A Peculiar Paradise
a History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940
Chapter Seven - Sober, Industrious and Honest
The Black Community of Portland
January 1, 1900 marked the beginning of a new century, and optimism reigned. Black people in Portland could assess their accomplishments with pride. The small, struggling community had seen some progress and the beginnings of change. Churches and other social institutions were established, and the effort to secure the repeal of racist laws had at least begun. Two years later, they were reminded of the task that lay ahead of them:
It has been difficult for the colored race to get a right start, and [it] is also difficult for many of them yet to realize the necessity of right living and earnest steady efforts for their betterment, and to prepare themselves for the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.
Between 1890 and 1900 the number of black people in Oregon had decreased slightIl, from 1,186 to 1,105, but in the same decade the proportion of the black population living in Multnomah County rose from 44% to 70%, drawn by increased job opportunities at the Portland Hotel and with the railroads. Since 1896, they had a voice in the press in the person of A.D. Griffin, owner and publisher of the New Age. Griffin had been the editor of the Spokane Northwest Echo before coming to Portland, and was a prominent Mason. While living in Oregon, he became the first black man to attend a Republican state convention, and was a stockholder in the Enterprise Investment Company.
Published weekly, the New Age was not designed to appeal strictly to a black audience; the front page carried general news from the national telegraphic services. News of specific interest to black people was featured on the inside pages and the editorial page. The paper reflected the activities of the local black community and also contained news of black people throughout the Northwest and in the rest of the nation. Coverage was given to events in the South; lynchings and other racist activities were reported as well as news about the accomplishments of black people. Advertisements were often solicited from white-owned businesses, which Griffin urged his readers to patronize. Black-owned businesses advertised in the paper as well.
The newspaper reflected the political and social point of view of its editor. He was an image-maker, and wanted the black people of Oregon to be "sober, industrious and honest," believing that when all members of the race lived up to this standard a measure of economic, if not social equality would be forthcoming? The paper contained advice, examples, praise and criticism of black people based on this standard of behavior. When the federal census was taken in 1900 Griffin urged black people to report home ownership, even if they had made only one payment. He reprinted statements from Booker T. Washington advising black people to declare the value of all their personal property to the census enumerators so that the number and wealth of the national black population could be determined. After the census results were published, Griffin had this advice:
The Negro should remember that he has rights, but also that, after all, he as a whole is not equal in all respects to thb whites, and therefore he has duties to himself and his successors to perform a duty to the race . . . Let the colored man remember that he is one of nine millions . . . with a consciousness, an eye, an ear, a tongue, and a hand that are not to be despised and must be recognized.
Noting the growing population of Oregon, he hoped that among those would come a "good sprinkling of industrious, thrifty colored people," who would be able to find jobs in Portland.4 A year later, he voiced some complaints about the kind of black people that had come.
We are sorry that the slums of the earth make Portland their homes, for they are making things very hard for our race here?
Critical of any local activities that detracted from his image of black people, he commented on black participation in gambling and prostitution.
If co-operative associations and business enterprises numbered among us as many as our pleasure clubs, we would be a more important factor in the commercial world?
He also published many articles dealing with the growth of black-owned businesses and personal wealth, noting that the men at the Portland Hotel were saving money to buy houses. He also printed short biographies of black citizens, such as the following:
The subject of this sketch scarcely needs any introduction at our hands to either the citizens or the traveling public; her name and fame extends to all parts of the country. Mrs. L.B. Lejeune was born in Rolla, Mo., she came to Oregon in '73, traveling by rail to San Francisco, thence to Portland by the Ajax, well remembered by all the old-time settlers. For twenty-three years she has kept a boarding house, and in 1884 in the advent of the transcontinental railroads to Portland she made a specialty of keeping a place where the railroad parties could call home. How well she has succeeded is shown by the fact that from that time to this her establishment is the leading one of its kind in the Northwest and the mention of her name carries with it a suggestion of something pertaining to the railway service.
A.D. Griffin continued to publish the New Age until 1907, when he left Portland and moved to Louisville, Kentucky.
