DIXIE IN THE NORTH: CULTURE CONTACT INVESTIGATION OF AFRICAN AMERICANS IN PORTLAND

Written by vic varis
Thursday, 16 september 2004

“I experienced something that changed my perceptions about our city. I rode in a portland cab. My cab driver was talking more than i wanted to listen when he said something that caught my attention… “You know, i’m something of a historian…. We have to learn an awful lot about the streets around here… Did you ever wonder why there are so many streets up in the west hills with names like raleigh, magnolia and the like? Well, i’ll tell you… After the civil war most of the settlers came up from the south and they wanted to kind of… Rebuild their life like they knew it before…” Finally it all started to make sense… My strange feeling… The racism… The klan… The sheer “whiteness” of oregon. We had moved into the heart of the northern dixie.”

A glimpse of life in portland today

Cab ride into dixie
When kathy and i moved to oregon from michigan in 1982, we couldn’t believe how “white” the state was. How could we not notice that in medford, our new home of 45,000 people, only five african americans resided in the entire city? We were more surprised to hear that oregon was once the western stronghold for the klan. That was a little hard to believe. After all, this is the north and it was then the 1980’s! As the years went by it was more apparent that oregon seemed to be dominated by a spirit of racism. Every year or two some small occurance, news story or comment from a neighbor would reconfirm our observation.

In 1993 we moved to inner southeast portland from gresham. Our children started attending cleveland high school. We were excited because finally our children could experience an environment closer to real life. Cleveland had a great racial mix and offered a wonderful chance for a good multi-cultural experience. Surprisingly, at cleveland the walls seemed to be higher than ever between races. Southeast asians, african-americans and white european-americans all stayed pretty much clustered in their own cultural groups. The students freely talked about racism existing within their school. It bothered me and i couldn’t understand it.

Then two years ago i experienced something that changed my perceptions about our city. I rode in a portland cab. My cab driver was talking more than i wanted to listen when he said something that caught my attention… “You know, i’m something of a historian…. We have to learn an awful lot about the streets around here… Did you ever wonder why there are so many streets up in the west hills with names like raleigh, magnolia and the like? Well, i’ll tell you… After the civil war most of the settlers came up from the south and they wanted to kind of… Rebuild their life like they knew it before…” Finally it all started to make sense… My strange feeling… The racism… The klan… The sheer “whiteness” of oregon. We had moved into the heart of the northern dixie.

Introduction
Contacting a culture must be accompanied by understanding how the culture arrived to where it is. In this paper, i want to take some time to review the major influences that contribute to african american culture contact in portland. To understand portland we need to know the events and people that shaped history. First, i want to examine the history surrounding the settling and establishment of oregon. Second, i want to show how history played into the formation and development of the african american community of our city. Interspersed with this paper you will read three more personal accounts of culture contact providing “a glimpse of life in portland today.”

In writing the paper, i used the terms “black” and “african-american” interchangeably. The more derogatory terms, “negro”, “colored” and “nigger” were used only when applied to quotations and references from sources within their historic or textual framework.

Forces that shaped oregon’s heritage
Historically, oregonians have always prided themselves with “attitude” toward outsiders and minorities (mcclendon, 1995). Where did this come from? The forces creating our state also gave birth to an inbred racism. From our founding it permeates every aspect of history and puts an “edge” on life today. This is underscored as we look at those who settled our state and the events surrounding oregon’s admission into the union.

Settlers and slavers of the “oregon country”
Pioneers moving into the massive expanse of oregon arrived each year from the ohio and mississippi river valley’s. These included families from bordering southern states of illinois, indiana, ohio and missouri, as well as kentucky and tennessee (moreland, 1993). Many of the pioneers left the south where they could not compete with slave owners use of nearly free labor. Though there was no love for the negro, they would not, for one reason or another, own slaves. They arrived hating both slavery and blacks (moreland, 1993, mclagan, 1980; robertson, 1901).
In spite of this, there was tension from the slavery which did exist in oregon up to the days of its statehood. Lewis and clark were the first to bring slaves to the territory, though it should be noted for those days, their slave was more of a partner to the expedition. The local indians are said to have encouraged him to overthrow the expedition, stay and become chief of their tribe. Another prominent pioneer, nathaniel ford, brought slaves robin and polly holmes with them from missouri as they settled in the oregon territory. At one point robin and polly were freed though their three children were kept captive. Their case became quite famous in the courts of the day, finally being decided in their favor by an abolitionist leaning judge. Later they discovered the decision came days before ford planned to have the slaves taken out of the territory to be returned and sold under the fugitive slave laws. Other southern settlers maintained slaves even past the period it was legal. They simply didn’t let the slaves know they were actually free under the government’s new laws (platt, 1903; mclagan, 1980; moreland, 1993; lockley, 1916).

