Bus Tour Newsletter #17 – February 2022

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February is Black History Month. This newsletter is dedicated to the legacy of Black communities in Oregon, highlighting the contributions of key historical figures and Black-centered institutions in the Portland area.

Exclusion Era

Oregon has a lengthy history of racial discrimination when it comes to property ownership. In 1850, Congress passed the Oregon Donation Land Law, granting land to “Whites and half-breed Indians”, while excluding Native Americans and Black people from owning land.

That same year, Jacob Vanderpool, the owner of a saloon, restaurant, and boarding house in Oregon City was prosecuted in accordance with the second Oregon exclusion law, which was meant to prevent Black people from entering Oregon. He was the only person known to have been legally expelled from Oregon based on anti-Black exclusion laws.

Despite these exclusionary laws, in 1869, Leticia Carson, a former enslaved person, became the first Black woman to secure a land claim in Oregon. She worked for a white man named David Carson, gave birth to his son, and was promised that if she would live and work for him until he died, she would become the sole heir of his entire estate.

Letitia Carson’s Homestead certificate. (Source: Oregon.gov)

 

Racial Segregation and the Civil Rights Era

Civil rights leaders like Beatrice Morrow Cannady fought for civil rights well before the widespread American Civil Rights Movement began. In 1912 she became the assistant editor of The Advocate, Oregon’s largest African American newspaper after marrying its founder, Edward Daniel Cannady. Eventually she became not only its editor, but its owner in 1930 after she and her husband divorced. She was also a founding member and first secretary of the Portland NAACP, established in 1914.


Beatrice Morrow Cannady, 1912. (Source: Oregon Historical Society)

Civil rights advocate, Dr. DeNorval Unthank, was highly influential in championing the rights of the Black community in Portland as well. Recruited in 1929 specifically because the small Black population in Portland did not have a Black doctor, he was the only Black medical practitioner in Portland throughout the 1930s. He became the first Black member of Portland’s City Club in 1943 and served as president of the local NAACP. He also influenced the 1957 City Club research project, “The Negro in Portland: A Progress Report, 1945-1957,” which documented the fact that 90 percent of realtors would not sell a home to a Black person in a white neighborhood.


Dr. DeNorval Unthank (Source: OHSU)

During WWII, the Black population in Portland grew from 2,000 to 20,000. Check out our latest blog post to read about how WWII era industries shaped Black life and culture in Oregon.

The Black population in the Albina District grew significantly in the decades between 1940-1960. Governments, banks, and realtors all used social leverage to get the white population to leave. Racial segregation and steering led to the formation of the Black community in Albina.

In the 1940s and 1950s the Black population in Portland was mainly centered in Lower Albina, consisting of the Eliot, Irvington, and Lloyd neighborhoods. In 1950 more than 50% of Oregon’s Black population of 11,000 lived in Census tracts 22 and 23 in Albina. This was a single square mile that had a density six times greater than the city as a whole. This was due to their exclusion from other neighborhoods, and the loss of wartime housing in Vanport and Guild’s Lake.

By the end of the 1950s, there were 23,000 fewer white residents and 7,300 more Black residents living in Albina. With the urban renewal and freeway construction of the 1960s and early 1970s, the Black population shifted northward to encompass Upper Albina as well, consisting of the Boise, Humboldt, King, Sabin, and Woodlawn neighborhoods.

 

Modern Day

Today, despite the Black community in Portland having been involuntarily economically displaced throughout the Portland area, organizations like the Albina Vision Trust (AVT) continue a long tradition of self-reliance, activism, and community resistance within Portland’s Black communities.


Albina Vision Trust Orientation Workshop (source: albinavision.org)

As a nonprofit created in 2017 to steward the vision for the future of lower Albina, AVT is intended to link private interests and public priorities with community values. Its Community Investment Plan is a project meant to drive investment in Albina with mixed-income housing, businesses, arts, and the elements of community with the goal of a governance structure that assures affordability over time.

One nonprofit, the African American Alliance for Homeownership (AAAH) is offering its annual Homes for Sale Bus Tour on Sat., Feb. 19, 10am – 12pm to celebrate Black History Month. This year it will provide a virtual bus tour where participants will be able to virtually tour homes for sale in the Portland Area, learn about homebuying resources, play Black History Month Trivia, and win prizes.

Cleo Davis Jr. is a Black Portland designer and owner of Soap Box Theory and member of the Albina Vision Trust team. He was selected by the Regional Arts and Culture Council for the 2018 City of Portland Archives year-long Artist-in Residence for his work with the historic Mayo House. His interest in saving the house stems from his family’s experience in Portland. His grandmother, “Mama Julia”, lost an apartment building she owned on Sacramento Ave., the same street as the Mayo House, that was condemned in the 1980s.


Screen capture from the documentary Root Shocked (2019)

The 2019 documentary Root Shocked, tells the Davis family’s story, bringing light to generational loss, racial disparity in housing, and their fight for justice that so many Black Portlanders have experienced over time.

Another local nonprofit, Word is Bond, launched a storytelling campaign for the month of February. The campaign, In My Shoes, is a celebration of Black History Month that features nine walking tours in neighborhoods across Portland led by the community ambassadors of Word is Bond. The tours are designed to highlight the voices, dreams, and experiences of rising Black men as well as the neighborhoods in which they live. 

Here are some more ways to learn about Black history and celebrate Black History Month throughout February.

 

While you’re here, check out our Poster Contest! Hurry – The submission deadline is March 11th!

We want to hear from you

Is there a particular topic we discuss on the bus tour that you are interested in learning more about? Does your organization host events related to racial justice or other topics that come up on our bus tour? Email your events and ideas to information@fhco.org to have them included in our future newsletters. 

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