Wing Luke and Donnie Chin, Chinese Seattleites who died 50 years apart, have both recently been recognised for their life's work in civil rights.

A Cantonese émigré born to a laundryman and grocer, Luke (1925-1965) rose to become Seattle's first minority city councilman and Washington state's first Asian assistant attorney general in the 1960s.

Last September, the state's attorney general dedicated to Luke the civil-rights unit of the office he served until he died, in a plane crash. He already had a namesake museum, the Wing Luke Museum of Asian Pacific American Experience (dubbed the Wing), which opened in 1967 and later moved to its current location, a three-storey building in the Chinatown-International District that also houses several Chinese family associations.

Making up 4 per cent of the population, Chinese were the first Asians to settle in this northwest American coastal city, in the 1860s, arriving directly from Guangdong province or elsewhere in China, or relocating from California. These pioneer immigrants came to work as miners, loggers, fishermen, mill workers and domestics. As recession set in, racial tensions flared. The riot of 1886 saw the forced expulsion of about 350 Chinese men from the city.

Times have changed but the community remains rooted in self-reliance, and Donald "Donnie" G. Chin (1955-2015) was the embodiment of that spirit.

Besides running the family store, which was opened in 1911 by his grandfather, Chin founded - at the tender age of 13, according to his Seattle Times obituary - the International District Emergency Centre, to compensate for the slow response times by police and fire departments. Sometimes acting as a one-man patrol, Chin taught himself and others first aid.

Last summer, Chin died in the crossfire of a gang shoot-out. His murder remains unsolved. In February, a neighbourhood park was dedicated to him. City policy requires a person be deceased for at least three years before a park can be named in their honour, but the mayor, Ed Murray, made an exception.

"This is a fitting memorial for a man who dedicated his life to serving the children and residents of the neighbourhood he loved," Murray said.

Violet Law in Seattle