The Civil Rights Movement in Oregon
Signing Oregon's Civil Rights Bill, 1953 // OrHi 44402
This month we celebrate the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his profound effect on the civil rights movement. But long before King reached the height of his influence, Oregonians were fighting for the rights of African Americans. As early as 1910 Beatrice Morrow Cannady published the state’s only African American newspaper at the time and helped establish the Portland chapter of the NAACP.
Most Oregonians were indifferent to the race question in Oregon until World War II, when the influx of thousands of workers to the Kaiser shipyard turned their indifference into a fear of a “race problem.” After the war, discriminatory housing policies confined African Americans to particular neighborhoods, many of which could not accommodate the large number of people left homeless by the destruction of the residential city of Vanport by flood in 1948.
Residential segregation and poor job opportunities became the main issues for local civil rights activists as they watched the black population in Oregon drop to around 11,000 by 1950. In 1953, the Urban League and its supporters convinced the legislature to pass Oregon’s Civil Rights Bill. With its passage, the state of Oregon came closer to ensuring “[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of this state shall be entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation, resort or amusement, without any distinction, discrimination or restriction on account of race, religion, color or national origin.”