Walk Albina’s Black History

Walk Information For Each Stop In The Walk Albina’s Black History

History 251 Course at Portland Community College, African-American History Since 1877, examines the broad range of experiences of African Americans from Reconstruction to the present. Walk Albina’s Black History is one of the most prominent sections featured in the course and provides an opportunity to walk along the history of the Albina neighborhood and to see first hand how things have changed.

The walk will start at Dawson Park and then will continue to Harriet Tubman Middle School, Site of the former Fred Hampton People’s Free Health Clinic, Site of the former Van’s Olympic Jazz Club/LV’s Twelve-22, Urban League of Portland, and Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church. The route may be different each time and does not follow a specific order. Below are written essays of students who participated in the walk, sorted by year.

2018 Walk

Image of Kiauna Nelson, the owner of Kee's Loaded Kitchen.

Join the walk and you'll get free cookies from our sponsor, Kiauna Nelson. She's an alumna of Portland Community College and the owner of Kee's #Loaded Kitchen.

To connect with Kiauna and see more information about her business, visit Kee's #Loaded Kitchen Facebook page or Kee's #Loaded Kitchen Instagram page (@keesloadedkitchen).

2017 Walk

Harriet Tubman Middle School

by Virginia Currin
Harriet Tubman middle school
Harriet Tubman Middle School

The history of Harriet Tubman Middle School can be better understood within the context of institutional racism in the city of Portland. The themes of marginalization in urban areas through segregated housing and schools, disinvestment and urban renewal, and poor relations with the police are chronic and intertwined problems all across the US. Like many other cities, there has been consistent organization of African American residents in Portland to resist injustice. Despite this, there seems to be little change in regards to these themes since the 1800s, and the creation of equitable public schooling remains a goal.

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Before 1867 there was no public school in Portland for African American children. The population of African Americans at that time was very small—the first coming to Portland in 1850, and by 1860 there were less than 200 African American residents. A segregated school finally opened in 1867, after the Portland Public School (PPS) Board was threatened with a lawsuit for not accepting African American students to either of the two elementary schools in the city. Just six years later the school’s funding was cut and the 30 students attending the school were admitted into the newly integrated PPS system.

From that time until right before WWII, there was very little change in the racial composition of Portland. There was some change with the arrival of the railroad, bringing jobs and people to work those jobs. Between 1900 and 1920, the African American population almost doubled, but it was still very small. At that time the African-American community did not pose a threat to the majority population of European Americans in regards to the official racial education politics.

The beginning of residential segregation and the concentration of African Americans in the Albina district resulted in Portland schools becoming increasingly segregated. Between 1940-1945, a lot changed in regards to Portland’s African American population and their relationship to PPS. There was a huge influx of people following jobs to the Portland area during WWII, 23,000 of them African American. Many were housed in Vanport because the Housing Authority of Portland’s refusal to build additional housing for the incoming defense workers. The city of Vanport was remarkable for many reasons, one being schooling. The schools in Vanport were fully integrated, and hired the first African American teachers in Oregon. Once the war was over, and Vanport was destroyed in a flood, those schools were not resumed. A lot of African Americans left Portland, and those who remained had no choice but to crowd into the Albina district due to racially restrictive housing policies. As more African Americans moved into Albina, many of the European Americans moved out, causing the schools to be more and more segregated. The Albina district schools begin to see less funding and less resources from property taxes.

All along, there have been African American residents and organizations in Portland who have resisted the inequitable practices and policies of PPS. During the civil rights movement these efforts gained momentum, and various African American communities in Portland worked together with unprecedented organization. These included the NAACP, founded in 1914, and the Black United Front (BUF), whose Portland chapter was founded in 1979. One of the big projects was the desegregation of schools, but PPS was slow or unresponsive to implement change.

The NAACP recommended to the PPS Board a strategy called pairing. Pairing was a way to alleviate racial segregation in schools by using busing to transport European American students to majority African American schools, and African American students to majority European American schools. This idea implemented eventually by PPS, though not fully. Only African American students were being bused out of their communities to attend far away schools. This became known as "busing," and during the period of time that it was practiced—from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. It was detrimental, particularly to those African American students who were bused. The negative effects of busing was largely the isolation and culture clash experienced by the African American students attending majority European American schools. It would show them all the resources the "good schools" had, without addressing the problem of why there are their own neighborhood schools are not "good schools."

