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Rolonda S. Mingledoff
Professor Annie Knepler
11 November 2014
The Housing Struggle of African Americans in Portland
All throughout the first half of the 20th century blacks had to deal with racial discrimination in the
housing market in Portland, Oregon. Whites didnt want blacks in their neighborhood from the notion
that their property values would decrease with their presence. Whites made it extremely difficult for
blacks to enter the market by excluding them from certain neighborhoods by following guidelines set by
the Portland Realty Board. These issues stem from the very beginning of Portland.
Oregon was originally a Klan state. A Klan state uses terrorist tactics to suppress black people. The
group that does these heinous acts is the Klu Klux Klan. The state first constitution excluded blacks from
entering the state. This contributed to the minuscule black population at only 1100 people in 1900.
Since Oregon already had racist views its no wonder why they were resistant to the migration of other
races. The KKK were known for primarily attacking Blacks it makes sense as to why they were the ones
who were primarily targeted in the housing market. (Pearson)
Racial tensions were seen in the way the housing market was run. In 1919, it was made unethical to
sell homes to nonwhites in white neighborhoods. In the 20s new guidelines prevented blacks from
moving beyond east-side neighborhoods. The sellers themselves wouldnt sell to blacks. Otto
Rutherford, a young boy, recalls a white man telling his father Im not going to sell to you (Pearson
160). Dr. Norval Unthank, who was one of two black physicians in the city, moved his family to a white
neighborhood. After arrival his family was harassed by white neighbors until he moved his family away.

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They found their house robbed, damaged property, telephoned threats and also received a 75 signature
petition to be removed from their house. With all these guidelines blacks began to become
concentrated along the Williams Avenue. Williams Avenue went through a name change and eventually
became known as Albina, which referred to the Northeast area of Portland. (Mcelderry)
Its said that blacks were forced to live in Albina but upon further research that is not true in most
cases. Blacks began to move there when whites left in 1913 to move into suburbs due to the new use of
the streetcars. Streetcars made it practical for whites to move away and still have transportation to
work. When the whites moved the houses were available and affordable to blacks. Black businesses
began to emerge in the Williams Avenue district. This area began to become the center of black
community life. The Portland Realty Board considered officially designating Williams Avenue district as
the black part of town. (Mcelderry)
This type of treatment is anti-black sentiment. Whites believed that if blacks moved into an area
the property values would go down. They prevented blacks from moving to better areas thus creating
the slum neighborhoods they forced the blacks to stay in. They were afraid of the unknown and were
ignorant to accepting other races. Blacks only made up a small percentage of the overall population. In
1940, there were fewer than 2,000 compared to the growth in 1942 with about 15,000. Blacks were
targeted because they stood out. If your use to seeing a certain amount of blacks when you see more
you feel that there is more of them what really is. They overlooked new whites because they didnt see a
change in the numbers because they already were the majority in the first place.
It seems that Black didnt have too many problems until the WW. Mayor Earl Riley claims that
Portland can only absorb a minimum of Negroes without upsetting the citys regular life (Pearson
162). Its said that the early Portland blacks knew where they could or could not go but the newcomers
had to be taught. Another statement is that Blacks were to stay in their place. (Pearson163). These

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comments show that they were afraid of the growing black population. They didnt know how to deal
with blacks on a larger scale. It shows the ignorance of the city and the tension how they acted on it.
There was an increase to the black population in 1941 to 1943 with 15,000 to 20,000. The war
caused the demand for housing to increase because Portland began to produce war supplies. Casting,
scrap iron, shipbuilding and Kaiser Shipbuilding Company were the new job opportunities that the war
provided. The increase for more production called for more workers. The arrival of 160,000 new
workers doubled the population by 50%. The New Deal Housing Act of 1937 was passed to provide
public housing. Portland didnt want to provide public housing. Portland wanted to get by, by doing as
little as possible. The goal of the housing authority was to impose the least impact on the community
socially and economically (Pearson 166). Portlands officials were doing what would best benefit
themselves. Public housing wasnt as profitable as private housing. Chester A. Moores, board member
of Housing Authority of Portland, put self-interests before the needs of the others. In 1943, HAP elected
Moores as its chairman, ensuring that self-serving interests and exclusionary practices would continue.
When dormitories were to be built to house black war industry workers it didnt sit well with whites.
They were outraged and had protests. In the September 39, 1942 issue of the Oregonian, it says that too
many are undesirable and to locate them on the edge of the city. They claim property values would
depreciate and crime would increase. The article in the Oregonian shows that whites were the cause of
the housing crisis. By keeping blacks out of neighborhoods they forced them to live in horrible
conditions. Everything could have been avoided if they allowed blacks to move to wherever they desired
to be.
Kaiser Corporation stepped in and provided public housing. Kaiser created Kaiserville which was later
named Vanport. Kaiser had ulterior motives to create the housing because he knew that people could

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leave if they didnt receive housing. Kaiser needed labor for his shipyards. The construction of the
housing was cheaply done but it took people out of uncomfortable living situations. Blacks still faced
discrimination in Vanport. Blacks were put on longer waiting lists for housing than whites. Blacks were
allowed to live in Vanport but they were also zoned off in certain areas of Vanport.
Chester Moores and Earl Riley were looking to get rid of Vanport. Moores says to keep HAPs
intentions secret, at least from the public (Pearson 175). Housing Authority officials wanted to
eliminate public housing to make room for industrial expansion to stimulate private market. They didnt
want Vanport to be a permanent housing. They wanted it to be torn down after the war for a more
profitable purpose. The flood of Vanport came and answered their prayers. The flood displaced 18,500
people with 6000 of them being African Americans. The blacks were given horrible temporary housing.
They were allowed to stay in barracks at Swan Island and some of the old housing units that were once
closed. President Truman called Vanport a disaster area and signed a 10 million emergency relief bill.
Truman was under the assumption that Vanport would be rebuilt. The HAP officials had a different
motive. They wanted to build private homes. The actions demonstrated by the Housing Authority of
Portland led to this comment in the Observer another of the systematic methods of segregation used
by the Portland Housing Authority (Mcelderry) This statement shows that the authority had no concern
for the black population. They would rather have the blacks in a slums that the city created than to give
them decent housing.
The housing market for Blacks in Portland was a struggle for the first half of the 20th century. Blacks
faced discrimination from not being even allowed in the state of Oregon to where they could live in the
city of Portland. These practices that occurred in the housing market were unjust. Portland could have
been a different place if they allowed blacks to span out into the city. Blacks couldnt because there was
someone at every corner to stop them being it were neighbors, housing officials, mayor, realty board

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and or committees. The effect of the segregation of the housing market can be seen in present day
Portland. Blacks are typically located in the Northeast area just as before in the 1900s.

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Works Cited
"Court Action Voted to Block Housing Plan for Negroes." The Oregonian [Portland] 30 Sept. 1942: n. pag.
Mcelderry, Stuart. "Building a West Coast Ghetto: African-American Housing in Portland, 1910-1960."
The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 92.3 (2001): 137-48. JSTOR. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
Pearson, Rudy. ""A Menace to the Neighborhood": Housing and African Americans in Portland, 19411945."Oregon Historical Quarterly 102.2 (2001): 158-79. JSTOR. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.