African American Historic Places In Portland

Photo: Williams Avenue YWCA

Two National Register nominations recommended by Oregon’s State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation (SACHP) at their February 2020 meeting have been accepted by the National Park Service and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

These important documents outline the history of African Americans in Portland Oregon. The African American Resources in Portland from 1851- 1973 Multiple Property Document (MPD) provides a comprehensive history and tool for future listings of other African American properties. The Williams Avenue YWCA building has been a dedicated place over time for African American organizations to gather for socialization, recreation, and activism.

This effort is in line with Oregon’s Statewide Preservation Plan that seeks to diversify the resources listed in the National Register and continue to tell the stories and uplift the voices of those previously marginalized. The African American MPD serves as a tool that also supports Goal 1 of the Oregon Heritage Plan. By including more voices in the stories told of Oregon’s past, Oregonians can think critically about history and work to accurately depict a more complete historical narrative of Oregon. Understanding all aspects of Oregon’s history allows one to reckon with the past and have better conversations about the present.

“Numerous National Register properties are listed in Portland, however, there are many more places that tell the diverse history of Oregon that have yet to be listed,” says Christine Curran, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer. “The African American MPD will be a useful tool to increase the diversity of nominations and tell a richer and fuller story of Oregon’s past.”

As part of a Certified Local Government grant, the City of Portland worked with Kim Moreland, Raymond Burrell, and Cathy Galbraith to complete two documents related to Portland’s African American history. The idea was to create a context document that would make it easier to list those places significant for Portland’s African American community.

“The Architectural Heritage Center, Oregon Black Pioneers, Portland African American Leadership Forum, and countless individuals have long called for recognition and designation of important African American historic sites.” Explains Brandon Spencer-Hartle, City Planner in the City of Portland Bureau of Planning & Sustainability. “The listing of this MPD in the National Register is long overdue and will serve as a model for prioritizing and protecting Portland’s important BIPOC spaces, many of which have been inexcusably and deliberately overlooked by past planning efforts.”

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