But on one chilly morning last fall, Stocks was bundled in a fleece jacket, his dreadlocks pulled into a ponytail, and a mask covered his face—protecting against both COVID and the wildfire smoke then blanketing the state. But what Stocks tells them is a history few native Oregonians—and even fewer of the recent wave of transplants to Portland—know.
Pierce is one of six African Americans working in the Portland plant whom the lawyer Mark Morrell is representing in a series of lawsuits against Daimler Trucks North America. The cases have been combined and a trial is scheduled for January The allegations may seem at odds with the reputation of this city known for its progressivism. When the state entered the union infor example, Oregon explicitly forbade black people from living in its borders, the only state to do so. And racism persists today.
A audit found that landlords and leasing agents here discriminated against black and Latino renters 64 percent of the time, citing them higher rents or deposits and adding on additional fees. In area schools, African American students are suspended and expelled at a rate four to five times higher than that of their white peers.
All in all, historians and residents say, Oregon has never been particularly welcoming to minorities. Portland is the whitest big city in America, with a population that is Yes, the city is politically progressive, she said, but its government has facilitated the dominance of whites in business, housing, and culture.
And white-supremacist sentiment is not uncommon in the state. Imarisha travels around Oregon teaching about black history, and she says neo-Nazis and others spewing sexually explicit comments or death threats frequently protest her events. Violence is not the only obstacle black people face in Oregon. A report by Portland State University and the Coalition of Communities of Color, a Portland nonprofit, shows black families lag far behind whites in the Portland region in employment, health outcomes, and high-school graduation rates. They also lag behind black families nationally.
Almost two-thirds of black single mothers in Multnomah County with kids younger than age 5 lived in poverty incompared to half of black single mothers with kids younger than age 5 nationally.
A white woman from oregon is getting called out for claiming to ‘improve’ congee
And just 32 percent of African Americans in Multnomah County owned homes incompared to 60 percent of whites in the county and 45 percent of blacks nationally. Whether this history can be overcome is another matter. Because Oregon, and specifically Portland, its biggest city, are not very diverse, many white people may not even begin to think about, let alone understand, the inequalities. Bates of Portland State University; in recent years, 10, of those 38, have had to move from the center city to its fringes because of rising prices. And the spate of alleged incidents at Daimler Trucks is evidence of tensions that are far less subtle.
But can it continue to do so?
From its very beginning, Oregon was an inhospitable place for black people. Inthe provisional government of the territory passed a law banning slavery, and at the same time required any African American in Oregon to leave the territory. Any black person remaining would be flogged publicly every six months until he left. Five years later, another law was passed that forbade free African Americans from entering into Oregon, according to the Communities of Color report.
InOregon adopted a state constitution that banned black people from coming to the state, residing in the state, or holding property in the state. During this time, any white male settler could receive acres of land and another if he was married.
This, of course, was land taken from native people who had been living here for centuries. The idea was to come to Oregon territory and build the perfect white society you dreamed of. Or, more exactly, the state ratified the amendment inrescinded its ratification inand then finally ratified it for good in This history resulted in a very white state. Technically, afterblack people could come to Oregon.
But the black-exclusion laws had sent a very clear message nationwide, says Darrell Millner, a professor of black studies at Portland State University. Bythere were slightly more than 1, black people in the whole state of Oregon. Bythere were about 2, The rise of the Ku Klux Klan made Oregon even more inhospitable for black people.
The state had the highest per-capita Klan membership in the country, according to Imarisha.
The democrat Walter M. Pierce was elected to the governorship of the state in with the vocal support of the Klan, and photos in the local paper show the Portland chief of police, sheriff, district attorney, U. Some of the laws passed during that time included literacy tests for anyone who wanted to vote in the state and compulsory public school for Oregonians, a measure targeted at Catholics.
The black population grew from 2, to 20, during the war, and the majority of the new residents lived in a place called Vanport, a city of houses nestled between Portland and Vancouver, Washington, constructed for the new residents.
Oregon once legally banned black people. has the state reconciled its racist past?
Yet after the war, blacks were encouraged to leave Oregon, Millner said, with the Portland mayor commenting in a newspaper article that black people were not welcome. The Housing Authority of Portland mulled dismantling Vanportand jobs for black people disappeared as white soldiers returned from war and displaced the men and women who had found jobs in the shipyards.
Dismantling Vanport proved unnecessary. In Maythe Columbia River flooded, wiping out Vanport in a single day. Residents had been assured that the dikes protecting the housing were safe, and some lost everything in the flood. At least 15 residents died, though some locals formulated a theory that the housing authority had quietly disposed of hundreds more bodies to cover up its slow response.
The white women of portland, oregon aren't listening
The 18, residents of Vanport—6, of whom were black—had to find somewhere else to live. For black residents, the only choice, if they wanted to stay in Portland, was a neighborhood called Albina that had emerged as a popular place to live for the black porters who worked in nearby Union Station. It was the only place black people were allowed to buy homes after, inthe Realty Board of Portland had approved a Code of Ethics forbidding realtors and bankers from selling or giving loans to minorities for properties located in white neighborhoods.
As black people moved into Albina, whites moved out; by the end of the s, there were 23, fewer white residents and 7, more black residents than there had been at the beginning of the decade. The neighborhood of Albina began to be the center of black life in Portland. But for outsiders, it was something else: a blighted slum in need of repair.
Fancy condos with balconies line the street, next to juice stores and hipster bars with shuffleboard courts. Ed Washington remembers when this was a majority black neighborhood more than a half a century ago, when his parents moved their family to Portland during the war in order to get jobs in the shipyard.
He says every house on his street, save one, was owned by black families. The urban-renewal efforts made it difficult for black residents to maintain a close-knit community; the institutions that they frequented kept getting displaced. Redlining, the process of denying loans to people who lived in certain areas, flourished in Portland in the s and s. An investigation by The Oregonian published in revealed that all the banks in Portland together had made just 10 mortgage loans in a four-census-tract area in the heart of Albina in the course of a year.
That was one-tenth the average of loans in similarly sized census tracts in the rest of the city. The company filed for bankruptcy a few days after the state lawsuit was filed; U. The inability of blacks to get mortgages to buy homes in Albina led, once again, to the further decimation of the black community, Gibson argues.
As more and more houses fell into decay, values plummeted, and those who could left the neighborhood. ByAlbina was a neighborhood known for its housing abandonment, crack-cocaine activity, and gang warfare. Absentee landlordism was rampant, with just 44 percent of homes in the neighborhood owner-occupied. It was then, when real-estate prices were at rock bottom, that white people moved in and started buying up homes and businesses, kicking off a process that would make Albina one of the more valuable neighborhoods in Portland.
The city finally began to invest in Albina then, chasing out absentee landlords and working to redevelop abandoned and foreclosed homes. Some could not afford to pay for upkeep and taxes on their homes when values started to rise again; others who rented slowly saw prices reach levels they could not afford.
Even those who owned started to leave; byblacks owned 36 percent fewer homes than they had a decade earlier, while whites owned 43 percent more. This gave rise to racial tensions once again. Many might think that, as a progressive city known for its hyperconsciousness about its own problems, Portland would be addressing its racial history or at least its current problems with racial inequality and displacement.
But Portland only recently became a progressive city, said Millner, the professor, and its past still dominates some parts of government and society. The city had a series of police shootings of black men in the s, and in the s, the police department was investigated after officers ran over possums and then put the dead animals in front of black-owned restaurants. It still tends not to, even as gentrification and displacement continue in Albina and other neighborhoods.
The overt racism of the past has abated, residents say, but it can still be uncomfortable to traverse the city as a minority.
In portland, some black activists frustrated with white protesters
Paul Knauls, who is African American, moved to Portland to open a nightclub in the s. Instead, said Bates, the city celebrated when, in the early s, census data showed it had a decline in black-white segregation. The reason? Black people in Albina were being displaced to far-off neighborhoods that had traditionally been white. Imarisha, Bates, and others say that during that incident, critics of the African American community failed to take into the history of Albina, which saw black families and businesses displaced again and again when whites wanted to move in.
That history was an important and ignored part of the story. Obviously that ideology of a racist white utopia is still very much in effect.
Talking constructively about race can be hard, especially in a place like Portland where residents have so little exposure to people who look differently than they do. Perhaps as a result, Portland, and indeed Oregon, have failed to come to terms with the ugly past. But it may be part of it. Popular Latest. The Atlantic Crossword. In Subscribe.
The racist history of portland, the whitest city in america
The Champoeg meetings organized early government in Oregon. Men wade through the Vanport flood in AP photo. Imarisha says she is often the only black person in Portland establishments.