July 03 2019

We Must Understand Our Shared History

As long as people have worked to find places to live throughout history, there also have been systems designed to separate us.

In this country, indigenous peoples were forcibly displaced from their native lands as America expanded from sea to shining sea. 

Many other communities of color also have long been the targets of housing discrimination, segregation, and displacement. Those communities have a long history of lifting up the stories of the impacts. Among those was the Chicago Freedom Movement, or open housing movement, supported by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which helped give rise to the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act more than 51 years ago. 

Since 2008, at FHCO, we've been telling Oregon's history of housing discrimination, segregation, and displacement on our popular "Fasten Your Seat Belt...It's Been a Bumpy Ride" bus tours.

Our tour continues to grow in popularity as many groups throughout our state are focusing on racial equity and justice issues. This year, we're in the midst of conducting 36 tours from April to October with a wide variety of groups, from City of Portland, Beaverton, and Multnomah County employees to Kaiser Permanente staff; the Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association to the Multnomah Bar Association; from arts and culture to non-profit and religious organizations.

These groups deeply engage with the subject matter on the tour, starting with understanding our history and its continuing impacts on communities today; finding ways to show solidarity with groups today continuing to experience discrimination as well as disparities rooted in historical practices and policies; and finally supporting solutions from those impacted and targeted communities seeking justice.

We make connections about past injustices that have echoes in today’s headlines -- like the 1988 murder of the young Ethiopian Mulugeta Seraw by racist skinheads and the 2017 murders on the MAX train allegedly instigated by racial hatred; or today’s presidential executive orders seeking to ban people of specific national origins, reminiscent of early 20th century immigration policies.

We highlight the solidarity of groups like the Japanese American Citizens League protesting the current incarceration of migrant children at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, a site that once imprisoned Japanese Americans during World War II.

Riders on the tour learn about community-led solutions, like the Project Working Group emboldened to bring back into community ownership the Hill Block, once decimated by an ill-fated urban renewal project in NE Portland that displaced African American families.

Together, bus tour participants reflect on our shared history and contemplate the continuing impacts today. They discuss how this history might inform their work today and make individual commitments to bring forth change.Over the past year, we also have continued the conversation started when we invited Richard Rothstein, author of "The Color of Law," to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the federal Fair Housing Act with us last April. Rothstein also recently narrated a short video about these vital issues entitled "Segregated by Design."

We have continued to add many aspects of his important work to conversations happening all around us. As various efforts come forward throughout the state, these important perspectives have become part of conversations about equitable development in our communities:

The state’s housing agency, Oregon Housing and Community Service, has committed to equity and racial justice among its six priority strategies in the five-year statewide housing plan.

The state legislature has developed a Joint Task Force on Addressing Racial Disparities in Home Ownership, which will reconvene after the end of the current legislative session and make recommendations later this year.

Recent conversations about removing exclusionary zoning practices in cities across the country also have spread to Oregon and Portland. Proposed legislation here would allow additional housing types in single-family residence zones. Those conversations, here and across the country, also have been informed by a shared history of racially segregationist zoning policies. A short video, "Zoning Matters: How Land Use Policies Shapes Our Lives" captures the important historical element of these conversations.

We’re hopeful you will join these and other conversations to help support perspectives that promote inclusive and equitable communities throughout Oregon.