Amateur Historian Pushes Behind the Scenes History

Amateur Historian Pushes Behind the Scenes History
By Brian Stimson
Of The Skanner
Black History Online Edition
February 25, 2009

Before gentrification, before northeast redlining and before Vanport – there was the Golden West Hotel. Sitting in the shadow of Union Station, where a large number of African Americans found gainful employment, the Golden west was a community gathering place for pool; games, drinks, meals, haircuts and even Turkish baths. The early part of the 20th century was kind to the grand hotel and the surrounding Black-owned businesses – the depression was not.


Will Bennett, right, receives an award from Donny R. Adair, left 
from the Black History Month Committee 2-5-09 @Portland City Hall
Read more about Will Bennett–>
In the late 80s, a group of concerned citizens formed the Friends of the Golden West group. After organizing and building a historical display in the hotel, now owned by Central City Concern, the group dissolved.

And that’s where Will Bennett has stepped in to pick up the pieces.

“I don’t know what happen to the group,” Bennett said. “But for 18 years, nobody was caring for it.”

Bennett is a local a amateur historian who has been leading a one-man effort to establish an African American Historical District, a restoration of the Golden West Display, and the truthful history about race relations in Oregon.

About two years ago, Bennett took up it up as a personal project to push the Central City Concern to clean up the Golden West Display. He was instrumental in helping arrange a $9,250 grant through the city’s Vision into Action program to restore the sun and water-damaged display with help from Old Town History Project. But it’s only a beginning, he says.

“Friends of the Golden West wanted a museum, a historical district and a national registry of buildings needs to be established,” All of these things are required to have a vibrant community. We’re not quite a community like we used to be.”

In many ways, Bennett is a restoration project all his own. He’s not shy about talking about his past, it helped to make him who he is today. He was raised in the state foster care system. Kathryn Bogle – the daughter of Waldo Bogle, the barber at the original Golden West, and mother to former City Commissioner Dick Bogle – was his case worker, and she still remembered him when he called her decades later for her help restoring the Golden West Display. His case sent ripples through the foster system after a caregiver physically abused him – giving him scars he still carries to this day.

Bennett has battled drug addiction and homelessness He’s also has 11 felony Convictions. Mostly for drug-relates crimes. But he’s cleaned up his life and turned it around.

“I had to do this for her (Kathryn Bogle).” He said.

Bennett new addiction is local African American history. It all began when he made a call to Portland Public Schools to demand a change in curriculum when it came to teaching the truth about the way African Americans had been treated. They gave him a speaking slot. He was terrified about what he was going to say. So he started looking for a copy of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Local Color” to play.

“After 18 years you couldn’t find a copy nowhere,” he said “like to tell people I got ethnic with them.”

He found a copy in the office of Portland State University’s Darrell Millner, who assisted journalist Jon Tuttle in making the award-winning film. Through Bennett’s continued prodding, OPB re-released the 1991 film on DVD and distributed hundreds of free copies to schools and nonprofits organizations.

“I’m a catalyst, some of these things are already in place, I just speed ‘en up a little bit,” he said.

Because of his efforts, the city of Portland’s Black History Committee gave him an award during their Black History celebration earlier this month.

“I’m humble and grateful,” he says.

Always looking ahead, Bennett is organizing public screening for “Local Color,” and hope to push someone to make a sequel to the film. He’d also like to see an African American museum open up, establish a historic and hopefully partner with an organization such as the Urban League to promote historical understanding.

But wherever his vision takes him, he doesn’t want it to be about money.

“I don’t want to be market driven, “he says. “I’m not into all that formality.”

And like the many forgotten faces the once graced the halls of the Golden West, the behind-the-scenes Bennett want people to learn about the Black people who helped make this city thrive.

“I want to focus on the unsung hero,” he said.


