Primary Documents


CCRH Presents: Northeast Passage



To understand the history of the Boise neighborhood, one needs to begin with a history of African Americans in Oregon. Oregon has a history of racism that dates back to before it was a state. This history directly influenced the social demographics of Portland's neighborhoods as the city grew.

In the 1800s Oregon was a host to a variety of people looking for work and to settle the territory. In the mid-1800s, before Oregon became a state, there were laws created to exclude blacks from living in the territory. One of these laws was called the 'Lash Law' of 1844. It got its name because whipping was the consequence given to a black person every six months until they left the territory. These exclusion laws were written into the state constitution when Oregon became a state in the Union in 1859. Article I, Section 35, the exclusionary clause directly pertaining to "free negro(s) or mulatto(s)," was not amended until 1926.

Sign prominently placed in a North Portland restuarant. Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society.

While government officials infrequently held to the exclusion laws in the latter years, migration of blacks to Oregon was slow outside of a small burst of railroad workers that came in the twenties. The few blacks that did migrate to Portland faced discrimination when attempting to purchase homes.

In the thirties, the real estate industry began to define the meaning of a white segregated neighborhood as one that did not have a black-occupied residence within four blocks (1). Realtors held to their code of "ethics," and followed the condition on many deeds that homes in white neighborhoods were not to be sold to blacks. The result of such racial actions was a physical boundary dividing blacks from whites. By the early 1940s Albina, traditionally a white and working class neighborhood, was one of the communities in Portland in which blacks could reside.

The early forties were a time when the country prepared to go to war. WWII spurred the economy in Portland, which benefited from the placement of three Kaiser shipyards in the city's vicinity. Kaiser needed many laborers and the company recruited both white and black workers. This led to an influx of blacks (as well as whites) into the state. Although the pay was good, there was little available housing for the newcomers. The housing authorities in Portland suggested that Albina absorb the newcomers, but the citizens of the neighborhood, black and white alike, banned together to prevent the newcomers from disrupting their community (2).

The City of Vanport originated as short-term solution to the housing shortage. Both whites and blacks populated Vanport. When WWII ended the shipyard orders decreased, but the workers and their families remained. The "temporary" town of Vanport became the only option for these residents, as the city of Portland was ill prepared to provide housing. After the flooding of Vanport in 1948, in which over 16,000 people became homeless, Portland's housing shortage was disastrous.


At right: The Vanport Flood, 1948. Courtesy Bonneville Power Administration


Flood evacuees at Trinity Episcopal Church in 1948. Courtesy of the Oregon Historical Society

Suddenly the city of Portland was forced to deal with a significant population of homeless black people. The discriminatory real estate practices of the thirties continued, to the point where the Albina neighborhood became the only one where blacks could find housing.

Banking practices presented further challenges to minority homebuyers. Banks created a process called "redlining," which designated certain areas of the city too risky for investment. The term is said to have received its name by referring to bank officials that would hang up maps and draw red circles around minority neighborhoods to avoid investing in.

The 1950s and 1960s were a time of supposed revitalization in the diverse North and Northeast neighborhoods. On the surface, this goal promised to have a positive affect on the neighborhoods. In reality, the city of Portland leveled neighborhoods to allow for industrial growth, thereby adding to the housing shortage. For example, in the 1950s, people in the central Albina neighborhood lost their homes to the building of the Memorial Coliseum and Interstate 5(3).

The 1980s began a long downward spiral for the residents of northeast Portland. A recession brought high unemployment rates and a severe drop in property values in the Albina neighborhoods. Compounding these problems was the arrival of gangs and drug trafficking.

Plus, while the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1976 and the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 outlawed the practice of redlining, there is evidence that the practice continued illegally in Portland into the 1990s (4). The affect of redlining was two-fold. First, it prevented low-income people from purchasing a house they could afford. Second, it presented an artificial barrier to any sort of investment in the community.

The Boise neighborhood saw its share of these problems. As we will see, this history contributes to the way some Boise residents understand the challenges their community faces today.

(1). McLagan, Elizabeth, 175.
(2). Pancoast, Diane L, 44.
(3). Cornerstones of Community, 86.
(4). Lane, Dee. "Buyers Say Home Loans Refused for Some NE Sites."



History <> Gentrification <> Conflict <> Primary Documents<> Bibliography

Events Calendar<> Community Histories<> Oral Histories
Curricula<> Student Projects<> River History
Public Programs<> Resources<> Special Projects
Contact Us