Black History in Portland

Despite daunting barriers and discrimination, Black Portlanders have made many important contributions.

This article was produced in collaboration with The Skanner News. For 35 years, The Skanner has reported local news on the issues that matter to African Americans across the Northwest.

Black pioneers were among the earliest non-Native people to settle in Oregon, but it was not until World War II that thousands of African Americans migrated to the Northwest to find work in the shipyards and keep the railroads running. Today Portland is home to more than 41,000 African Americans, most living on the east side of the Willamette River.

Despite daunting barriers and discrimination, African Americans have made important contributions to Oregon in politics, medicine, the environment, sports and the arts. Portland’s many parks, for example, make the city one of the greenest in the nation. That’s thanks largely to Charles Jordan, a former city commissioner who championed green spaces in cities, far ahead of his time. In July 2012, the city renamed a community center in Jordan’s honor.

Notable Black Portlanders

Album review: jazz fusion takes dramatic turns in Esperanza Spalding's  latest – Emily's D+Evolution | The National

Notable Black Americans on the Portland entertainment scene include actor Danny Glover; pianist Janice Scroggins; Grammy-winning jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding; saxophonist Mike “Philly” Phillips; jazz drummer Mel Brown; jazz singer Julianne Johnson-Weis; R&B singers Liv Warfield and Andy Stokes; funk performer/producer Tony Ozier; and rappers Cool Nutz, Rose Bent, Soul P, Luck One, Illmacculate and Animal Farm.

More Community History

Black Americans in Oregon Politics

Black History in Portland | The Official Guide to Portland

The early 2000s marked a historic milestone as three Black females, former state senators Margaret Carter, Avel Gordly and Jackie Winters, served in the Oregon State Legislature simultaneously. These three senators made landmark reforms for both Black communities and Oregon as a whole, including removing the last remnants of anti-Black exclusionary legislation from Oregon’s constitution.

  • Margaret Carter became the first Black woman elected to the Oregon Legislative Assembly in 1984. She advocated for education for those most in need, and legislation to observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a state holiday. Carter retired from the Oregon Senate in 2008 to head up the Department of Human Services. In 2011, her alma mater and former employer, Portland Community College, named the Senator Margaret Carter Technology Education Center in her honor.
  • Portland native Avel Gordly was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1991 and became the first Black woman elected to the Oregon State Senate in 1996. She served a total of 17 years before retiring from office in 2008 to become an associate professor in the Black studies department at her alma mater, Portland State University. As senator, Gordly helped pass legislation requiring statewide multicultural health service. In 2008, Oregon Health Science University renamed its behavioral health center the Avel Gordly Center for Healing, and committed to meeting mental health needs in the Black community. Gordly published her memoir in 2011, “Remembering the Power of Words: The Life of an Oregon Activist, Legislator, and Community Leader.”
  • Senator Jackie Winters moved to Portland with her family during WWII along with many other Blacks who sought gainful employment in the shipyards and railways. Her father launched a short-lived daily newspaper, which helped shape Winters for public debate and advocacyAs an adult, Winters moved to Salem, Ore., and gained acclaim for her regional restaurant chain, Jackie’s Ribs. Winters was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1998, becoming the first Black Republican ever to serve in the Oregon Legislative Assembly. She won election to the Oregon Senate in 2004 and still holds office. She advocates for increased state education funding and helped create the Oregon Food Share Program, which has grown to include a statewide system of food banks. She sits on the powerful ways and means committee that oversees the state budget and is a popular guest on many national television forums.

“Source: TraveltoPortland”

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