Exclusion of black people from oregon
The strong anti-black sentiment controlled oregon’s government from the very earliest days. It wasn’t enough to simply have a hatred for the negro. The white settlers needed to make sure the economic system that made competition impossible in the south wouldn’t follow them to oregon. In the 1840’s the provisional government of oregon began to incorporate the first of the infamous “exclusion laws.” These laws were designed to restrict entry, commerce, litigation and intermingling of races (mclagan, 1980). Additionally, based on lobbying from oregon representatives, blacks were excluded from the federal land grant programs of the day (bergquist. 1957).

The “cockstock affair.” The precipitating event which solidified the settlers resolve occurred over what was termed the “cockstock affair.” During this period an oregon city black settler hired an indian as a temporary laborer. Afterwards, cockstock refused to pay the indian. In the process of disagreements and negotiations two settlers and the indian were killed. Popular feelings rose against allowing the negroes to continue settling or even to stay in the territory, justifying themselves by claiming a threat to the stability of white-indian relations. Another tool proponents of the new laws used to bring the question to a vote was fear of black and white intermarriage. A preliminary law was enacted in 1844 but repealed the following year before taking effect.

A new version was again passed in 1849. The government ruled, “…Situated as the people of oregon are, in the midst of an indian population, it would be highly dangerous to allow free negroes and mulattos to reside in the territory or to intermix with the indians instilling in their minds feelings of hostility against the white race.” (Bosco-milligan, 1995; platt, 1903; moreland, 1993; mclagan, 1980). Because this happened at oregon city, the center of the region’s urban life, this became a key transitional point in oregon’s racial history. The exclusion act effectively made it impossible for any black pioneer to homestead or farm, forcing them to move into the city where their population started to concentrate for the first time (bosco-milligan, 1995).

Oregon becomes a state with a constitution legalizing exclusion. Meanwhile events like the dred-scott decision made slavery a more imminent threat to the territories. America opened the door wide to slavery unless individual states would prohibit the practice. Oregon settlers renewed their attention on statehood, having defeated the question twice before. Debates over oregon statehood in the u.S. Congress flared as northern abolitionists denounced exclusion laws. In spite of this oregon voted for statehood and congress approved. Oregon’s constitution was written with provisions against slavery but enacting for exclusion as the fundamental rule of law. The vote for the exclusion amendment was 8640 to 1081 (platt, 1903; mclagan, 1980; young, 1915; robertson, 1901).

The amendment stated,

No free negro or mulatto not residing in this state at the time of the adoption of this state constitution shall come reside, or be within this state, or hold real estate, or make any contracts or maintain any suit therein and the legislative assembly shall provide penal laws for the removal by public officers of all such negroes and mulattos, and for their effectual exclusion from the state, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into the state or employ or harbor them. (Platt, 1903).

On august 20, 1851 jacob vanderpool, in salem, was the only black man prosecuted and deported from the state under the law. Afterwards, the law was more or less ignored in relation to negroes already residing in oregon. Other free black settlers watched closely how attitudes in the region were shaping up through these years. Many chose to cross north of the columbia river where the laws were not in force (mclagan, 1980).

In this way the stage for our future was set. Oregon was birthed not in freedom but in exclusion and racism.

The civil war and oregon political events
The years during and following the civil war were characterized by a growing movement away from the union party which was largely republican. In washington d.C., Oregon’s republican senator, matthew p. Deady wrote, “i am well aware that there is in oregon a wide spread prejudice against the negro race and have no doubt that my course in reference to the freedman’s bureau and civil rights bill will be unsatisfactory to some of my friends.” (Johannsen, 1950). Ironically the republican opposition, in the largely southern leaning oregon, became known as the “black republicans”, because of their abolitionist viewpoint (mclagan, 1980). The southern movement affected several events which contribute to our state identity and character even today.

