mayor of Seattle in 1977, and for governor in 1988, when she garnered over 6,000 votes.
B.J. was an avid gardener, loved sharing good food with friends, and enjoyed driving into the mountains of western Washington, stopping to sit by streams and read. She loved opera and played piano. Several years ago, she moved into senior housing at Council House in Seattle, where she played an active role in activities from card playing to building governance to peace gatherings.
All her life, B.J. lived a life rich in principles, rich in participation, rich in connections to and commitment to others. She was a mentor, teacher, comrade, leader and an inspiration.
B.J. is survived by her daughters, Susie Hunt and Juana Mangaoang, and by grandchildren Rosario Sprague, Vonetta Mangaoang, and Francesca Mangaoang-Brodine, and Will Hunt.