Reclaiming Stolen Black Lands in the “Whitest City”- history and Q&A zoom

By Emanuel Displaced Persons Association 2

The City of Portland is in a sweet spot. There’s a ripe opportunity to redeem racist policies that destroyed Portland’s thriving Black community but whether city leaders will do the right thing remains unseen.

The Emanuel Displaced Persons Association 2, EDPA2 is an ad hoc community-based organization with membership comprised of survivors and Descendants of the Emanuel Hospital expansion forced removal. EDPA2 wants the City of Portland, Emanuel Hospital, Home Forward, formerly Portland Housing Authority, and Prosper Portland, formerly the Portland Development Commission (PDC) to do the right thing and return land they took from a majority Black community.

During the ’60s and ’70s, more than 70% of Portland’s Black residents lived in Central Albina. This was a problem for Ira Keller, then Director of PDC, concerned with the “high concentration of Negroes in Central Albina.”  Utilizing eminent domain under Federal Urban Renewal Law,  Prosper Portland and Emanuel Hospital demolished the houses and businesses in Central Albina. It was a contrived effort that involved the participation of a religious organization, local business, the City of Portland, the State of Oregon, law firms, financial institutions, title companies, electric company, elected officials and city leaders, prominent Portland families and an aggressive propaganda campaign to stoke fears of a “Negro Ghetto”. The City of Portland created a pamphlet and radio spot featuring an Ogre-like cartoon character called Creepy Blight whose sole purpose was to warn white residents of “Blight”. In 1967, the local NBC affiliate KGW produced a film titled “Albina: Portland’s Ghetto of the Mind”, The Portland Housing Authority, now Home Forward, exercised discriminatory housing practices like requiring a $20 deposit and monthly rent aimed at evacuees of the Vanport flood forced to relocate to Guild’s Lake. The Housing Authority also provided funding for the 1962 Central Albina Report used to justify and legalize the removal of Portland’s Black community from Central Albina. Prosper Portland created a pamphlet ameliorating the devastation caused by Urban Renewal and instructed residents on how to move!

In 1970, Black residents in Central Albina formed the Emanuel Displaced Persons Association, EDPA to combat the destruction of their community and to move “with dignity and without suffering financial loss” as stated in the 1949 Fair Housing Act. They filed a complaint with The Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD. Finding merit with the complaint, HUD’s involvement forced Emanuel Hospital, The City of Portland, PDC (now Prosper Portland), The Portland Housing Authority (now Home Forward) and EDPA to sign a Replacement Housing Cooperative Agreement. The Agreement demands all parties to work together to replace every home that was demolished, a 1:1 replacement for the families forced to relocate. For close to 50 years various organizations and individuals have tried to encourage Emanuel Hospital to enforce the Agreement. To this day, the Agreement remains incomplete. Note: adhering to the legal stipulations of a Cooperative Agreement, The City of Portland adopted a policy preceding the Agreement to address the 1:1 replacement housing; the policy and Agreement were never implemented.

On August 1, 2017, City of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler joined Executive Director of Prosper Portland, Kimberly Branam, and former President and Chief Executive Officer of Emanuel Hospital, Dr. George Brown, in a press conference to acknowledge racist policies responsible for the demolition and ultimate destruction of a once-thriving and self-sufficient Black community in what was Central Albina. Emanuel Hospital intentionally allowed portions of the demolished lands to “remain vacant for future development” for close to 50 years. A glaring reminder of a painful past for Portland’s Black community. Now, they claim to return a small parcel of land at the corner of N. Williams and Russell. For the record, Emanuel Hospital acquired more than 55 acres for their expansion yet less than an acre is offered for “return.”

To add insult to a longstanding injury, city officials claim the only way to develop the returned land is by placing it into the Interstate Urban Renewal Area, IURA. In the decade between 2000 and 2010, the IURA removed thousands of Black residents away from the city’s core in N/NE Portland where the majority of the city’s Black community used to reside. The IURA forced Black folks to relocate to east county, the poorest area in Multnomah County. The IURA is the largest, most gerrymandered and overused–it’s set to expire in 2021…

On August 9, 2017, at a regularly scheduled Prosper Portland meeting, members of EDPA2 and other community members stopped the vote to include the corner at N. Williams and Russell in the IURA. The vote goes before Prosper Portland’s Board of Directors again on March 11, 2020.

EDPA2 does not want the property at N. Williams and Russell included in the IURA where it’s expected to generate millions of dollars. How will the descendants of the Emanuel Hospital expansion receive any of those funds? EDPA2 wants city leaders to enforce and adhere to the Agreement that was signed many years ago. They want anything Emanuel Hospital and Prosper Portland “returns” to go to impacted families of the Emanuel Hospital expansion some of whose names are listed in the ten-panel historical display located in the Emanuel Hospital atrium. EDPA2 has met with City of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler on this issue for more than 3 years. In December of last year, EDPA2 responded to the Mayor’s request for a plan with a presentation that includes long term economic development with a focus on community inclusion naming an internship program for neighboring students at nearby Harriet Tubman Middle School, job opportunities for high school students and a training/mentoring program for college students and ownership for Descendants of the Emanuel Hospital expansion. This plan is backed by an international company.

According to the August 1, 2017 press conference, it appears Wheeler and Branam want to relegate the Black community to affordable housing only, omit input from EDPA2 and deny long term economic development opportunities like the plan EDPA2 presented to the mayor.

On April 27, 2020 via zoom (rescheduled from March 31), EDPA2 aims to interject the omitted experiences and stories of impacted families into the current political discussion by presenting The Reclaiming Black Lands in the “Whitest City” lecture. Follow EDPA2 on Facebook. Contact EDPA2 at contactedpa2@gmail.com.

Join EDPA2 for Q&A Session for Reclaiming Stolen Black Lands in the “Whitest City”

Monday, April 27, 7–8:30pm on Zoom

Correction by editor of Eliot News: Prosper Portland reports that 1.7 acres are being redeveloped.

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