Oregon’s pro-slavery vice-presidential candidate. Because of the large southern population in the state, oregon always leaned strongly democratic. In the 1860 presidential election, a major split occurred at the democratic convention over the issue of slavery. Pro-slavery democrats walked out and met separately to declare their own candidates. Because of our state’s strong support, they drafted oregon’s joseph lane as their vice presidential candidate, to accompany john c. Breckenridge. In that act, oregon stepped precariously close to joining secessionists and the confederacy.

The pacific coast republic. As the war progressed, more and more confederate deserters and sympathizers moved into the young state. As the 13th and 14th amendments were considered for ratification emotions ran strongly against it. A large portion of the population now threatened to vote to become a “slave state” rather than freeing negroes and mulattos. Oregon governor john whitaker in 1861 warned, “have a care that in freeing the negro, you do not enslave the white man.” In southern oregon there was so much opposition that a “die-hard pro-slavery” group developed plans to create a separate pro-south government to be known as the pacific coast republic. Even after this was squelched by the state legislature and the war was ended, advocates of the south “refused to admit defeat” and formed a clandestine movement to reestablish slavery somehow in oregon (mclagan, 1980).
Throughout the following years, even well into the next century resistance was always strong to civil rights sentiments and legislation in oregon. It wasn’t uncommon, when a progressive new proposal surfaced, for these same southern-minded people and the generations which followed to kill the effort asking the perennial question, “do you want your daughter to marry a nigger?” (Mclagan, 1980).

The african-american community in portland
Foundation of the portland community
The first foundations of the black community in portland were framed between 1870 and 1900. Black people had been barred from homesteading through an amendment to the federal land grand laws and were excluded by territorial law as well as the new state constitution from living in oregon. In spite of this, a number of black families were able to circumvent the law through petitions or simple “looking the other way” by many white citizens until it was finally repealed in 1925. The act forced black settlers either to leave the state or to move into portland just to survive. As their numbers grew, they developed their own community. Predominantly, most ended up living in the northwest burnside area. In essence this removed blacks from the sight and minds of the white majority who were spread throughout the state. By 1870, 519 black people were living in portland, virtually all working in service related jobs (mclagan, 1980; bosco-milligan, 1995; davis, 1972; bergquist, 1957).

Development of community life
As people came into the city and numbers grew, so did the infrastructure which contributed to identity, support, influence and power. In the early days there were a few black business people such as abner and lynda francis who stayed having obtained an exemption to the exclusion law through a petition filed on their behalf by 200 white settlers. They served the community through the 1860’s with their mercantile store (mclagan, 1980; bosco-milligan, 1995). A.E. Flowers describes life during this period,

When i arrived in portland, there was only one negro church in the whole town, the “people’s church” which was an independent organization… At this time colored people were not allowed to own any property. They were not allowed to go into any kind of business and they were not allowed to vote. Every negro had to pay a $10.00 Head tax. The colored people had no civil rights. It was very difficult to get jobs except as a menial. (Mclagan, 1980).

After 1900, the exclusion laws were largely ignored. Though no black person was approved of, still many began to migrate to portland in order to meet the growing needs of the community. The earliest organizing efforts were pioneered by churches and associations.

The church. In 1862, the first black church in portland met in the home of mrs. Mary carr. It simply was called the “people’s church.” Eventually it became the african methodist episcopal zion church. Ironically, in the 1890’s, portland’s third black church, mt. Olivet baptist church was built with lumber donated by the local chapter of the ku klux klan (mclagan, 1980; bosco-milligan, 1995).

The church was the only source of many activities and much of the community identity. As black children moved into the public school system in following years, they were denied participation in most of the school related programs and parties the white children enjoyed. The church filled the void by producing plays, including shakespeare, speech contests and celebrating children’s birthdays. As the rose festival became a community-wide event, the negro churches would select their own their own rose queen. These early generations of church leaders challenged their community to organize and constantly improve their condition (mclagan, 1980; bosco-milligan, 1995; moreland, 1993).

Glimpse of life in portland today
Reverend john is about 40 years old. He’s a family man with four children. John works as a youth minister at an albina neighborhood church. The only thing is he’s an african american minister in a mostly white denomination.

He came to portland from a city where he was an associate minister in a local church of god in christ. He completed his ministry training at a the college of the predominantly “white” denomination he now serves. He and his family moved here at the invitation of the denomination, who wanted to see a new era of racial reconciliation begun with the black religious community. Originally he was starting a new church as the senior minister.