Chair Leroy Patten, Kathryn Hall Bogle, Greg Stevens from the Oregon Historical Society, historian Bob Zybock and Michael Grice



Local Color will Re-air on (same night as award)
Thursday, Feb 5th, 2009 at 9 p.m. and Sunday,
Feb 8th at 3 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Mary J. Gardner
Director Television Programming
Oregon Public Broadcasting
(503) 293-1951 (voice)
(503) 293-4873 (fax)

Vision into Action Built Portland Recipient

Portland's Vision into ActionPortland, Oregon

Central City Concern: The Golden West Historic Display – $9,250 The Golden West Historic Display will be an innovative, street-level exhibit about African American history in an area of Portland not widely known to have been an African American business, social and cultural center: the Golden West Hotel near Union Station. Through words, sounds, and images, the multimedia display will tell the story of the African American community surrounding the Golden West Hotel in downtown Portland in the early 1900s. The publicly accessible display will face the sidewalks at a well-traveled corner, NW Everett and Broadway.

The following article is part of our archive

A little more light on little-known history

Thursday, August 07, 2008
By Erin Hoover Barnett
The Oregonian Staff

When Portlanders talk about the city’s African American history, many speak of the black shipyard workers who were relocated to inner North and Northeast after the 1948 Vanport flood.

Fewer know about the African American business district that thrived around Union Station in the early 1900s. Among black-owned businesses, the Golden West Hotel, 707 N.W. Everett, became the social focal point with its restaurant, Turkish baths, barbershop, gambling room, gymnasium and ice cream parlor.

Now a project to better display Golden West’s history is among 12 recipients of city grants from the Vision Into Action Coalition.

“It was surprising to some of the committee members the African American history that existed near Union Station. They considered that area Chinatown or Old Town,” says Stephanie Stephens, Vision Into Action’s manager.

The coalition is acting on priorities, such as acknowledging city history — identified during Mayor Tom Potter’s visioning process. A committee of community, business and government representatives chose recipients from 55 applications.

The grants range from $2,500 to the Good in the Neighborhood multicultural music and food festival to $10,000 to expand the newspaper Street Roots on the east side.

Central City Concern received $9,250 for the Golden West display. The nonprofit, a social service and low-income housing agency, bought and rehabbed the hotel in 1989. The agency worked with the late Kathryn Hall Bogle and others to locate and display historic photos in window boxes outside the hotel. Bogle’s father owned the hotel barbershop. Her son, Dick Bogle, became a city commissioner.

The new project, led by historian Jackie Peterson Loomis on behalf of Central City Concern, will upgrade the display and add another window box. Peterson Loomis, co-founder of the Old Town History Project, plans to incorporate audio, including music from the time and interviews with people such as Dick Bogle.

“It’s an opportunity to position the Golden West as one of the most important centerpieces for this quite unique community of middle-class African Americans,” Peterson Loomis says. “It was a very tiny black community in a very racist city and state, but they really managed to build a community in that neighborhood.”…

Read the full article
©2009 Oregonian

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8 Responses to Amateur Historian Pushes Behind the Scenes History

  1. Danny Bell says:

    Good job. Now I have a little more insight into what you are about. Those like us in Portland have a trememndous challenge. 1) the internal hating and sabotage we inflict on one another of talent and industry. 2) the denial greater Portland residents have about their self perception around race relations.
    If you have been reading the Oregonian and Skanner lately there is actually a brain drain going on of native African-Americans from Portland. Portland is a nice lpace to bring up children, but it lacks in sophiscation a real apprecaition of the arts, sensitivity to those who hve not succeeded and reflexively lowe incomes tyes tend to harbor resentment of those who appreciate scholarship. It is truly an uphill battle to speak truth to power here. yet in stil from what I have seen Portland is very similar to other major metropolitan areas it just a matter of that are fewer of us to divide and conquer. If you go by Reflections Coffee House they have copies of a 1997 document that chronicles the history of Blacks in Oregon. Very intersting reading. Again keep up the good fight. Justice and humanity demand that some one engages in that battle.
    Dan Bell

  2. Pingback: 16th Annual Northwest Public Employees Diversity Conference « golden west project:black in portland history

  3. Pingback: Exhibit Honors the History of African-Americans in Downtown Portland « golden west project:black in portland history

  4. Pingback: A little more light on little-known history « WILL BENNETT | Special Interests

  5. Pingback: PPS Curriculum Adoption: Oregon’s Racist Acts | golden west project:black in portland history

  6. BringBacktheBurnsideConsortium says:

    Why doesn’t Central City Concern give the building back to the black community?

  7. Bob Zybach says:

    Will: This is a great post. Can you put it up on the Friends of the Golden West Hostel Facebook page?

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