James E. Chase was a prominent and respected civic leader in Spokane, Washington. He served as the first black mayor in Spokane’s history.
Chase was born in Wharton, Texas in 1914 to a poor family. The Great Depression put an end to his high school education when his all-black high school closed. He worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps in El Paso.
Chase shined shoes at a local barbershop and in 1939 went into the auto body repair business. He did repair work for the Army air base in Spokane during World War II. He became president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP in 1950, a post he held for 17 of the ensuing 19 years.
Chase was elected to the Spokane City Council in 1975, the first black council member since the 1890s. He ran for mayor in 1981 and won by a landslide. Chase served a successful term as mayor, but ill health in 1985 prevented him from seeking a second term. He died of cancer in 1987.