History of Oregon by Oregon Historical Society
homeSection 4Subtopic: African America...
Subtopic : The Self-Promotional Metropolis: African American Settlement

Themes: Social Relations, Towns and Cities

  featured image  

Albert Morton, Head Waiter (center)
with Portland Hotel Staff
CN 18292

African Americans came to the same neighborhood near Union depot because they found work with the Pullman Company, with railroads, or with downtown hotels. In 1900, the First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church had been relocated to 13th and Main, not too far from the Portland Hotel, where dozens of black men worked and lived. The Bethel AME Church was at 68 N. Tenth, in a neighborhood where over a dozen black women operated rooming houses and where the Golden West Hotel, on Everett Street near the Park Blocks, housed between forty and fifty men. Scattered among the far more numerous Chinese and Japanese businesses were black-owned barbershops, pool halls and restaurants. As in other cities beyond the American South, blacks in Portland found that patterns of discrimination could be elusive. When Oliver Taylor, an employee of the Pullman Company, and some friends in 1905 bought box seats at the Star Theater, the management refused to seat them, saying that colored people could only occupy general admission seats. Taylor, represented by the prominent black attorney, T. McCants Stewart, sued for $5,000 in damages, but the judge found against him. The Oregonian, accepting the prevalent doctrine that the law should not override popular prejudices, supported the decision. “Colored people are wise,” the editor argued, “who accept conditions that they cannot change or control....”

Just as Japanese families migrated to East Portland to fulfill the dream of owning farmland, so the opening of the Broadway Bridge in 1913 allowed black families to move across the river in search of home ownership. Because the Portland Realty Board instructed its members not to sell to blacks or Asians wishing to move to blocks inhabited exclusively by whites, African Americans were confined to the ridge line above the Albina train yards and the nearby industrial sites. By 1920, the black community was divided between transients renting rooms near Union Depot, and families buying homes across the Broadway Bridge. By then, 62 percent of black households, and over 80 percent of couples with children, lived near Williams Avenue, where they clustered on the side streets. Because most black men were confined to low wage employment, black married women were far more likely to work outside the home than were white women, and they usually had very few children. Black social life now focused along Williams Avenue, not around the Union depot. The Methodist churches had moved there, Mt. Olivet Baptist Church had been founded there, and the new Williams Avenue YWCA was the meeting spot for women’s clubs and benevolent societies.

© William Toll, 2003

Themes: Social Relations,Towns and Cities

Regions: Portland Metropolitan Area

Date: 1900 - 1920

Author: William Toll

Between 1902 and 1920 race-based realty laws restricted the settlement of African Americans in Portland. While blacks continued to populate the city, demographics of Portland’s African American community shifted with a new focus on east side neighborhoods.

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