Historic preservation -- Oregon -- Portland, Cultural property -- Protection --Oregon -- Portland, African Americans -- Oregon -- Portland -- History, Gentrification -- Oregon -- Portland
The Bosco-Milligan Foundation is proud to present "Cornerstones of Community - The Buildings of Portland's African American History". This publication had its start in February, 1994 when we sponsored a seminar and walking tour at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church to celebrate Black History Month. In the preparation for that program, we knew we had barely scratched the surface in identifying and documenting the buildings associated with African American individuals, institutions, and events throughout Portland's history. The Bosco-Milligan Foundation made a commitment to continue that effort, based on community interest and a collective desire to attempt to fill in important "missing chapters" in Portland and African American history.
In the field of historic preservation, buildings truly come to life when their "stories" are told. A house becomes a home when the individuals and families who lived there are identified. Their histories are anything but lifeless. They transcend time as we begin to know, understand, and learn from the experiences of those who came before us. Historic preservation is about neighborhoods and communities, and the history and architecture of buildings. By the 1970s, historic preservation emerged nationally as a community-based movement, in large part a reaction to the tragic losses of vintage buildings and neighborhoods destroyed during the "urban renewal" years. In more recent years, historic preservation has grown to include and recognize the importance of much more than the mansions of wealthy individuals and "founding fathers". The field of historic preservation recognizes that the true history of a community's development must include the people and places of all of the chapters of that history. We have a lot of "catching up" to do!
In 1990, my own interest in historic buildings and community history was affected and broadened during a conference presentation by Rev. Kenneth Smith, a theologian, Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and an African American. Rev. Smith described historic preservation as a way of preserving the dreams of the men and women of the past, so that we can understand the present and build our future. He also said: "When people feel left out of history, by design - when their achievements are ignored and left out - they will create enclaves of their own, both healthy and unhealthy, for self affirmation. But when all are involved, they will bring their histories as gifts to the table."
When I went on to visit African American historic buildings and sites in other cities and came home to Portland, I asked: "Where are the buildings in Portland's African American history?" This publication is the Bosco-Milligan Foundation's contribution to begin to answer that question.
During the course of preparing this publication, I have had the pleasure of working with a tremendous team of many individuals who joined together with the goal of connecting people with places. We wanted to know what houses the African American men and women who, over the decades, collectively achieved great social movements walked out of every day. Within what walls did institutions like the NAACP plan the many battles for equity in education, housing, and economic opportunity? In what church buildings did people find comfort and inspiration? During the course of seeking answers to these questions, many individuals shared with us their own histories, information about places and events, and memories of history as it truly happened. To these individuals, we are all truly grateful.
In the effort to prepare this publication, we began to visualize the porches, sidewalks, shops, and streetcar stops that made up the African American community over time. What also became clear is the continued commitment of individuals, families, and institutions who sought to improve their lives and their community despite the formidable obstacles of racism and judgements founded in undisguised discrimination, over many decades. That continuing personal commitment to social justice proved over and over that history is made during the everyday lives of many individuals, who collectively make up a community.
"Cornerstones of Community: The Buildings of Portland's African American History" is not intended to replace other history publications. This publication is what historic preservationists call a Context Statement; it is a method of interpreting history about buildings and sites that share a common theme – significance in Portland's African American Community.
Documenting history and historic buildings and places is never really finished. We selected 1970 as the date we would work up to, and undoubtedly overlooked many even within that time frame, due to the modest funding and scheduling for our research, documentation, and publication. We welcome any and all corrections and additional information.
In the effort to identify and document buildings that still stand, the members of the Community History Committee believed that buildings and neighborhoods lost and destroyed over time should not be ignored. It is difficult to read and write about the demolitions and neighborhood dislocations without anger. Hopefully, that reaction will strengthen our resolve to protect and maintain the many, many buildings that remain. These buildings are cultural landmarks of the the individuals and institutions that collectively comprise the built history of Portland's African American community.
Despite the loss of hundreds of homes and other buildings important to Portland's African American community, a rich history remains. Existing buildings are even more important now, as is the community's role in Portland's growth and development.
Clearly, the documentation and appreciation of Portland's African American community and its buildings will continue to evolve and grow. Hopefully, other "stories" wait and will be told and other buildings will be identified -- and preserved.
Millner, Darrell; Abbott, Carl; and Galbraith, Cathy, "Cornerstones of Community: Buildings of Portland's African American History" (1995). Black Studies Faculty Publications and Presentations. 60.