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Amy Granlund
11/20/14
FRINQ-Portland
Portland Housing of African Americans in Portland Oregon 1941-1945

During World War II there was an increased need for outside labor to
the city of Portland, which in turn brought more African Americans into the
Portland Area. On October 4th, 1942 the Oregonian published a page with the
heading “Factual Survey Made of Increase in Negro Population,” which held
within it a handful of articles that give us a better idea of how the African
American population was being received in Portland at that time. These
articles give life to information learned from secondary sources and help give
a picture of what life was really like during this historical time in Portland’s
history.
Portland’s proximity on the Columbia River made it a convenient and
productive site for many industrial companies dealing with building
materials, scrap-iron, and steel-casting. These businesses were in desperate
need for employees due to World War II, and the number of men fighting in
the war. Kaiser, a shipbuilding company was the largest of these companies,
and was bringing in African Americans from as far away as New York City to
help lighten the load and cover positions. 160,000 workers were brought in,
practically doubling the city’s population instantaneously. The change was
not easily welcomed by residents, and in time instead of being upset with the
demand being placed on the city’s companies, the community began

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targeting their frustration at the African American individuals. Kaiser was
criticized for hiring people from New York City. Over the course of the war it
was estimated that there was an increase in population of African Americans
of over a thousand percent, bringing around twenty-three thousand African
Americans to Portland (Pearson, 2001 “A Menace to the Neighborhood”).
As you can probably tell, the change imposed on the local residents of
Portland in and around 1942, combined with the already in place
discrimination that people projected onto people of any racial minority other
than whites at that time, proved to be a new hurdle for the city. Offensive
signs were placed in windows of retail businesses reading “Whites Only” and
keeping people differing by the color of there skin at a constant disconnect
from each other. Amongst many of the ways that prejudices were
implemented to the African Americans moving into Portland for work,
housing was one of them. Up until the twentieth century, a rundown district
on the Westside of Portland “coontown,” had been where most of the African
Americans in Portland had lived. As African Americans came to Portland for
work, restrictions were enforced more strictly on them, ensuring racial
segregation by manipulating the housing market. A housing shortage to all of
the newcomers created a need for a public housing authority of which
Portland had not established yet. The lack of public services in 1941, to those
who needed it during that time lead Portland to one of the most severe
housing crisis’s that the West Coast had seen. As the new migrants
experienced an extreme shortage in housing, and in where they could look

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for housing, Kaiser stepped in, worried that there workers would leave the
area. Kaiser opened its own housing department since funds were not yet
available, along with the fact that Portland had been rejecting the federal
housing funds. Kaiser purchased 648 acres of land just north of Portland, to
be a temporary housing complex that they named “Vanport.” Vanport was
the largest housing project in the United States, and the second largest city
in Oregon, housing over forty-two thousand residents. Portland’s community
was transformed permanently by World War II, as were many cities. (Fryer,
2004, Pearson,2001).
In the October 04, 1942 articles in the Oregon about the “Increase of
Negro Population” we see a direct correlation between Pearson’s article “A
Menace to the Neighborhood,” and also the Carl Abbott’s book “Portland in
Three Centuries.” Within this page of the Oregonian are articles about Kaiser
and how they sent out for outside labor because of the insufficient labor
supply in Portland, The article with the heading “Living Rooms New
Problems,” talks about finding solutions for the rise in the negro population
and the fact that some were “looking to profit from the work of others.”
They use the word “lured,” to describe there new move to Portland, and that
the situation is “bad.” They also talk about the lack of ability to absorb too
many people into the area without upsetting the city’s “regular life.” Another
article from this same page in the Oregonian is titled “Total Placed Around
5000,” and it also talks about the attitudes of the locals and the need for
there to be places for the African Americans to go. This article unlike the rest

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though, talks about the African Americans being people just like everyone
else and how there are good and bad in every race white included. This
article is unique in that it is at least is attempting to empathize and also help
people to see a different perspective.
In all the Articles displayed in the October 04, 1942 Oregonian under
the heading “Factual Survey Made of Increase in Negro Population,’
combined with “A Menace to the Neighborhood,” and “Portland in Three
Centuries,” we see three factual sources that display primary information
along with secondary information about key parts of Portland history. It’s
amazing how primary sources help to clarify information read, and how they
make you trust and understand the historical event more completely.
Citations
The Oregonian 10-04-1942 p.7 “Factual Survey Made of Increase in
Negro Population.

Abbott, Carl. Portland in Three Centuries: The Place and the People.
Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2011.
Pearson, Rudy. “”A Menace to the Neighborhood”: Housing and African
Americans in Portland.” JSTOR. Oregon Historical Society n.d. web.21
oct.2014.
Fryer, Heather. Race, Industry, and the Aesthetic of a Changing
Community in World War II Portland: JSTOR. The Pacific Northwest Quarterly,
2004.