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Oregon Historical Society

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School Integration, Social Justice, Anti-racism, Race, Social Classes, Social Sciences -- Research


Helen Marie Casey’s booklet Portland’s Compromise: the Colored School, 1867–1872 recounts the story of William Brown, an African-American resident of Portland, Oregon, and his role in the first and only case of official segregation of African-American children in Portland Public Schools (PPS) in 1867. After unsuccessfully trying to enroll his children in one of Portland’s only two public elementary schools, Brown appealed to the school board, including directors Josiah Failing, W.S. Ladd, and E.D. Shattuck. Again, his children were denied access. The board of directors explained their resistance to integrated schools by saying: “If we admit them [African-American children], then next year we will have no money to run the schools.” According to Casey, the directors were “afraid to provoke the taxpayers and rouse their ire.”1 Rather than attempting such a politically “risky” effort, the school board eventually allocated $800 — $765 more than it had offered prior to Brown’s threat of a lawsuit — for a segregated school at the corner Southwest Fourth and Columbia. Twenty-six African-American students, twenty-one boys and five girls — many of whom had previously attempted to attend another public, or “free,” school in Portland but had been denied — enrolled in the school. The continued existence of the “Colored School” was constantly in question at annual school meetings. Funding for the school was abolished in 1872, and the next year, thirty African-American children were admitted to the newly integrated PPS.



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