The African American communities in Portland protested busing, and with the help of the BUF, ended busing in 1980. The BUF worked successfully to bring Portland’s African American communities together to create change, not just in regards to busing. Their other demands included the establishment of one middle school in Albina named after a female African American historical figure. The reason this was one of their demands was because of the ongoing struggle to create equitable public schooling for African American children in Portland. Many schools in the Albina neighborhood were on the verge of closing due to low enrollment and new district line drawing, and there was not yet a middle school in Albina.

After much pressure put on PPS by BUF and their many supporters, Harriet Tubman Middle School was opened in 1980. It was placed temporarily in a NE Portland location at first. PPS promised to transfer the Tubman to Eliot Elementary School near the memorial coliseum, in order to disrupt the fewest African American children. But two years later, PPS decided to put Tubman at the Boise school —the only K-8 school left in Albina. The African American community was outraged, and the BUF organized a one day boycott of PPS where more than 4,000 kids stayed home from school in protest. They won, and Harriet Tubman School was moved to Eliot School’s location. The students who were at Eliot were combined with Boise, making it "Boise-Eliot School." Harriet Tubman Middle School operated in that site as a middle school for many years until in closed in the mid 2000’s. Then it became an all girls school as an extension of Jefferson High school from 2007 to 2012. It was called, "Harriet Tubman Young Women’s Leadership Academy." Serving 6- 12th graders, it had 180 students. It was closed in 2012 because it never reached its expected enrollment of 450. Parents, students, and community members protested the closing of the girls school but to no avail. Later the school hosted Faubian School, a K-8 school. For the 2017-18 school year PPS was planning to move Faubian and re-open Tubman as a middle school with the support of a private organization called, Self Enhancement Inc, whose work is to improve schooling for African American students in Portland. But PPS decided instead to postpone reopening Tubman for next year, due to lead hazards in the building, and leadership vacancies, among other reasons. Unfortunately, Tubman is not thriving, and this is due to systemic issues gone unaddressed in the Albina area.

In conclusion, the struggle continues as many of the same problems exist in regards to Portland’s school system that existed back in 1867. The PPS Board still has the desire to not alienate European American students and families, the African American community continues to fight for quality education for its children, and the implementation of policies in PPS never fully address the concerns and needs of the African American community. Harriet Tubman Middle School is a symbol of a movement in Portland that gained a lot of traction. A powerful movement of people coming together to work towards equitable public schools in Portland. That movement is still being built upon today.

Van’s Olympic

by Jonathan Haley
Site of the former Van’s Olympic Jazz Club/LV’s Twelve-22
Site of the former Van’s Olympic Jazz Club/LV’s Twelve-22

During the early 1950s Portland was one of the most well-known cities to produce great jazz music. People from across the United States would come to Portland to hear the jazz music being played in the local clubs throughout the North and North-East Portland area. Two of the best known jazz clubs were the Cotton Club and Vans Olympic, but neither buildings still stands. They have been replaced with new buildings for other purposes. In the African-American community, jazz music was popular way to bring the community together. Every day people would go the local clubs for food and drinks and to also listen to the live jazz music being played. Jazz is a type of music the focuses heavily on improvising, or the solo for whoever was the most talented playing an instrument. Jazz isn’t a genre that can be easily taught, many of the great jazz musicians from Portland said they learned to play well by just practicing. During the early 50s and on jazz music was very popular thorough the African American community because of its elegance and it kept people on their feet because you never knew what you would hear.

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During the 1960s North Portland was an area that had many black owned businesses that were very successful. The Jazz clubs in this area were known to everyone not only in Portland but around the United States. The Cotton Club was run by Paul Knauls, who is actually very good friends with my father. I have many childhood memories being around Mr. Knauls, he gave you this feeling that he was someone special just by the way he carried himself. His barbershop was the only place I got my haircut in Portland.

