Black History in Oregon

Special Collections has archival collections, digital exhibits, oral histories, and online resources dedicated to African American history in Oregon and nationwide.

Verdell Burdine and Otto G. Rutherford Family Collection, 1880s-1980s

This collection documents three generations of the Rutherford family and one hundred years of Black community life and culture in Oregon. It includes significant holdings related to the Portland office of NAACP, the oldest west of the Mississippi; local black chapters of fraternal organizations including the Masons and the Elks; the Culture Club and other women’s social clubs and organizations; the Bethel AME Church; railroad and restaurant workers unions; local African American businesses; and regional mobilization regarding issues of national impact such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

    • Finding Aid
      Search the Rutherford Collection.
    • Digital Exhibit: “Say We Are Here”
      The photographs, documents, publications, and ephemera in this exhibit represent the depth and breadth of the Rutherford family’s community service, while also providing a rich overview of the institutions and events central to Black Oregonians over the past one hundred years.  Exhibit curated and interpreted by Marti Clemmons, Meg Langford, Jeanne Roedel, Tasha Triplett, and Professor Patricia A. Schechter, PSU Department of History.
    • The Rutherford Collection in PDXScholar
      A selection of digitized photographs and documents from the Rutherford Family Collection, including materials from the NAACP, women’s organizations, and historical family albums.
    • Historic Black Newspapers of Portland and the Northwest
      Verdell Rutherford’s collection of newspapers printed by Black presses in Portland and the region from the 1910s to the 1970s, digitized for online reading, searching, and download.

Senator Avel L. Gordly Papers

This collection documents Senator Gordly’s political career in the Oregon legislature and her ongoing activism and advocacy on issues impacting the Black community in Portland and beyond. Gordly was the first African American woman elected to the Oregon Senate. The papers also reflect Gordly’s key roles with the Black United Front, the Urban League of Portland, the American Friends Service Committee, and Portlanders Organized for Southern African Freedom.

Albina Murals Project Documentary, 1978


The “Albina Murals” is a 1978 documentary film on the installation of a community mural project depicting scenes from Black history both locally and nationally. Originally shot in NE Portland on color Super 8, this digital transfer is made available by the PSU Library with the generous support of the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Oregon Public Speakers Collection, 1958-1979

Oregon Public Speakers Collection (streaming audio)
Between 1958 and 1979, Portland State University hosted over two hundred speeches, interviews, panel discussions, and readings by scholars, activists, politicians, authors, artists, and community members.



Role of Religion and Community Values (Session 2), ” L. Fischer Hines, Whitney Bates, Charles Jordan, Doris Ellis, and Steve Snyder

Role of Religion and Community Values (Session 1),” John Jackson, Dee Anne Westbrook, Byron Haines, Edsel Goldson, and Bernard Devers


How to change the media,” Portland State University, Bill Hilliard, Clarence McKee, and Marcus Garvey Wilcher


Black Studies Center public dialogue. Pt. 1,” Portland State University, Maynard Jackson, William M. Harris, Charles Jordan, Clara Peoples, and Rosemary Allen

Black Studies Center public dialogue. Pt. 2,” Portland State University, Toni Morrison, Primus St. John, John Callahan, Judy Callahan, and Lloyd Baker


Nkrumism: The Correct Ideology for the African revolution,” Stokely Carmichael


Speech on racial equality in the United States,” Julian Bond

A perspective on Black culture awareness,” Johnetta Cole

Address to faculty and students on the Black American,” Nathan Hare


Repression in education; the need for Black studies, by Dave Barnett and Charles Jackson,” Dave Barnett

Black Heritage,” Alex Haley


An address to faculty and students on the historical roots of black power,” Louis E. Lomax


The Negro and social change in America,” Louis E. Lomax

The Gates Collection of African American History and Culture, 1820-1998

This collection was donated 1969 to Portland State University Library by Mr. and Mrs. Osly and Jeannette Gates to coincide with the establishment of the PSU Black Studies program, the first academic program of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.  The collection consists of unique and rare documents and publications representing over 150 years of African American history including original copies of the Frederick Douglass’ Paper and an original letter of manumission for a slave in New York state.

The Black United Front Oral History Project

The Portland chapter of the Black United Front was a branch organization of a national group founded and based in Chicago. The BUF pressed forward a civil rights agenda during the 1980s, taking on national issues such as school desegregation and police brutality as well as global ones like the fight against apartheid in South Africa. In Portland, many notable accomplishments of the BUF involved education, and many of the narrators interviewed for the BUF Oral History Project express the transformational power of education in their lives as students, teachers, and advocates.

  • BUF Oral History Interviews in PDXScholar
    This is a collection of full transcripts of interviews conducted by Portland State University public history students in 2008 and 2010.
  • Digital Exhibit: “BUF Oral History Project”
    In winter 2015, a second cohort of public history students, with Professor Patricia Schechter, reviewed the recordings and transcripts of the interviews and created a digital exhibit using audio and written excerpts, photographs, and historical and biographical information.

The Black Bag Speaker Series

In an effort to develop a forum for people and organizations doing work addressing issues related to the community of Black people in Portland, the PSU Black Studies Department began the Black Bag Speakers Series in October of 2006. These video presentations feature many key individuals and organizations speaking on important local and national issues. Speakers include Oregon Senator Avel Gordly, Joann Bowman of Oregon Action, and Dr. Joy Leary of Portland State University. Topics include race and sustainability, police violence, slavery, segregation and gentrification, education, the Black Panthers, AIDS and health, and more.