Portland's second black-owned newspaper, the Advocate, began publication in 1903.8 It was founded by a number of local black men, including J.C. Logan, Edward Rutherford, E.D. Cannady, Howard Sproules, Edward Hunt, McCants Stewart, C.F.B. Moore, Bob Perry, W.H. Bolds and A. Ballard. E.D. Cannady served as editor, with the active assistance of Edward Ward, Sproules and Perry. Beatrice Cannady took an active role in the paper in 1912 when she became the assistant editor.
The Advocate was a four page weekly; national and local black news and black advertisements were printed on the front page, along with society news and entertainments of interest to the local black community. The second page contained national and state news of a general nature, and the fourth page was reserved for editorials, letters, church news, society news and hotel notes.
It was a more up-beat newspaper in philosophy than the New Age. While it did not hesitate to print examples of racial discrimination, it dealt in a positive way with the realities of black life in Oregon. Biographical articles featuring local black people and photographs of their businesses and homes were frequently published, and the newspaper was a valuable source of information for the black community during the thirty years of its publication.
Portland's third black newspaper, the Portland Times, was established in 1918 by W.R. Lee, William J. McLamore, J.D. Emery and E.R. Richardson. It ceased publication after five years, and very little of the paper has been preserved?
The years between 1890 and 1914 saw the growth of agriculture, lumbering, fishing and industrial mining industries in Oregon, and produced great commercial expansion in Portland. The black press reflected this economic prosperity in its coverage of black enterprises, which were thriving.
A visit to the several business enterprises being conducted by Negro men and women in this city would be in the nature of a discovery and agreeable surprise to the majority of our people and cause us to give up the belief that conditions are worse now than they were ten or twenty years ago. We find barber shops, grocery stores, restaurants, tailor shops, cafes, boarding and rooming houses, furniture stands, laundries, etc., all being run by Afro-Americans, and comparing favorably with any like establishments in the city.
Most of the businesses served the needs of the black community, and many also represented second jobs for their owners. A black man named Horace Llewelyn Hubbard, employed as a mailing clerk and multigraph operator with the Underwriters Equitable Rating Bureau, conducted a dancing school with Mr. J.F. McClear. Owen L. Lynthecum was employed in Salem in the office of Governor Oswald West, had two residences in Portland, one in Salem, and a farm in Marion County.
As black people were generally not permitted to eat in white-owned restaurants, black-owned restaurants and saloons provided a service to the black community and to railroad men away from home.~2 By far the most successful of these ventures was the Golden West Hotel. It furnished a place of residence for many of the railroad men, and also contained a restaurant, saloon, barber shop, ice cream parlor and candy shop. It was often used as a gathering place for the black community. One resident recalled these occasions:
After church.., we would go up to the hotel in order to have our dinner. Often they were swamped with customers all of a sudden every Sunday. So we utilized that time by visiting more with other people who had come out of other churches. There was a great swapping of . . . laughter, plans for the coming week, just a general get-together, socializing?
From 1906 to 1931 the Golden West Hotel was operated under the management of a prominent black entrepreneur, W.D. Allen. In 1931 it closed for two years, and was reopened in November, 1933, under the management of a black woman, Mrs. Cathrine Byrd.
There were a number of people operating independent shops as barbers and hairdressers. James Fullilove managed a barber shop and was also a messenger for the U.S. District Court during the 1910's. Inez Mayberry was the first black woman to graduate from the Sanitary Beauty College in 1926, and for many years had a shop in her home near Mt. Tabor. Black men and women owned a number of tailor and dressmaker shops.~4 Edward W. and William H. Rutherford, who came from South Carolina in 1897 to work at the Portland Hotel, acquired property on Broadway and Flanders and for many years had a haberdashery, barber shop, cigar and confectionary store, and leased space for a cafe and tailor shop. Among the other businesses owned and operated by black people were grocery stores, butcher shops, transfer and storage operations, catering businesses, furniture dealers, auto repair shops, and a photography studio?