I could sense his frustration about how difficult those days were. He felt alone much of the time, never really as connected as he wanted to be to the ministers and the organization.

The same time he started, another new church with the same denomination was organized near him. They seemed to have more going for them. The pastor who is about john’s age hit on some better breaks. Finally, just over a year ago, the denomination asked john to close his church and combine with the other ministry. He willingly submitted to the request and now serves as an assistant minister working with the white pastor.

Good things are happening at the church. He’s able to make great in-roads with the people who need the most help, the young gang-bangers in his neighborhood. At the same time John is a popular speaker in the white churches of his denomination. Still, as he talked with me about his professional white counterparts outside of Portland, I could hear the hurt in his voice as he said, “You know Vic, they just don’t know what to do with me… They joke with me and all, but they just don’t know how to handle me… I don’t think they’re taking me very seriously…” (Varis, 1996)

Negro associations. In 1879, Portland’s first association, the Portland Colored Immigration Society formed to bring in needed professionals to serve the community and encourage additional black people to migrate to Portland. They produced a circular which was distributed in the southern states promoting the area. The association saw the connection between numbers and power.

In 1900 things started to change slightly. As more people joined the community they were able to begin lobbying for changes in the Exclusion Law. The most significant development for Portland was the charter of the NAACP in 1914. Portland’s chapter is the oldest continuously chartered chapter west of the Mississippi. The organization worked extensively to communicate discriminatory practices to the community, to organize, protest and lobby for changes in laws and improved conditions for Negro people. Largely through the work of the NAACP, in 1925 the Exclusion Law was finally repealed. (McLagan, 1980; Moreland, 1993).
The Portland Urban League was established at the end of World War II. It was dedicated to the integrating of the Portland black community into the mainstream of Portland life (McLagan, 1980).

John:Black Pastor in the White Church
Changing Portland’s History of Discrimination
Every segment of Portland’s African-American community paid an incredible price to live here. More importantly, it took the efforts of everyone to begin overcoming the discrimination built into Oregon’s character.

Glimpse of Life in Portland Today
Ron: “A man fitting your description…”
Ron is a 27 year old African American who has lived in Portland from the age of 16. He is the son of a black father and white mother, who divorced when he was two.. A few years later she moved with Ron to Portland where he stayed until he was a young teenager. At that point, he returned to his father in California where his life started to fall apart.

His Dad was a crack cocaine addict. It wasn’t long before Ron started to use and sell drugs as well. By sixteen he was essentially on his own, more or less a “street kid.” Ron’s mother took him back to Portland then. He says “If she hadn’t come, I know I’d be doing drugs and be in prison by now.” She experienced a dramatic religious conversion. Ron also became a Christian at 17. Mostly since then he has lived in southeast Portland and Gresham.

As a black man in Portland, he’s experienced a few encounters based on race. About three years ago, he was pulled over by the police. As he went to pull out his driver’s license and insurance card, he turned his head into the muzzle of a police revolver inches from his face. Later the officer told him he had made a mistake, that “…a man fitting your description driving an identical car was wanted for armed robbery.” Ron was gracious to say it was an honest mistake, but from my point of view I don’t think so. A minute later he told me, “Driving the kind of car I drive (a red BMW) every cop in the city turns his head to get a good look at me when I pass…”

He was turned down for a job at a local bank twice. On the third attempt, he finally was hired. Afterwards a co-worker told him he was turned down twice because the manager “couldn’t handle having a person from a different culture work for him.”. I think Ron wanted to use more direct words for the manager’s views but again, he was being very gracious. He said, “When I was there they watched me really closely… My hair had to be just right and I had to dress perfectly. There was no way I could come there with the sides of my head shaved… while anyone else there (who was white) could have shaved their head and no one would’ve cared…”

The most frustrating times for Ron have been in church. In high school he started dating a caucasian girl. The father didn’t want Ron to have anything to do with her. Later, when he was about 24, he dated another white woman. The Christian family she stayed with told her, “It’s an abomination to marry a black man…” Today Ron is a campus minister at the university and also a youth pastor in his local church. (Varis, 1996)

The Klan state. One black Oregonian described Portland following the 1960’s,
“Oregon was a Klan state… a southern state transplanted into the North… a hell-hole when I grew up. It has always been a very prejudiced state. It is today, believe it or not. There’s a lot of prejudice even now, as far as that’s concerned, but nothing like it used to be.” (McLagan, 1980).

