Bus Tour Newsletter #29 – February 2023

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In February we celebrate Black History Month. This month’s newsletter highlights modern Black history in Portland, focusing on the latter half of the 20th Century. Check out our February 2022 Bus Tour Newsletter to learn about earlier Black history in Oregon.

Civil Rights Era Black Activism in Portland

Did you know the Black Panthers had a Portland chapter? Kent Ford, a prominent Portland community member and activist, co-founded the Portland Black Panthers in the 1960s and continues to champion civil rights to this day. He gives walking tours of Northeast Portland, sharing memories and historical information about various landmarks along the route. Ford’s activism has been so influential that Vanport Mosaic Director and co-founder, Damaris Webb, directed a play about Ford’s life, “Walking Through Portland with a Panther: The Life of Mr. Kent Ford. All Power!

Children at the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program, 1971. Kent Ford sits with the children. (Source: Portland Oregonian/ Black Panthers in Portland (oregonencyclopedia.org)

Starting in the 1950s, North Portland residents were subjected to urban renewal and infrastructure projects that caused widespread displacement of mainly Black Portlanders who were pushed out of their longtime homes. Prosper Portland and the Oregon Department of Transportation used eminent domain to construct Interstate 5 and the Memorial Coliseum, displacing hundreds of families in the Albina neighborhood. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the city met with Legacy Emanuel, previously known as Emanuel Hospital, to discuss using loans and grants from the U.S. Housing Act of 1957 meant to go toward redeveloping “blighted” neighborhoods to help fund its expansion into the surrounding neighborhood.

Demonstration calling for police reform, 1970, in downtown Portland. (Source: Oreg. Hist. Soc. Research Library, Oregonian, bb007217/ Black Panthers in Portland (oregonencyclopedia.org)

Fifty years after the demolitions took place, in November of 2022, 27 Black Portlanders and a community organization filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. According to the lawsuit, of the 171 reported displaced households, 74 percent were Black.

Post-Civil Rights Era Black Activism in Portland

In 1988, members of a white supremacist gang murdered Mulugeta Seraw, Ethiopian immigrant and longtime Portland resident. The tragedy laid bare the threats which Black Portlanders dealt with on a daily basis and inspired many to take action. After Seraw’s death, protests erupted denouncing white supremacy, and Black-led organizations successfully pushed for reforms including a requirement that Portland police report bias crimes to a database.

A downtown Portland rally featuring a portrait of Mulugeta Seraw. (Source: Oregon Live)

In the hopes of pushing forward civil rights work, the Portland Black United Front (BUF), one branch of a national group founded and based in Chicago, formed during the 1980s. Their focus was on issues related to school desegregation and police brutality, and some of their biggest accomplishments involved education. The Portland BUF also set their sights on international causes, like apartheid in South Africa.

Ed Washington, one of FHCO’s bus tour presenters, is a civil rights leader and member of the Portland NAACP since 1956. He became the first African American councilor for the Portland Metro council in 1991. In recent years he has served as the Community Liaison for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for Portland State University and as an adjunct professor for Portland Community College.

Washington and his family are also survivors of the infamous Vanport flood of May 30, 1948. After the flood, he and his family faced housing insecurity, and dealt with the discriminatory real estate practice of redlining for years after being displaced. You can learn more about his experience growing up in Vanport in our special appeal video from our 2020 annual Fair Housing Month fundraising event.

Ed Washington presenting on one of FHCO’s educational bus tours in Portland. (Source: FHCO.org)
Throughout the 1990s, the impacts of urban renewal and development led to widespread gentrification and displacement in historically Black neighborhoods in Portland. After years of disinvestment and racial segregation, the demographics of neighborhoods like Albina in Northeast Portland changed drastically. By the 1980s, the value of homes in Albina had dropped to 58 percent of the city’s median and the population had shrunk by 27,000 people. An influx of white residents quickly began buying property and replacing former Black residents. This shift in the demographic makeup of many formerly majority-Black Portland neighborhoods persists today.

