“Only by contact with the races will ever an understanding be reached.”
-Beatrice Morrow Cannady

Beatrice Morrow Cannady (1889-1974) was a leading African American civil rights activist in Oregon during the early part of the 20th century. Through her interracial teas and hundreds of lectures on Negro history and literature, Cannady became known as the ambassador of inter-racial goodwill. The next episode of OREGON EXPERIENCE looks at the life of this civil rights pioneer who, despite accolades from her peers, few Oregonians today remember. Tune in May 14 at 9pm on the stations of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

A native Texan, and graduate of Wiley College, she arrived in Portland in 1912 and married the publisher and co-founder of a weekly African American newspaper called The Advocate. During her 25-year career, Cannady published The Advocate; gave hundreds of lectures to white high-school and college students; spoke to missionary societies and Portland congregations; was invited to address national audiences about her civil rights efforts; and discussed Negro history and literature over KGW, KOIN and other radio stations


At a time when the color line in Portland was rigid, Cannady also hosted successful interracial tea parties at her home in northeast Portland. The Sunday-afternoon events combined entertainment, culture, and history with local, national, and international politics in an effort “to iron out … misunderstandings between the races.” The gatherings grew in popularity, and as many as 200 people filled her home. “It is a picture never to be forgotten,” Cannady wrote, “for its great beauty and the joy it affords to witness one of these gatherings where white and black, rich and poor, Christian and Jew mingle freely and discuss their common interests while sipping together a cup of tea!”

Driven to make a difference in her community, Cannady earned a law degree from Portland’s Northwestern College of Law in 1922. Although she never passed the bar exam, she was the first African American woman to practice law in Oregon and chaired the Portland NAACP’s committee on legal redress.

She was also the first African American to run for an elected office in Oregon. Although she did not advance past the primary, the support she garnered, primarily by white constituents, was proof of her standing in Portland by the 1930s.

Cannady is one of the women whose accomplishments will be acknowledged in the public space being developed adjacent to Portland State University and the South Park Blocks as the Walk of Heroines. It is a fitting location, since Cannady gave free public lectures about African-American art, poetry, history and music at nearby churches.

OREGON EXPERIENCE is an exciting new history series on OPB-TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters — both familiar and forgotten — who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. 

Funding for OREGON EXPERIENCE is provided in part by Ann & Bill Swindells Charitable Trust, James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust.

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