The Ku Klux Klan and other similar organizations always had a strong following in Oregon. In the 1920’s they would threaten pastors who served across racial lines and intimidate black families attempting to move into white neighborhoods. There were even a few “necktie parties” which usually stopped just short of murdering black men. It was said during these days the only people they despised more were the Chinese. Through the decade their membership rose to as many as 200,000 in Oregon and in 1923, Walter Pierce, a Klan member was elected governor. Their efforts in the 20’s were directed mostly at Chinese, Catholics and Jews who were present in much greater numbers. They generally left the black community alone. Another reason some said this was true was the fact of the black community now being sufficiently organized and “armed,” a deterrent to intimidation on the Klan’s part (Bosco-Milligan, 1995; McLagan, 1980).

Jim Crow comes to Portland. Into the 1920’s discrimination in Portland dramatically increased. Some reasons for this were: the natural pattern in the U.S. of adopting discriminatory laws, the growing visibility of the Negro through organizations such as the NAACP, and increasing prosperity for Portland’s black community and white feelings that black people needed to know what their “place” was.

Black patrons began to be barred from restaurants, cabarets and theaters or restricted to poor seating areas. A community newspaper, the New Age recalled, “It is within the memory of nearly all when Negroes’ patronage was welcomed and largely sought for in such places… now they are excluded… and with this came a number of smaller fry (establishments) following in the footsteps of the more stylish places.” (McLagan, 1980). Another Portland resident recalls,

I can remember the signs in all the eating places: “We Reserve the Right to Serve Whom We Please.” I can remember around the corner a place called the “Porky Pig,” a hamburger place, my son and one of the boys who grew up next door to us going around there one evening to get a hamburger and being told, “Get out of here. We don’t serve niggers’ in here!” (McLagan, 1980)

Other common expressions of discrimination were “sundown” laws which required blacks to be “out of town” or off the streets by sunset and laws against intermarriage which remained on the books until 1951.

On the job. The first job boom for black workers occurred when the railroads came through Portland. In a short time 98% of the black workforce was employed by railroads. Still from 1890 to 1942 there was virtually no change in the occupational status of black workers in Portland. They were largely limited to menial service and labor jobs. (Harmon, 1992; Mclagan, 1980).

During World War II, Portland was converted into a major shipbuilding center. The Kaiser Corporation who managed the industry, recruited black and white workers from the northeast and south advertizing for skilled workers and wages commensurate. Black workers encountered major obstacles with the unions, primarily boilermakers and longshoremen who closed the unions to all black workers. After direct intervention by President Roosevelt, they were forced to make some concessions allowing black workers on a temporary basis only. (McLagan, 1980; Moreland, 1993; Bosco-Milligan, 1995). The People’s Observer editorialized the case of Harry Mills, a Negro longshoreman on his attempts to gain membership into the whites-only union.

One longshoreman who brazenly boasted of his prejudices and resentment to accept Mills into this local had this to say: “Harry Mills’ character is impeccable; he is a good worker; we would accept this man any day; we are not opposed to Harry Mills! We are fighting the Negro race. We cannot open our doors to any of the Negro people after having kept them closed all this time.” …It must be remembered that not one ship was loaded, nor were any supplies moved through this port in the direction of our fighting forces, while these venomous personalities assembled to do what they termed as “fight the Negro.” (McClendon, 1995).

During the war years, the Urban League actively attempted to place Negroes in positions previously restricted for “whites only”. They would utilize a strategy of making the first placements light-skinned black people to help employers and employees and customers grow accustomed to seeing and working with the people. When this succeeded, they would then try to place darker-skinned people in the newer positions.

Kathryn Hall Bogle came to work for the U.S. Employment Service in Portland, through the efforts of the NAACP and the intervention of the Governor, toward the end of World War II. She reminisces about the racism so prevalent in the city,

Well, it was a confusing kind of situation because black people had always thought that when they came north they would really be free and would be able to do what they could do. It was extremely upsetting and frustrating for some of them to find out that the one kind of work they were accustomed to do in the South was not permitted here. This was [supposed to be] the land of freedom! They just couldn’t understand it. (Harmon, 1992)

Albina, housing, real estate and Vanport. Albina, had become the city’s chosen area to attempt containing the black population. The district developed as the Morrison and Steel Bridges were built in 1887. Over the years the neighbor hood transitioned from white to black as caucasian residents made Albina their first stop toward newer developments in the fringes of Portland. Eventually, city fathers judged the area a good control measure for limiting crime and too much interaction with the white community. The figured without a defined black district, they would have to put a “policeman on every block in the city” (McLagan, 1980; Bosco-Milligan, 1995). The efforts were largely accomplished through agreements within Portland’s real estate industry to restrict home sales to the northeast section of town, forbidding sakes in white neighborhoods and by use of restrictive deeds and neighborhood covenants.

