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.

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