PCS Blog

20th Century Neighborhood Segregation in Portland

Posted by Desirae MacGillivray | 08 April 2013

Segregation, specifically of African-Americans, has been a civil rights issue throughout the United States since the 19th century. Clybourne Park  illuminates the 1950s-era struggle for neighborhood integration. A white couple is trying to sell their home in a Chicago neighborhood, but when an African-American family attempts to purchase the home, problems arise. The decision to sell to the family is controversial among neighbors and community members. Portland had similar issues in the 20th century. For this reason, certain districts within the city were predominantly African-American. One such district, the Albina neighborhood, was located on the northeast side of Portland.
Beginning in the 19th century, Oregon followed a series of Black exclusionary acts. This ultimately denied their entrance into Oregon. Although some African-Americans still found a way to reside in the state, they certainly were not treated equally.


Check out this 1967 documentary titled Albina: Portland's Ghetto of the Mind.


The African-American population did not grow rapidly until World War II had begun. At this time, many moved to Portland for jobs in the ship building industry. Because of the large increase in African-American workers, there was a housing shortage, which African-Americans struggled with the most due to discrimination. The post World War II economic expansion initiated construction and neighborhood disruption on land that much of the African-American population resided on. The construction of the Memorial Coliseum, Interstate 5 and Emanuel Hospital all demolished parts of the Albina district.
Similar to the Clybourne Park neighborhood, the Albina district in Portland faced similar issues. The futuristic perspective of present-day racial issues presented in Clybourne Park questions if the issues of discrimination have really come to a close. In Portland, the Albina district still remains a predominately African-American community. Today, Portland has an annual celebration for Black History Month that correlates with the Portland Jazz Festival.

Despite daunting barriers and discrimination, African Americans have made important contributions to Oregon in politics, medicine, the environment, sports and the arts. Portland's many parks, for example, make the city one of the greenest in the nation.”

Come see Clybourne Park to peek inside race relations with a comical twist! To purchase tickets, click here.



Comments (1)

Thank you, Portland Center Stage,  for this ever so important slice of Portland’s segregation history.  I would also recommend viewing OPB’s “Local Color” on-line for further history told through the stories of Portland’s African American elders who remember growing up in the worst of Portland’s segregation and racial discrimination days. Interviewed by reporter Jon Tuttle in the 1990s and accompanied by footage from historical documents, their stories are powerful, graphic, and disturbing.  We still have an important part of the journey ahead of us to achieve racial/ethnic/economic equity in our region. 

I look forward to seeing the play Saturday.
Carol Witherell, Professor Emerita, Lewis & Clark College;
Co-chair, City Club Member-Led Forums in Education: Look for our May 15 evening event “Learning from History” with Lois Leveen via City Club’s website

  • Carol Witherell
  • 25 Apr 13 07:00

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