To prepare students for an in-depth investigation into Portland’s African-American history, teachers led students in a week-long conversation about the recent police shootings of black men, as covered by the national media. The teachers then led a month-long study of the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s and ‘60s through documentary clips, books, and activities. As part of this study, students wrote biographies on different Civil Rights leaders.
In February 2015, the unit turned to local black history. Lisa and Karinsa taught about eight notable topics in Portland’s past and present: the exclusion laws of the 1800s, the Vanport flood, the passing of Civil Right laws in the 1950s, housing discrimination, church as community, urban renewal and gentrification, riots in the 1960s, and school segregation. Diane Hess, from the Fair Housing Council of Oregon, presented to the class, and Ed Washington, former resident of Vanport, shared about his childhood. The class also visited the Oregon Historical Society to view a temporary exhibit put on by the Black Pioneers titled “A Community on the Move.”
The study culminated in a day-long scavenger hunt of Portland sites related to black history. In each location, they read about a significant event that had occurred on that spot, completed a short journal entry and took photos. During that afternoon, students saw where the Vanport neighborhood had stood before it was wiped out by flood waters. They also visited a park where a riot had broken out in the turbulent days of the late ‘60s, they stopped by the Vancouver Street First Baptist Church, where some of the largest Civil Rights rallies took place, and they explored the Golden West Hotel, where many of Portland’s new African-Americans stayed in the late 1890s. They also investigated Emanuel Legacy Hospital, which had only been built after displacing hundreds of African-American families in the 1970s. Other stops include Jefferson High School and the Urban League. After the fieldwork day, Lisa Colombo commented:
“The scavenger hunt was a HUGE success! We received huge kudos from Michael Alexander, the president and CEO of the Urban League, who was impressed by how much our students knew about Portland’s history. Also, Izora Green, the former church secretary of the Vancouver Baptist Church, gave us a wonderful tour and told us personal stories about living in Vanport. The kids learned so much and have a stronger connection to the city they live in.”
Back in the classroom, the students worked with artist Lisa Eisenberg to create a comic book based on the events they learned about. With help from Marc Moscoto, from the organization “Know Your City”, the class planned a “release event” for the students to present their completed “zine”. They presented at The Oregon Historical Society.
Check out the “zine” here: