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OPB Examines African American Civil Rights Struggles in Portland with New Documentary and Community Conversation


Oregon Experience’s “Portland Civil Rights: Lift Ev’ry Voice” airs April 21 followed by live televised and social media conversation with community leaders

OPB will premiere a new, 80-minute Oregon Experience documentary that explores Portland’s African American history with a focus on the turbulent 1960s, 70s and early 80s. “Portland Civil Rights: Lift Ev’ry Voice” airs Tuesday, April 21 at 8 p.m. on OPB TV.

Immediately following the film, OPB will host a live, televised panel discussion with community activists and city leaders about the civil rights challenges Oregonians still face today. That discussion will also extend to social media, where the audience can engage with comments and questions on Twitter using the hashtag #ORCivilRights.

“Lift Ev’ry Voice” explores challenges that united the black community over the decades, including issues related to urban renewal, school desegregation and police relations.

The program begins during World War II, when thousands of African Americans migrated north to work in the shipyards. In Portland, most were funneled into a hastily-constructed public housing project called Vanport; but in 1948 the Columbia River flooded and washed away the town leaving hundreds of both black and white families homeless. African Americans had little choice where they could move because of discriminatory real estate and banking practices. Most were forced to relocate across the Willamette River to the inner northeast district of Albina.

By the late 1950s, Portland’s disinvestment in the Albina district, lack of capital for mortgages and home improvements and high unemployment among young African American men had helped create what was being called Portland’s Negro ghetto. The area soon was targeted for federally-funded urban renewal projects. As a result, hundreds of homes and businesses owned by both blacks and whites were destroyed and hundreds of families in the Albina area were displaced.

By the late 1960s, a new generation of young black activists had emerged with more militant strategies for changing the status quo. A decade later the Portland chapter of the Black United Front formed and gained tremendous power in the community. Its members advocated for equal and effective educational opportunities for all children in their own neighborhoods, and demanded an end to the forced bussing of black children to white schools. Continual pressure from the black community would ultimately end mandatory bussing in the city.

Activists would also turn their attention to institutional racism in the Portland Police Bureau and demand accountability of the bureau and its officers.

“Portland Civil Rights: Lift Ev’ry Voice” explores the triumphs and the challenges within Portland’s black community. It examines the hard-fought civil rights victories led by organizations like the NAACP and the Urban League of Portland, but also the racist policies and powerful negative stereotypes that would, throughout the city’s history, still prevail.

The documentary is told largely through the words of men and women who lived through and led the struggles for human rights in Portland. It features archival film and images illustrating these remarkable times.

The program includes interviews with:

  • Karen Gibson, associate professor of Urban Planning and Studies, Portland State University
  • Avel Gordly, former state senator and community activist
  • Ron Herndon, director of Albina Head Start
  • Bill Hilliard, former editor of The Oregonian
  • Paul Knauls, community businessman, activist and honorary “Mayor of NE Portland”
  • Darrell Millner, professor emeritus of Black Studies, Portland State University
  • Tom Potter, former Portland mayor and former chief of police
  • Charlotte Rutherford, retired administrative law judge

“Portland Civil Rights: Lift Ev’ry Voice” was written and produced by Nadine Jelsing, edited by Bruce Barrow and narrated by Russell Hornsby. It airs Tuesday, April 21 at 8 p.m. on OPB TV. More information about the program is available from Oregon Experience online.

Immediately following the documentary, at 9:20 p.m., Dave Miller, host of OPB’s daily radio show Think Out Loud will host a live panel discussion with community leaders that will air on OPB TV addressing the civil rights challenges Portland’s black community still faces today.

Viewers can also join in a live Twitter conversation from home during and after the documentary and live community discussion using the hashtag #ORCivilRights.


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About Oregon Experience
Oregon Experience is an exciting history series on OPB TV that brings to life stories that help us understand this place where we live and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. Co-produced with the Oregon Historical Society, the series draws upon the Society’s skilled researchers and extensive photography and moving-image archives. The program also incorporates OPB’s own film and video resources and the expertise of some of Oregon’s finest historians. Each episode features captivating characters – both familiar and forgotten – who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. “Portland Civil Rights: Lift Ev’ry Voice” is supported in part by Arlene Schnitzer and Jordan Schnitzer, the Robert D. and Marcia H. Randall Charitable Trust, the Oregon Cultural Trust and the Clark Foundation. For more information, please visit http://www.opb.org/television/programs/oregonexperience/.

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