Bus Tour Newsletter #28 – January 2023

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Did you know that the concept of fair housing came directly out of the civil rights movement and the work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? We celebrate the impact of Dr. King on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is observed on Monday, January 16 this year. This month’s newsletter will highlight how the civil rights movement and the open housing movement influenced the fair housing practices we still use today.


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Portland

The civil rights movement in Portland was directly influenced by the larger national movement and the work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., along with other notable civil rights leaders of the time.

In 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Vancouver Ave. Baptist Church in North Portland, known for its prominent role in the civil rights movement. The pulpit he spoke at is still used by the church today. That same day, he also spoke at a Civil War centennial event at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, formerly known as Old Main, giving a speech titled The Future of Integration. That afternoon he gave the same speech at Lewis and Clark College. 

Dr. King also met with community members at the home of Urban League President E. Shelly Hill. His final stop in Portland on that 1961 speaking tour was at Keller Auditorium, which was then known as the Civic Auditorium. There he addressed a crowd of 3,500 during the Urban League‘s Equal Opportunity Day, giving a speech titled Facing the Challenge of a New Age. In his speech, he said that segregation was “slavery covered up with nothing but the niceties of complexities.” He also stated that the choice Americans faced was stark: it was “between nonviolence or nonexistence.” 


Martin Luther King, Jr., visits Vancouver Ave. First Baptist, 1961. (Source: Oregon Encyclopedia/ Oregon Hist. Society Research Lib.)

The civil rights movement had a major impact on housing rights issues in Portland at the time. In 1963, the NAACP protested the Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) at Portland City Hall to draw attention to racist housing policies in Portland. Members of the NAACP distributed flyers on September 4 and October 30, 1963. The first five grievances listed on them included HAP’s history of planning racially segregated housing projects, and the second five points addressed the news media’s portrayal of the NAACP as being primarily responsible for the cancellation of a planned September 27 visit to Portland by President John F. Kennedy.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Though his life was taken in Memphis, Tennessee while supporting striking sanitation workers, his premature death caused ripples that spread across the nation, sending shockwaves all the way to Portland. His violent death caused Portlanders to pause and reflect on issues of racial discrimination, and especially galvanized activists in Portland’s Black communities to demand that city leaders address issues of racial discrimination.

Two months later, on June 14, 1968, the Portland City Club posted a bulletin titled, Report on Problems of Racial Justice in Portland. The report exemplifies the push to address racial issues in Portland during the civil rights movement. It details issues related to employment and economic opportunity, education, public welfare, housing and urban renewal, police and law enforcement, discrimination of private organizations, and citizen participation in local government.

In 1989, Portlanders honored Dr. Martin Luther King’s memory and influence by renaming Union Avenue Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Bernie Foster, passionate changemaker and editor of The Skanner, led the charge to rename the street. Although the Portland City Council approved an ordinance to change the name on April 20, 1989, a group of opponents called Citizens for Union Avenue attempted to stop the change through a campaign that brought the issue all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the city commission vote was an administrative decision, not a legislative one, and not subject to change through an initiative.

In 1998, the artist Michael Florin Dente sculpted a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. titled, “The Dream,” dedicated to his legacy. The statue depicts Dr. King with an immigrant, a worker, and a child. Dr. King saw the connections between these oppressed groups of people, a theme of solidarity. 

“The Dream” statue outside the Oregon Convention Center along Martin Luther King Blvd.  (Source: Oregon Convention Center/Pinterest)
You can learn more about Oregon’s civil rights movement through Oregon Historical Society’s online exhibit, Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years.



The Chicago Freedom Movement & Fair Housing Testing

The practice of fair housing testing conducted by FHCO and other fair housing organizations came out of the Chicago Freedom Movement, also known as the open housing movement. “Open housing,” which is the basis for the Chicago Freedom Movement, comes from the call for a housing market that does not restrict access to anyone based on their protected identity, including race and national origin, which are federally protected classes today. 

The leaders of the Chicago Freedom Movement created the concept of fair housing testing while demonstrating against race-based discrimination. Fair housing testing includes practices like two testers posing as prospective renters who have the same rental profiles – except for a protected class characteristic – both applying for the same unit to test for discrimination based on protected class status. As Dr. King himself explained

We sent Negroes in large numbers to the real estate offices in Gage Park. Every time Negroes went in, the real estate agent said ‘Oh, I’m sorry we don’t have anything listed.’ And then soon after that we sent some of our fine white staff members into those same real estate offices and the minute those white persons got in, they opened the book. ‘Oh yes, we have several things, now what exactly do you want?’ 

Chicago Freedom Movement march, South Kedzie Avenue, August 5, 1966. Courtesy National Museum of African American History and Culture. (Source: Chicago Freedom Movement (1965–1967)/ blackpast.org)
Dr. King’s march at Marquette Park, an all-white Chicago neighborhood, was met with incredible hostility. White counter protesters threw bottles and bricks at demonstrators, and one even struck Dr. King in the head with a rock. Afterwards, King stated in an interview that he had not experienced anti-civil rights demonstrations in the South as hostile and violent as the one he experienced in Marquette Park.


The violence by white counter protestors at the first demonstration pushed Dr. King and the Chicago Mayor to reach a negotiation as soon as possible with the Chicago Housing Authority. On Aug 26, 1966, the Chicago HOA promised to integrate public housing in white neighborhoods, and the Mortgage Bankers Association agreed to stop discriminating on race/neighborhood, policies that would directly influence the Fair Housing Act’s creation and passage.

The Chicago Freedom Movement led to the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, however the practice of testing did not have legal standing until the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. This bill expanded the scope of the original Fair Housing Act legislation and significantly strengthened its enforcement.



Are you interested in helping FHCO with this important work? Click the button below to sign-up to become a Fair Housing Tester:

Become a Fair Housing Tester


MLK Day Events & Volunteer Opportunities



There are many ways to honor and commemorate Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of civil rights achievements. Here are some celebrations and volunteer opportunities to check out throughout the state:

Portland Metro Area:

Central Oregon:

South & Mid-Willamette Valley:



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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