Paul Knauls’ Cotton Club, along with Vans Olympic, fell victim to gentrification. Due the constructions of Interstate 5, and later a 70-acre expansion project for Emanuel hospital. Many black businesses and homes were torn down, and the space which these places uses to stand were left empty for many years. For example, the Cotton Club was torn down in the 70s and till this day it is an empty lot. The site of Van’s Olympic is now part of a hospital building.

Even though I have lived a very short life, I have witnessed drastic changes throughout the African American communities in Portland. Those changes began 30 years before I was even born, so I could only imagine what my mother has seen throughout her life living in Portland. I truly believe that white people in the city of Portland felt threatened by a thriving black community that they already tried to contain and oppress through red lining and other tactics. The reason I feel this way is because I cannot find an explanation as to why some of these prominent jazz clubs were tore down and their spaces to remain empty for many years to come. It feels like a slap in the face to the black community in Portland. Basically, saying we can tear down your homes and businesses, and there is nothing you can do about it, and we will not build anything to let you know, you were removed for no apparent reason and to create this feeling the black people don’t belong in the heart of Portland, Oregon.

Former site of the Fred Hampton Free Health Clinic, now an empty Lot

by Kiana Jan
Site of the former Fred Hampton People’s Free Health Clinic.
Site of the former Fred Hampton People’s Free Health Clinic

The Black Panther Party, originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, was a group started by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, two students attending Meritt Junior College in Oakland, to monitor police encounters with black folks in the area with the goal of discouraging police brutality by carrying guns and thorough knowledge of California’s gun laws. An article in Socialist Alternative about the Party recalls one instance of armed observation of an encounter between policemen and a young man, "Huey stood there with a law book in one hand and a gun in the other and told the "pigs" about his constitutional right to carry a weapon as long as it was not concealed. He told them about the law and said that every citizen had the right to observe a police officer carry out his duty as long as they stood a reasonable distance away. And he told them about the Supreme Court ruling which defined that distance."

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They differentiated themselves from the Nation of Islam in their belief that Black folks will only be free once the exploitative system of capitalism is exterminated, and so efforts should be focused on making such a reality, rather than creating a separate state from whites. They also disagreed with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent approach to Black equality, though only in self-defense. Relatively quickly, Seale and Newton established and printed copies of their platform, known as their 10 Point Program and Platform. Bobby Seale is quoted saying, "We do not fight racism with racism. We fight racism with solidarity. We do not fight exploitative capitalism with Black capitalism. We fight capitalism with basic socialism. And we do not fight imperialism with more imperialism. We fight imperialism with proletarian internationalism." Soon after, Seale and Newton rented a storefront to meet at and establish their newsletter, The Black Panther. They then began programs to help the Black community, including the Free Breakfast for Children program, free medical clinics, free ambulance rides, free job-finding services, free legal aid and education, free busing to prisons, free commissary for prisoners, free clothing, free shoes, free plumbing and maintenance, free pest control, a childhood development center, and more (1). Though the Party was mostly dismantled by 1980 due to a number of factors including FBI-led assassinations and sabotage, it had a strong and lasting impact.

The now empty lot near Legacy Emanuel Hospital that sits across the street from the Urban League in northeast Portland was once a site of hope, aid, health, and education for people of the Albina community. Before it was cleared to make way for an expansion of Legacy Hospital, it was the Fred Hampton Free Health Clinic run by members of Portland’s chapter of the Black Panther Party as well as volunteers. Sandra Ford, former member of the Black Panther Party, explained, "Our Medical Clinic did Sickle Cell Anemia testing at schools and community affairs and we taught a Health class at the community college. The class was about health issues like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, diet and exercise, the things that people need to know about" (2). Staff provided free health care during the evening hours of five days every week, and not without opposition. Sandra adds, "We got a lot of harassment. One day the cops came by and said, "Kent, the next Panther clinic will be named after you". Most of the clinics were memorial clinics. They would call on the phone and say, "We’re gonna get you."" (2). After a few years, the clinic was forced to move for the Legacy Hospital expansion, and eventually shut down. The expansion has yet to happen, and the space that was once a buoy in the community has been an empty lot for years.

