As OregonLive writes: “Block by block, government projects dismantled Albina, filling it with towering concrete pylons, thousands of polluting vehicles daily, acres of parking lots and the Trail Blazers’ eventual home. More than 1,000 houses were demolished; some were replaced by nothing more than lots that still sit empty.”
That stands in contrast to what the paper wrote decades ago, when it echoed officials’ assertions that the Albina area was “blighted” — a loaded term used by power brokers throughout the country to defend sweeping “urban renewal.” Translation: Black people live there, so we don’t have any qualms or expect any political pushback for destroying neighborhoods in the name of “progress.”
At one point, according to Sunday’s article, The Oregonian had speculated on possible causes for this “blight”: “Some blame community indifference, some blame a lack of individual initiative by Albina home dwellers, some see the blight as an inescapable consequence of low-income, uneducated families with little aspiration.”
Those aren’t dog whistles. They are racist tropes being blasted through a bullhorn.
Karen Gibson, now a professor emeritus at Portland State University, has a different explanation in “Portland Civil Rights,” a documentary produced by the Oregon Historical Society: “People are ghettoized into a particular space or place. And that means, we designate Albina as the place where African Americans live, we allow more vice activities to occur there; we don’t provide the same policing services, garbage services, education services, park maintenance services, housing maintenance. We neglect and disinvest in that area.”
This portrait of blight gave officials an excuse for paving over swaths of Albina (freeways, after all, were not built through Portland’s Laurelhurst area). And it was easily accepted by a readership that had been conditioned to believe it.
For example, a front-page Oregonian headline in September 1942 used the vernacular of the time and read, “New Negro Migrants Worry City.” The attached story labeled Albina a “colony” for Black people and quoted a police inspector talking of “numerous complaints of beat-ups, robberies and noisy parties.”
There’s more, of course. And Portland is not the only city with a complicated racial history.
But in reading the article, it is difficult not to think of families that were denied the generational wealth that comes with homeownership.
And it is difficult not to think of those who would prefer we don’t discuss or read about this facet of America’s past. All because they are fearful of being awoken to our history.