The covenant for U.S. Grant Place states,
…no building thereof shall be used or occupied otherwise than for strictly residence purposes, and shall not be used or occupied by Chinese, Japanese, or Negroes, except that persons of such races may be employed as servants upon said premises. The foregoing restrictions are to run with the land as general plan of improvement for the benefit of all owners within said addition… (Moreland, 1993).

Real estate companies had concluded, allowing black families into these white neighborhoods would lead to deteriorating property and falling property values. The NAACP in the 1950’s actively publicized the practice and challenged their conclusions with results of a formal study which showed property maintained their value where the neighborhoods were mixed, and most families, especially those with young children welcomed racially diverse neighborhoods (Bosco-Milligan, 1995; McLagan, 1980; Moreland, 1993).

During World War II, huge numbers of Negroes moving into the Portland area causing an immediate strain on housing. Surprisingly many of the new arrivals were welcomed neither by the white community or the established black community. The Albina area which already housed 80% of Portland’s black population was outraged when city planners suggested building a huge dormitory complex in the area. Editorials began to fly proclaiming that 52% of Oregon’s Negroes were already living in a district only one square mile in size and that city was developing a “first-rate ghetto.” As a result of lobbying, they revised their plans and proceeded to enlarge a developing community called Vanport. (McClendon, 1995; Bosco-Milligan, 1995; McLagan, 1980; Moreland, 1993 ).
Manly Maben (1987) in her book Vanport, notes optimistically that “Vanport gave the Portland area a framework within which it could find its own solutions to racial tensions during a time period when the problem was not so severe as to polarize community attitudes. It helped Portland create a pattern of pragmatically seeking solutions…” In spite of this housing “spot discrimination” moved in as black numbers grew in the development. In Vanport, the entire community was planned right down to what color of skin your neighbor could have. Vanport did give opportunity for some of the conventions of the day to be tested and stretched. On a few occasions black and white young people would visit each other’s dances and were encouraged to dance across racial lines (Maben, 1987; Bosco-Milligan, 1995).

Schooling in Portland. School segregation was practiced from the very beginnings in Portland. During the 1870’s William Brown became the first Negro resident to attempt gaining admission to public schools for his children. Following the Oregon courts ruling in his favor, Portland in 1867 opted rather to create a separate school for Negro children simply called “The Colored School.” The school first met at SW 4th and Columbia in a building rented from school board director, Judge E.D. Shattuck. A few years later they closed the school and began to integrate the Negro children into white classes. At that time virtually no black child completed more than six grades of education (McLagan, 1980; Moreland, 1993).

Due to housing patterns in Portland, by 1960, schools were victim of “de facto” segregation. One person noted, “Portland’s schools were as segregated as Alabama’s…” The school board decided the best course for mandatory desegregation was to close the Albina neighborhood schools and parcel out small groups of black students to the remaining Portland area schools. In so doing, they placed all the burden of the desegregation plan squarely on the shoulders of the young children (Mclagan, 1980).

By the 1970’s the school board reversed their strategy choosing instead to adopt the “magnet school” concept. Theoretically, they would create schools with highly desirable specialized programs which would draw white attendance to predominantly black schools and allow black children to go to other schools which offered better opportunities for them (McLagan).

Glimpse of Life in Portland Today
Ty and Gy: Our Plans Are Different for Black Boys Than They are for White
Ty and Gy are twins. They are both about 20 now. One is out of the Army and the other soon to be getting out. Like many identical twins they’ve done most things together while growing up in Portland. They had wonderful dreams for what they wanted to do with their lives. Most of that has changed now because of their encounters with prejudice and racism.

Both young men are very athletic. At their Portland area high school they showed great promise as running backs for their football teams. The only problem was they were treated very differently from the rest of the white team. I was told originally A.C. Green went to their same school and experienced the same inequity. After a year he transferred to Benson. The rest is history. Because Ty and Gy were black, they never got the same breaks the white players did when the scouts were around.