Urban Renewal was a federally funded program born out of the national urge to clean-up ghettos and slums that existed due to migrations of Black folks and immigrants into the northern and western parts of the United States for employment, usually in the industrial field. Industrial jobs existed in certain parts of cities, which is where these working class people lived, creating "urban areas". These areas, in which working-class people lived, became run-down and dilapidated due to a variety of reasons. With the intention of eliminating unsafe living conditions and establishing adequate affordable housing, Congress passed the Federal Housing Act of 1949, which harnessed eminent domain to claim entire neighborhoods worth of housing to repurpose. This reconstruction process involved mass displacement and scattering of communities of color, along with the introduction of corporations into these neighborhoods, tempted by tax breaks and federal funding. Participating local governments took advantage of federal funding and sold the land for cheap to developers and corporations. Title III of the Housing Act of 1954 promoted the building of civic centers, office buildings, and hotels. This combined with the Highway Act of 1956 effectively eradicated poor people of color from their homes and communities. The federal program was officially ended in 1973, though its impacts last within still-dispersed communities of color, and gentrification.

It was no less than a power move for Legacy Hospital to shut down the Free Clinic. They hired a consultant, and "the hospital and city spent ten years planning before they ever told residents, historian Jeana Woolley said," according to The Oregonian. That same article explains that residents of the community were finally told of the plans to expand at a meeting after the city, the Portland Development Commission, and a Model Cities Citizens Planning Board approved the plans. However, "it approved the plans, with only one minor change, in the same meeting."

For the expansion, not only was the clinic forced to move, but an entire community was uprooted. Homes were appraised, and residents were forced to move out, which proved a more difficult task for Black folks, as only certain neighborhoods allowed them to reside within them. Thelma Glover, a past resident of the uprooted community, recounts that "Few areas allowed blacks at the time. The only house she could find was nearly nine miles away in Parkrose" (3). Lucille Glass, another member of the uprooted community, recalls that "It was like one big family. But now everyone's pretty well scattered" (4). At the time, their strong community was one of few support systems that Black folks living anywhere in Oregon had, and even that was taken from them by Legacy Hospital and urban renewal, and in this case for a project that never happened.

(1): www.itsabouttimebpp.com/Survival_Programs/survival_programs.html
(2): www.itsabouttimebpp.com/Chapter_History/Sandra_Ford_Portland.html
(3): www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/09/post_273.html
(4): www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/11/legacy_emanuel_medical_center_2.html

Dawson Park and Community Resilience

by Collette Kokesh
Dawson Park
Dawson Park

Completed as an official city park in 1921, Dawson Park is located between the Williams and Vancouver avenues, and adjacent to Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in NE Portland known as the Eliot neighborhood and south of the greater Albina area. Today, it is a hub that has been used by African American community members since its establishment. One hundred years after the first black fur traders and trappers arrived in Oregon, Dawson Park is, as some would say, only a small compensation for the calculated redlining by real estate establishments, city officials and eminent domain practices against easily-targeted African American citizens.

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Albina was once a city of its own, and it was annexed by Portland to be a part of the larger city in July 1891. Portland was on the east side of the Willamette while Albina lay on the east. Albina today holds many neighborhoods within its boundaries: the Eliot neighborhood where Dawson Park is located, Boise, King, Irvington, Overlook, Humboldt and Piedmont neighborhoods. Albina at the time was known for its large industrial sector and transcontinental railroad that supplied many jobs and the rise of neighborhoods and shops, benefiting small, tight-knit business and community.

Many European immigrants such as Scandinavian, Irish and German immigrants moved to the Albina area for work during this time. It wasn’t until 1910 that African Americans, who had been settled in NW Portland began to move to the Williams and Rose Quarter area. Men could easily find jobs working in the railroad industry and housing was affordable. A large surge of African Americans would move to Portland before and during WWII until housing became scarce from this influx of people. Discrimination would become a huge factor that played into the building of the northern city of Vanport to house labor workers working in the shipyards. The flood in 1948 in Vanport displaced many people who struggled to find places to live--most settling in the Albina area afterwards. 1960 marked the construction of I-5 that ran through the southern Albina neighborhoods and the expansion of Emmanuel Hospital in the 1970’s. Both of these projects created extreme hardship to the predominantly-African American population in the area, especially in the Eliot neighborhood where it was known as a small black city that was sprinkled with black businesses and homes.

