March 21: Uncovering Civil Rights Histories in Our Communities

History on Location: Uncovering Civil Rights Histories

in our Communities

9:00 – 4:00, Tex Rankin Theater, Pearson Air Museum

1115 E. 5th St., Vancouver, WA 98661

Each year, the Causes of Conflict TAH Project works with the Center for Columbia River History to produce a program connecting our year-long theme to our region. This workshop will identify some of the many civil rights histories in our regional communities. The workshop will take place on the Vancouver National Historic Reserve, site of Kanaka Village, a vibrant 19th century multicultural community, with an ever-changing demography, including Hawaiian workers in the 1830s to Buffalo Soldiers in 1899 to African American WWII era emigrants to the region. Participants will connect local histories to regional and national events and discuss how physical sites connect to the experiences of peoples. Keeping in mind the idea that hidden civil rights histories are all around us, workshop participants will also explore ways in which students can uncover those histories.

The program is free to area teachers but requires advanced registration.  If you’d like to attend, please contact Matt Karlsen.

Agenda and Presenters

Greg Shine

Uncovering Fort Vancouver’s Multicultural History

Greg Shine is chief ranger and historian at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. He has researched early African American history in the region, and has documented the “Rich Legacy of African American History” on the Vancouver National Historic Reserve.

Readings: Although you may have toured Fort Vancouver in the past, this session and the preparatory readings will deepen your layered understanding of the site.  Before the session, please read:

The Village

A Rich Legacy of African American History at Fort Vancouver” .

As you review the above selections, ask yourself:

What histories do you typically think of when you visit Fort Vancouver National Historic site?

How can we uncover the site’s hidden histories and engage our students in doing the same?

Darrell Millner, A Regional Overview of African American History

Darrell Millner has been a professor of Black Studies at Portland State University since 1974 (serving as chair from 1983-1994). He was assistant director of a Teacher Corps program at Jefferson High School from 1970 – 1974, and acted as Multicultural Director for Portland Public Schools from 1983-1985, while on leave from PSU. His specialty areas include African American History, African American Western History, African American Literature, Black Cinema, and Racism.


The following resources will provide a regional understanding of African American history, as well as examining the distinct histories of Vancouver, the Tri-Cities, and Portland. Please review them before the program so we begin with some shared foundations for our work together:

Taylor, Quintard. “The Great Migration: The Afro-American Communities of Seattle and Portland during the 1940s.” Arizona and the West 1981 23(2): 109-126.  (Please request a copy when you register for the program.)

Bauman, Robert. “Jim Crow in the Tri-Cities, 1943-1950.” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 2005 96 (3): 124-131.  (Please request a copy when you register for the program.)

Center for Columbia River History Columbia Slough Website–African Americans and Vanport, Oregon:

Drawing the Color Line

Where Will They Go?

Extending the Color Line

Warning: Avoid Columbia Slough Fish

View: Dr. Quintard Taylor’s, “The Other Black Northwest: Beyond Portland and Seattle,” 55 minute talk at WSU Vancouver on October 8, 2008.

As you examine the selections listed above, consider the following questions for discussion:

  • What forces brought African Americans to the West?
  • How did Oregon institutionalize racial exclusion in its constitution?
  • How did the experiences of African Americans in various regional communities differ? How were they similar? What structural issues contributed to those similarities and differences?

Melissa Williams and Donna Sinclair, Uncovering the Lived Experience: Using Oral History in the Classroom 

Melissa Williams and Donna Sinclair will lead a moderated discussion with community members Mrs. Griffin and Mr. Washington.

Belva Jean Griffin, born in 1927, moved with her family first to Vanport, Oregon in 1944 and to Vancouver, Washington in 1948. She is author of Pass It On, an autobiographical account of her journey from a small Oklahoma town to the present in Vancouver, Washington.

Ed Washington is a former Portland Metro Councilman who moved from Birmingham, Alabama to Vanport, Oregon as a child in 1944.

Melissa Williams teaches writing at WSU Vancouver and is managing editor of Northwest Passage at the College of Education at WSUV. Her M.A. thesis, “Those Who Desire Very Much to Stay,” documents the history of Vancouver’s African American community. Her oral history and research experience with Vancouver’s African American history has taken her from student to teacher to community organizer. She is now a coordinator of the First Families of Vancouver’s African American Community History project.

Donna Sinclair is program manager at the Center for Columbia River History. She formerly directed the oral history programs for the Oregon Historical Society, Reed College, and the U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society. She has taught oral history courses at Portland State University and teaches workshops around the region focused on conducting community based oral history projects. Her current work focuses on the Vancouver National Historic Reserve and women and minorities in the U.S. Forest Service.

Read: Center for Columbia River History Vancouver African American History Project

This site illustrates a student oral history project facilitated by Melissa Williams. As you review, think about the role oral history plays in your classroom. How might oral history augment mandatory texts? How would you integrate other primary sources into an oral historical inquiry? What would be the benefits? The difficulties?

Hyung Nam, Uncovering Institutional Racism

Hyung Nam teaches Global Studies and U.S. History at Wilson High School in Portland, Oregon. He is an editor for Rethinking Schools Journal and participates in Portland-area Rethinking Schools activities. His presentation will focus on redlining and environmental racism in Portland. Teachers will participate in a role play exercise which explores the multiple causes of racial segregation and environmental racism and helps students understand how institutional racism is perpetuated today. Reading the following materials will help prepare for the tribunal exercise:
Hyung Nam’s Curriculum Matrix, Wilson High School
Where Race Lives

Facts on Environmental Racism handout.

Pollution Taints Albina Reawakening,” The Oregonian, Jan. 11, 1999, Section E2, Joe Fitzgibbon. 
Portland Redlining map
Just an Environment or A Just Environment?  
As you review the above selections, keep in mind two central questions for discussion: 
·         How do segregation and racial disparities persist after the Civil Rights Era?
·         How does Portland’s history with segregation and environmental racism compare to the national history? 

Center for Columbia River History Staff

Katy Barber is an associate professor of history at Portland State University. She teaches Pacific Northwest and Western U.S. history, as well as public history courses. She is on the Native American Studies faculty and is the director of the Center for Columbia River History. In Winter 2005, her book, Death of Celilo Falls, was published by the University of Washington Press. She is currently working on a history of the 20th century Pacific Northwest, a book that she is co-writing with historian William Robbins.

Mary Wheeler is a public historian who has worked in educational programs, professional development workshops for educators, museum exhibits, and multi-media. She is currently collaborating with filmmakers on a documentary history of the Oregon State Hospital and sits on the board of the Northwest History Network, a non-profit consortium of history professionals. 


One response to “March 21: Uncovering Civil Rights Histories in Our Communities

  1. Pingback: Unconvering Civil Rights History in Our Classrooms: Follow-Up « Teaching American History in SW Washington

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