The Enterprise Investment Company was established in 1901 by eight black men, who put up a capital investment of $10,000.x6 The organization bought land and erected a building on Larrabee Street, completing the project in 1903. The building was opened with a formal dance, the highlight of the season and the first, it was claimed, to be given west of Denver, Colorado,in a building owned by black people. By 1907 the value of the company's investments had increased to $13,5007 The flurry of business activity in the black community which occurred in the first two decades of the twentieth century proved to be short-lived and by 1927 many of the businesses were no longer in existence. The Advocate assessed the progress of the black community that year, saying:
We have three thousand colored people, and we are gradually increasing. For the most part we are buying our homes in all parts of the city. We have one large hotel, a newspaper, three modern barber shops, a confectionary, beauty parlor for the wealthy people, a branch YWCA, three churches and two missions. From the economic standpoint it is very difficult for one of our race to find other than menial work, yet we have two postal clerks, one shoe clerk, two stenographers in white offices, a clerk of the Child Labor Commission in the Court House, three men in the express business, one dentist and physician, and two attorneys.
Employment opportunities for black people in private industry and government were largely limited to jobs as service personnel in hotels, restaurants, and in office buildings as janitors, doormen, porters, bellhops, waiters, and cooks. A.D. Griffin complained that while the black community had supported the Republican Party no "little jobs" were offered to black people. Later he reported that two political committees had hired black men; one as a clerk and one as a janitor. One of the first black census enumerators hired in 1900 was M.W. Lewis. The first black mail carrier was Arthur A. Turner, who was hired in 1909 and remained on the job until his death four years later. A. Waterford was the first black man to work for the Portland Fire Department, and was appointed U.S. Deputy Marshall under Penumbra Kelly? Ralph P. Flowers was employed by the city of Portland from 1919 to 1952 as an auto mechanic, and was the first black person to get a job with the city under the civil service program. At the time of his retirement he was in charge of the city municipal garage. He was also the first black person to operate a gasoline service station, and was the first to be issued a dealers license to sell automobiles. He operated a used car lot on Williams Avenue from 1939 to 1955.
Employment for black women was also severely restricted. Meier and Frank Company hired black women as maids and Olds and King hired black women as elevator operators. Many were employed in private homes as domestic workers. Two women were employed as stenographers in offices, and Mrs. Lizzie Weeks was the first black woman to become a matron at the Frazier Detention Home and was appointed probation officer of the Juvenile Court by Judge Tazwell.
The first black physician to practice in Portland in the twentieth century was J.A. Merriman, who came to the city in 1903. He remained in Portland until 1931. Dr. DeNorval Unthank, who was to become one of the most prominent black leaders of the community, came to Portland to begin his practice in 1930. Hugh A. Bell came to Portland to practice dentistry in 1924, and Dr. Elbert Booker, another dentist, came in 1927.
McCants Stewart was the first black attorney in Portland, and was admitted to the Oregon Bar in 1903. In 1914 he ran for the office of public defender in Multnomah County, and lobbied for a public accommodations bill in the state legislature in 1919. Eugene Minor attended the Northwestern School of Law in Portland, and was admitted to the Bar in 1918. He practiced law in Portland for many years, and was also a librarian and messenger for the federal court under Charles E. Wolverton and Robert S. Bean.
The first black woman to practice law in Oregon, Beatrice Cannady also attended the Northwestern School of Law, and was admitted to the Oregon Bar in 1922. In 1932 she ran for State Representative from District 5, Multnomah County, but was defeated. She moved to Los Angeles, California in 1934.
Wyatt Williams worked for many years as a bellboy at the Portland Hotel, and attended law school at night. In 1927 he was admitted to the Oregon Bar. He retained his job at the Portland Hotel, became captain of the bellboys, and practiced law in his spare time. He was employed as a legal assistant in the office of Julius Silverstone, and was also a real estate broker. In 1935 he worked as a courtesy attendant in the Oregon State House of Representatives.
Many of the young black people who grew up in Oregon in the 1920's and 1930's and who graduated from high school and college had to take menial jobs if they wanted to stay in Portland. There were few employment opportunities in the professions for educated black people. It was not until the 1940's that the first black school teachers were hired in Portland.
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