Interview with Charlotte Rutherford by Monica Fields-Fears on November 19 and 22, 2008, at Charlotte Rutherford’s home in Portland, Oregon.
Charlotte Rutherford is a community activist and former civil rights attorney, journalist, administrative law judge, and entrepreneur. She was born in 1947, the third child of Verdell Burdine and Otto G. Rutherford. Beginning in the 1930s, her parents were major figures in Portland’s Black civil rights struggle. Her father was president of the Portland Chapter of the NAACP during the 1950s, and her mother served as the organization’s secretary for twenty years; they were instrumental in helping pass the 1953 Oregon Civil Rights Bill.
Rutherford grew up in Portland’s Albina District and attended Highland Grade School and Jefferson High School. Two days after graduating from Jefferson, Rutherford moved to Los Angeles, California, where she attended Los Angeles City College.
She arrived in Los Angeles during the Watts riots and witnessed the rise of the Black Power movement. She was particularly inspired by the writings of Malcolm X and the militancy of the Black Panther Party. In 1967, she returned to Portland and wrote for the Oregon Advance Times, a local Black newspaper.
Rutherford attended the University of Washington before enrolling at Portland State University, where, in 1976, she earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Administration of Justice and a minor in Black Studies. While at PSU, she was also involved on the Black Justice Committee and hosted a television and radio public affairs program that focused on issues relevant to Portland’s Black community.
In the late 1970s, while working as a compliance officer and civil rights investigator for the State of Oregon, Rutherford decided to become a lawyer. She completed her JD at Howard University School of Law in 1983 and her LLM at Georgetown University Law Center in 1985. Rutherford worked for seven years as a civil rights attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in both Washington D.C. and New York City, and served as director of the NAACP’s Black Women’s Employment Program. Rutherford credits this position with giving her a better appreciation for feminism and feminist theory.
In 1992, Rutherford returned again to Portland to assist her aging parents. She worked as an administrative law judge for Oregon’s Office of Administrative Hearings until her retirement in 2010. In 2012, Rutherford donated the Verdell Burdine and Otto G. Rutherford Family Collection to the PSU Library Special Collections and PSU Black Studies.
[From a biographical essay by Ken Coleman and Kira Lesley]
Fields-Fears, Monica, "Interview with Charlotte Rutherford" (2008). Black United Front Oral History Project. 6.