Our Legacy

It’s 1953.

An African-American family is looking at a home for sale in Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood. A real estate agent takes the family in for a visit, they like it.

Remember what it’s like when you’re checking out a new place hoping you can make it your home? Maybe you think about carpets, curtains, the garden, the view out the window. Where the kids are going to play. It’s exciting and hopeful.

The realtor agrees to write the offer.

But other forces quickly intervene: Portland’s formal and informal systems of racial and economic oppression.

Realtors start talking to realtors. Neighbors start talking to neighbors.

By the end of the week, families on the block have met and decided to pool their money to buy the house out from underneath the African-American family’s offer. Weeks later, the neighbor-owners turn around and sell it on contract to a white family. For several years, envelopes of money pass back and forth across the street and up the block as loans are paid back, knowing glances exchanged.

Welcome to the real world.

The children of those neighborhood families—now in their 70s—shared this story with us, sheepishly. Another example of Portland’s long line of racial intolerance.

As we look back across the years, we must acknowledge the exclusion and privilege that has shaped these neighborhoods as surely as any architect, builder or crushing windstorm ever did.

These layers of racism and intolerance are here with us too, right along with the memories and hopes of the generations. Moving forward means keeping this history visible through an ongoing acknowledgement of its legacy and a conscious commitment to a different response in our daily lives.

8 responses

  1. Yes, the make up of the Irvington/Alameda neighborhood has been influenced by social forces. Redlining was a big one along with the personal segregation you detailed today. Another significant change was “white flight” prompted by the rather tame race riots Portland had in the mid-sixties. People were moving to the Heights, Lake Oswego or other suburbs. My friend’s parents were able to buy a “mansion” on Brazee for their growing family at a bargain basement price. Anyone not afraid to live in or near Albina could afford a nice home.

  2. Thank you for telling this story. It is important to acknowledge how our neighborhoods were shaped by racism in our lifetimes.

  3. After leaving the Alameda neighborhood, the family moved to the King neighborhood in an early wave of gentrification. The last owners were gay, and the neighbors were majority black. We bought one of the bigger, architect designed gems, which afforded us lots of opportunities to entertain and wow family and friends. I was asked to host the wake for David Apple, a well known weatherman, who also dabbled in real estate. Guests arriving did not know me, or that it was my home, but as I opened the door to one of the local regional mangers from a major lending firm, she exclaimed: Oh, wow – this is the first house that we redlined.

  4. Thanks, Doug. Sparked a lot of conversation.

    On Mon, Jun 22, 2020 at 9:06 AM Alameda Old House History wrote:

    > Doug posted: “It’s 1953. An African-American family is looking at a home > for sale in Northeast Portland’s Alameda neighborhood. A real estate agent > takes the family in for a visit, they like it. Remember what it’s like when > you’re checking out a new place hoping yo” >

  5. Thanks for the posting Doug. I grew up not far from Alameda at 52nd and Sumner. My parents bought our house there in 1953. I remember reading the deed around 1965 when I was in high school and being shocked about the racial covenant in the deed. They had to agree to not sell the house to anyone Asian or Black. There it was, spelled out. No wonder my Rigler grade school classes were all white. The fair housing act was passed in 1968 but we still have a long way to go in really implementing it and making up for the loss of opportunity that minorities suffered (and still do) from such discrimination.

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