Dawson Park was a community gathering place of utmost importance to the Black community in the 1950s and 60s where Dawson Park and Albina as a whole had become the center place for African American communities. It even had it’s own radio station in the 1960’s, the "Eager Beaver", that had a broadcast of 3-4 miles out. The pavilion located on the SW corner of the park, is a dome-shaped roof that was once fixed atop the Hill Block building in 1910. The building was located in Albina’s main commercial district before the whole block was demolished in preparation for the Emmanuel Hospital expansion in 1971. It was a treasured item, the "Cupola", that became fixed as a pavilion in 1978. During the decline of the neighborhood in the 1980s and 90s after urban renewal programs, the park became the site of some crime.

Renovating Dawson Park was a way that city planners and officials, along with donations from Emmanuel Hospital wanted to give back to the community in which they had undermined with urban renewal. In 2013, they closed the park for renovations and reopened in 2014 with community design input which included new features such as benches and tables, a children’s playground, basketball courts, and functional facilities that allowed those with disabilities and all age groups to gather.

The park also continues to be a gathering place of protest for the African American community. Famous figures such as Robert F Kennedy spoke there in the late 1960’s. Rallies that protested the assassination of MLK gathered here. Today, Dawson Park still serves this purpose as a political platform for citizens to congregate and use their voice through protest. A protest in solidarity with Ferguson and against police brutality was held August of 2014. The People’s Climate Movement also began at Dawson in April of 2017 to protest against climate change, especially since low-income people suffer most on a socio-economic scale on this issue. Other movements such as "Don’t Shoot PDX" and Black Lives Matter have also used the park to gather voices together.

The Urban League of Portland, Civil Rights and Housing Discrimination

By Rachel Mann
Urban League of Portland
Urban League of Portland

Until the early 1950s, the Realty Board of Portland operated under several unfair housing laws that disproportionately affected African-Americans. After the influx of African Americans during WWII to work in the ship yards, and the subsequent flood at the Vanport housing complex, Blacks were forced to find places to live in a city where they were mostly unwelcome. The Urban League was formed to help combat this discrimination and fight for civil rights for Blacks in Portland.

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The Portland Urban League (PUL) was formed as an offshoot of the National Urban League (NUL), which was created for the advancement of colored people in America. The primary focus of the NUL and The PUL was to assist black people in finding housing, gainful employment, and a good education. Reginald Johnson, the field secretary for the NUL at the time, took a trip to Portland to gauge the racial climate after WWII and discovered a dismal state of things. He recommended that Portland start its own League, and Edward C. "Bill" Berry became the director of the newly founded League where he served for the next ten years, from 1945-55. E. Shelton "Shelly" Hill succeeded him and served as chairman for nearly 20 years following.

The Vanport flood of 1948 displaced over 5,000 African Americans. The Portland Housing Authority was extremely unwelcoming to them, and publicly stated that they didn’t want to lower the values of Portland neighborhoods by allowing non-whites to move into white neighborhoods. Real estate agents were warned that selling outside of the "redlined" area that had been designated for Blacks was grounds for dismissal. The area where they were allowed to sell to Blacks was between NE Holliday, N Russel, NE Union (now Martin Luther King Jr Blvd), and the Willamette river. There were very few options for black people who wanted to buy homes, because the banks would not lend money for homes that fell within the boundaries of the "redlined" areas and/or that were valued under $40k, which meant that it was nearly impossible to get a loan for a home from an accredited bank. The only way that a black person could buy outside of this area is if he paid cash and purchased directly from a white person who disagreed with the laws, or if they bought homes "on contract", an extremely exploitative loan that didn’t allow for the accrual of equity, and caused the forfeiture of the home if even one payment was late.