Modern Day Activism in Portland’s Black Communities

There are many organizations working to preserve the history and culture of Portland’s Black communities. Vanport Mosaic is a memory-activism platform that amplifies, honors the present, and preserves the silenced histories that surround us. Their goal is to understand our present and create a future where we all belong. Every spring they organize the Vanport Mosaic Festival, offering virtual and in-person events that amplify community histories in Portland. They also offer narrated bus and self-guided walking tours of historic sites throughout the city.

The Portland African American Leadership Forum’s (PAALF) mission is to help the Black community imagine the alternatives they deserve and build their political participation and leadership to achieve those alternatives. The PAALF’s People’s Plan frames a Black community policy agenda and advances community-initiated projects as a powerful tool for organizing, advocacy, and implementation.

Word is Bond. (Source: Word is Bond/ Willamette Week)

Word is Bond is a Black-led Portland nonprofit organization founded in 2017 with the purpose of empowering young Black men as they transition from boyhood into adulthood. They center the voices of young Black men through five award-winning programs, including In My Shoes, a walking tour project highlighting the stories and experiences of young, Black men across Portland.

Founded in 1993, the Oregon Black Pioneers is the only historical society dedicated to preserving and presenting the experiences of African Americans statewide. Their goal is to become the preeminent resource for the study of Oregon’s African American history and culture through engaging exhibitions, public programs, original publications, and historical research. They also partner with local organizations like Oregon Historical Society, where they presented the exhibition, Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years from January through June 2018. The exhibit can be viewed online as well.

Celebrate Black History This Month and All Year Long

While there are many opportunities to commemorate the experiences and celebrate the contributions of Black communities this month, Black history is American history and should be recognized for its unique complexity apart from and within our shared cultural fabric all year long. Here are some ways to get started this month:

Any weekend this month, take a Word is Bond “In My Shoes” walking tour to learn more about the personal experiences of young Black men in Portland and the history of their neighborhoods. Topics addressed include race, class, community investment, gentrification, community safety, and equity. You can also sign up to volunteer at Word is Bond any time.

Feb. 16 – 19, check out the 7th annual NW Black Comedy Festival hosted by Curious Comedy Theater, located in Northeast Portland.

Feb. 16 – 25, you can go to the Portland Jazz Festival, celebrating its 20th anniversary, featuring live concerts and education events.

Saturday, Feb. 18, you can shop local and roller skate at Roll Bounce, a family-friendly vendors market from 4:30 – 8:30 p.m. and a skate party featuring classic ‘80s hip hop, from 6 – 9 p.m. at Urbanite, located on NW 28th Ave. You can purchase tickets here.

Thursday, Feb. 23, you can attend this happy hour followed by Drag Queen Bingo at Rogue Eastside Pub in Southeast Portland. This free event is hosted by Keller Williams Realty Professionals. Happy hour kicks off at 5 p.m., followed by first come, first serve bingo from 7 – 9 p.m. It’s expected to fill up quickly, so they recommend you arrive early to happy hour to make sure you get a spot!

Feb. 23 – 26, you can see the 17th annual production of Who I Am; Celebrating Me. Created by Portland native Shalanda Sims, the play takes audience members on a historical journey through the Black experience, examining and exploring systems put in place since 1619. Featuring poetry and prose, accompanied by soulful music, singing and dancing, the play is performed by Portland youth and adults at Alberta Abbey in Northeast Portland and is open to all ages. Purchase tickets here.

Sunday, Feb. 26, 2-4 p.m., SCRAP PDX is offering a Black History Month “Story Quilt” Collage Crafternoon. Drawing inspiration from Harlem-born artist and activist, Faith Ringgold, eventgoers will use fabric, magazine cuttings, photos, and other reused materials to explore identity, memory, and history through collage and to celebrate Black art and history. Tickets can be purchased here to reserve your spot.

All month long, the 33rd Annual Cascade Festival of African Films is being presented in a hybrid format. Most screenings can be viewed either in-person at Hollywood Theatre or Portland Community College Cascade Campus or online during the listed times. The films are free, but donations are encouraged to help support the festival.

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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