Living With the Spirit of the City
If indeed cities are governed or directed by the spirit in which they were founded, Portland has been manipulated for the past 150 years by a spirit of racism. Much of what it takes to overcome the influence of such a spirit is to identify it and deliberately take actions contrary to it’s direction.

In conclusion, not every experience in Portland is a bad experience. One African American resident summed life up saying,

I’ve had a grand life here in Portland. It’s a good place to live. What I’ve always liked about it is that you could live like you wanted to. You could keep up with the crowd if you wanted to or you could just live to yourself… I love my church and I loved the Federated Clubs when I was in them… I’m glad to see there are some good people here. Some good people have come in here and helped to make [Portland] continue [to be a] good pace to live… I just felt Portland was growing up when a lot of things happened. (McLagan, 1980)

Let’s hope the true history of our city becomes the curriculum of life, allowing all of us to face the specter of the past, confess our wrongs to our African-American and Asian-American brothers and take decisive action to change the course of our attitudes and inequities.

References
Bergquist, James M. (1957) “The Oregon Donation Act and the National Land Policy.” The Oregon Historical Quarterly. 58(1), page 273.
Bosco-Milligan Foundation. (1995). “Cornerstones of the Community: Buildings of Portland’s African-American History.” A written publication documenting Portland’s African American history.. Portland: The Bosco-Milligan Foundation, P.O. Box 14157, Portland, Oregon, 97214.
Davis, Lenwood G. (1972). “Sources for History of Blacks in Oregon.” The Oregon History Quarterly, 73(3), pages 196-211.
Harmon, Rick. (1992). “Oral History Interview: Kathryn Hall Bogle on the African American Experience in Wartime Portland.” The Oregon Historical Quarterly, 93(4), pages 394-405.
Johannsen, Robert W. (1950). “The Oregon Legislature and the 14th Amendment.” The Oregon Historical Quarterly. 15(1), page 3.
Lockley, Fred. (1916). “Some Documentary Records of Slavery in Oregon.” The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society. 17(1), pages 107-115.
Maben, Manly. (1987). Vanport. Portland: The Oregon Historical Society. pages 87-97.
McClendon, William H. (1995). Straight Ahead: Essays on the Struggle of Blacks in America, 1934-1994. Oakland: The Black Scholar Press.
McLagan, Elizabeth. (1980). A Peculiar Paradise. Portland: The Georgian Press, Co.
Moreland, Kimberly S. Ed. (1993) “History of Portland’s African American Community.” A document produced as a historical record by the City of Portland. City of Portland: Bureau of Planning.
Oliver, Egbert S. (1991) “Obed Dickerson and the “Negro Question”.” The Oregon Historical Quarterly. 92(1), pages 4-41.
Platt, Robert Treat. (1903). “Oregon: It’s Share in the Civil War.” The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society. 4(2).
Robertson, James R. (1901) “The Genesis of Political Authority in Oregon.” The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society. 1(1). pages 54-57.
Varis, Victor A. (1996) “Interview’s for EPFA 577 Cultural Pluralism and Urban Education; Winter 1996”.
Young, F.G. Ed. (1915) “Speech of Mr. Eli Thayer on the Admission of Oregon as State.” (Text transcription). The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society. Volume 16, pages 364-369.
Copyright 1996
Please share your comments questions and requests to reproduce this material by contacting me at vic@psu-xa.org

http://african-american-historical-district.com/

One Response to DIXIE IN THE NORTH: CULTURE CONTACT INVESTIGATION OF AFRICAN AMERICANS IN PORTLAND

  1. tobacco brown says:

    This seems to be a well -researched, well -written and well -delivered historical narrative. However, (after reading it) words seem inadequate…largely based on the fact, that I have read so many positive, progressive and visionary articles about Portland’s agenda to become the clean, green and sustainable community in the US. But for whom ?…some of the people ? Philosophy and practice seem to be in direct opposition, with one another. Perhaps, mandatory diversity education workshops would benefit the government officials, law enforcement officers and the population at-large. Seems such a shame to waste all of that positive vision on such counter productive attitudes. Eventually, all people in the world REALLY want is to be happy…let’s hope REAL change is coming . Thank you for sharing this article !

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