The leaders of the Portland Urban League fought hard for their community to be given access to home loans, better quality education and employment outside of the service positions that they had been relegated to up until then. The slogan of the Portland Urban League in 1946 was "Not alms, but opportunity." Their goal was not for black people to be given handouts, but to assist in finding them work and educational opportunities so that they could begin to make a life for themselves in a hostile city.

One of the League’s biggest victories occurred in 1953 and came in the form of the Civil Rights bill which finally made the discrimination of people of color illegal in public places. Prior to the signing of the bill, there had been 17 attempts to present it to legislature, all of which were rejected, despite the trend that was taking place in the rest of the country. It was an emotional victory, and long overdue. The Portland Urban League was instrumental in the advancement of fair housing laws in Portland and also acted as a beacon of unity for the black community, and continues to do this important work today.

Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church

by Nate Williams
An image of Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church.
This is the image of Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church from wikimedia.org.

During WWII in the 1940s, millions of American men were drafted to fight in the war, leaving millions of jobs behind back home. With the war being so great and requiring a vast amount of resources, employment to those still in the United States became more available than ever. Since Oregon and Washington were prime locations for factories and shipyards along the west coast and the area's abundance of rivers, the cities of Seattle and Portland saw an increase of 25,000 African-Americans in search of work. While the main purpose of the migration was for employment purposes, it introduced a new community to the predominantly white population. The addition of so many people unfortunately brought much racial tension, much of it stemming from the racist mindsets of a large percentage of citizens as well as political leaders, another factor of this tension came from the overcrowding and eventually lack of housing that followed. The immediate aftermath of the great migration wasn’t completely negative for African-Americans however, as it also brought an "...increase in Black political influence, the strengthening of civil rights organizations and black-related service groups…" (1).

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In the African-American community, religion is a pillar of daily life. From an early age, many African-Americans study the Bible and absorb the teachings of respect and tolerance from the many stories it contains. Neighborhood churches are part of the glue that hold many Black communities together, as they provide space for worship as well as a safe place for assembly. Because of the commitment of teaching love, compassion, and the importance of democratic freedoms, it only makes sense that many religious organizations became the leaders to many civil rights groups. In 1961, during the middle of America’s civil rights movement, the Vancouver Ave Baptist Church had what is arguably can be considered historically as its most important moment. For his national speaking tour, Martin Luther King Jr. made a stop at the church, as it had grown to be one of the main hubs for Portland’s Black population. King’s speech was entitled "The Future of Integration", which true to its title focused on Integration throughout the country, and preached the message that in order to maintain democracy, segregation must die.

For the Black community in the city of Portland, the Vancouver Ave. Church is essentially an artifact which history lines up with what was going on in the world around it at the time. The church itself started in 1944, in a housing project for local shipyard workers in Vancouver. The people that started the church came to Portland for war work during the second Great Migration. These people came primarily from the South, which also brought much of the culture and Southern influences to the Pacific Northwest bringing a new popularity of barbeque, jazz music, and the Baptist Church.

After WWII and after the closure of the housing project, the church not only had to move, it had to expand. The church officially moved to Albina in 1946, however the church had gotten so popular and congregations grew so large, that the church ended up having to move again. Eventually, after discovering that a new location that was being made from a renovated, formerly condemned structure, the church finally settled in its current location on Vancouver Ave. This final location was formerly a Lutheran church that was built in 1909, but soon also proved to be inadequate to service the increasing mass of residents moving to the area as well as joining the congregation, and was renovated to sit a few hundred more people. The ultimate total capacity grew to 800, which solidified the church as the largest Black congregation in the Northwest.

The good times did not always roll however. As many people were affected and displaced by redevelopment in the Eliot neighborhood, so was the church itself. Today, the congregation is a fraction of the size it used to, some of the blame coming from gentrification that forced many families to move away from the area. The erection of the Emanuel Legacy Hospital as well as the construction of I-5, and the many new loft apartment buildings close by has overshadowed the church for the most part, and has in many respects buried it from the attention of most who pass by. But, like most artifacts, history can be learned from the church as long as people are willing to dig beyond what is new and pretty.

(1): www.jstor.org/stable/40169136?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents