Milestones in Oregon Civil Rights
Present Day Petition Addresses Local Needs
Oregon’s history concerning civil rights is one riddled with slow progress and surprisingly candid acts of racism — especially when compared to the progressive image that our state holds today.
A few examples? In 1922, Walter M. Pierce — a man who openly supported the KKK – was elected governor. Until 1926, Oregon’s state constitution banned black people from permanently settling down. And until 1959, Oregon had not ratified state legislature that forbade the government from denying people of color the right to vote.
Looking at the broad history of racism within Oregon, it would be easy to condemn the past and consider ourselves a more progressive generation of Oregonians. However, that would also discredit the many heroic local individuals, such as Dr. DeNorval Unthank and Beatrice Cannady, who fought for every inch of ground in their quest for civil rights. On January 20, we’ll once again be remembering the impact Martin Luther King Jr. had on U.S. civil rights. As such, this is a great opportunity to reflect on a few of our state’s milestones in terms of equality and progressivity.
Strides in Civil Rights
In 1903, The Advocate, Portland’s first African American newspaper, was founded by the husband and wife, E.D. and Beatrice Cannady. With a team of less than twelve people, The Advocate played an essential role in keeping the African American community informed during the tumultuous time leading up to the Civil Rights Movement. The paper continued operations until 1936, with the Cannadys also having a hand in founding the Portland chapter of the NAACP.
Portland’s NAACP was founded in 1914, and got straight to work fighting against school segregation in Oregon. With the great increase in Oregon’s black population in the years following WWII, the NAACP was vital in several movements for equal employment, and remains a strong presence in civil rights to this day, with monthly events promoting equality and progressivity.
In 1961, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Portland State College. In a show of support, students were dismissed from their classes at 11:00 a.m. in order to attend Dr. King’s speech. In another display of oratory excellence, King touched on the necessity of integration within Oregon, receiving a standing ovation from those in attendance.
“We have come a long way toward making integration a reality,” he said, “but we still have a long way to go.”
A period from 1960 to 1973 saw residents of Portland’s Albina neighborhood protesting the actions of the Portland Development Commission, who had begun making plans to tear down existing buildings within Albina in order to expand Emanuel Hospital. After facing displacement and discrimination in various other parts of the city, much of Portland’s African American population had moved to Albina, due to the neighborhood’s close proximity to the city’s shipyards. With the advent of the PDC’s urban renewal plans, Albina residents faced the possibility of yet another period of displacement. Today, the neighborhood faces more optimistic prospects due to better city planning, yet the history of Albina serves as a reminder of the frequent forced-nomadic lifestyle of Oregon’s African American citizens at that time.
Present Day Look
In recent years, FBI statistics show that Oregon has seen an increase in reported hate crimes of about 40% from 2016 to 2017. This follows a trend echoed by other parts of the nation. According to a tentative 2019 study from SafeHome, Oregon ranks sixth among all states in terms of the increased percentage in reported hate crimes, however experts caution against ranking crime data this way due to the fact that a vast majority of hate crimes go unreported and vary in nature from community to community.
Even more recently, Oregon legislators passed the first overhaul to the state’s hate crime laws since they were first introduced in the 1980s. Introduced in July 2019, Senate Bill 577 considers acts of intimidation reportable as hate crimes, along with adding gender identity to the list of traits protected by the state’s hate crime laws.
Locally, social justice groups have come together to urge Corvallis citizens to sign a petition with the goal of adequate city funding provided for initiatives that would prevent and respond to local acts of bias and hate. The petition calls on the City of Corvallis for not doing enough to realize their Imagine Corvallis 2040 initiative to “promote ongoing education, communication, and enhanced understanding of cultural differences, welcoming and empowering people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and abilities.”
The petition reads, “We implore the City of Corvallis to embrace this vision by prioritizing the funding allocation of $150,000 for bias response and diversity initiatives/services housed within the City of Corvallis’ Office of Community Development.”
This would allocate $75,000 in funding to a Full-time Bias Response and Equity Coordinator employee, and another $75,000 to programming and trainings on diversity and social justice, and community and equity development.
The petition is signed by the Corvallis Friends Meeting, the NAACP Corvallis/Albany chapter, the King Legacy Advisory Board, the Corvallis Community Relations Advisory Group, the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Task Force of the Unitarian Universalist Church, Linus Pauling Chapter Veterans For Peace, and the Corvallis SURJ.
Anyone who has experienced local acts of bias are welcome to fill out a Corvallis Bias Incident Form, while all Corvallis citizens are encouraged to join Bias Initiative Response Action teams to lobby Corvallis decision makers to address the need for increased resources and funding.
Other Corvallis chapters addressing hate and systemic bias include: the Casa Latinos Unidos de Benton County, the Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center, the OSU Women of Color Coalition, and the Community Action for Racial Equity (CARE).
The annual 2020 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration of Corvallis happens 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan 24 at LaSells Stewart Center, 875 SW 26th St. Featuring activist, rapper, and producer Boots Riley as a speaker. Presented by the King Legacy Advisory Board and the OSU Coalition of Graduate Employees. Free and open to the public.
By Thomas Nguyen