How does the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s connect to Portland? Didn’t segregation only happen in the South? Hasn’t Portland always been a “progressive” city?
In January, 6th graders learned about the history of the Civil Rights Movement- from the murder of Emmitt Till to the Selma March. During this time, the class hosted a few guest speakers to share their expertise and experience: Jacob Tanzer a local Lawyer who volunteered in Mississippi in the 1960s told his story, Khalid el-Hakim from Detroit came into the class to share his Black History 101 Mobile Museum and Erious Johnson from the Department of Civil Rights in the Oregon Department of Justice presented on Civil Rights issues in Oregon today.
In February, the unit turned to local black history. Using primary documents, students uncovered facts about eight notable topics in Portland’s past and present: the exclusion laws of the 1800s, the Vanport flood, the passing of Civil Right laws in the 1950s, housing discrimination, church as community, urban renewal and gentrification, riots in the 1960s, and school segregation. Diane Hess, from the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, presented to the class, and Ed Washington, former resident of Vanport, shared his childhood experience, and Margaret Jacobson, a local artist and organizer talked about race in Portland today. SWCS parent Juli Kirby will also be sharing about her experience growing up in North Portland and being bussed out of her neighborhood for school.
A highlight of the unit was a day-long scavenger hunt of Portland sites relating to black history. In each location, students read about a significant event that had occurred on that spot, completed a short journal entry and took photos. During that afternoon, students saw where the Vanport neighborhood had stood before it was wiped out by flood waters. They also visited a park where a riot had broken out in the turbulent days of the late ‘60s, they stopped by the Vancouver Street First Baptist Church, where some of the largest Civil Rights rallies took place, and they explored the Golden West Hotel, where many of Portland’s new African-Americans stayed in the late 1890s. They also investigated Emanuel Legacy Hospital, which had only been built after displacing hundreds of African-American families in the 1970s. Other stops include Jefferson High School and the Urban League. A special thanks to Victoria Leder from the Portland Urban League and Izora Green from the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church for taking time to talk with our kids and providing them with informational tours and materials! And thank you to all of the amazing parent volunteers for driving a group of 6th graders all over the city.
Back in the classroom, the students are now working with videographer Peter DeLap to create a documentary based on the scavenger hunt locations. This documentary will be available to educators across the state who want to teach their students about Portland’s black history. More details to come, so stay posted!