Symposium on Housing, Civil Rights, and Race in Oregon

Request for Proposals

“The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”  William Faulkner

The 2018 fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) offers an opportunity to consider the broader histories of the ways legal and economic structures have dictated who is entitled to what spaces in Oregon. Signed into law in response to the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Fair Housing Act represents a flashpoint in the long history of ways that rights to housing have been racialized in the United States (and, indeed, in Oregon).

The racialized nature of this history pertains to white persons and people of color, as housing discrimination policies and practices are designed to protect whiteness and its associated rights and privileges.  In Oregon, de jure exclusion from property-ownership and access to particular spaces has been tied to race since 1843 Oregon Provisional Donation Land Law.  Oregonians, native and newcomer, have had their rights denied through processes and policies such as treaty negotiations and state and federal laws such as the 1857 Oregon State Constitution, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and the 1887 Dawes Act that substantially reduced Indian Reservations. Decades of struggle saw the passage of civil rights laws such as the 1953 Oregon Public Accommodations Act, the 1957 Oregon Fair Housing Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Across the same timeframe, financial speculation and predatory lending in land and housing has shaped unequal access to living space, property ownership, and wealth.

Economic and industrial structures have also placed restrictions around who can access housing and property-ownership in particular spaces. Economic booms and busts related to natural-resource extraction, tourism, and war industries have created large-scale population shifts that have pushed, and pushed up against, racialized property restrictions and entitlements. The real-estate industry (including realtors, bankers, builders, and landlord associations) have played a major role in this history by advocating for particular laws and, in many cases, by working outside the law to maintain racial homogeneity and a dual housing market, and thereby increase profits. Housing provided to migrant workers by the agricultural industry has repeatedly been criticized for its inadequacy for human occupation. While people of color have long dealt with unequal citizenship rights concerning where to live, the 2008 Great Recession created a housing crisis with rippling effects that manifest today in declining access to homeownership, rental housing scarcity, gentrification and displacement, and growing homelessness. How can a historical inquiry into debates about access to space shed light on contemporary challenges? What can the historical struggle for fair housing in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest illuminate about the recent legislative effort to nullify President Obama’s 2015 fair housing enforcement rule?

The Oregon Historical Quarterly, working closely with advisers Dr. Karen Gibson and Dr. Carmen Thompson, seeks to address these subjects through a symposium tentatively scheduled for May 2018 and related special issue of the journal to be published the following year, with the goal of fostering both public discussion and scholarship.

Proposals may address a wide range of question, including, for example:

  • How was the 1968 national legislation debated in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest? What about the 1957 and 1959 state legislation?
  • How does the history of housing discrimination in Oregon compare to other places in the Pacific Northwest?  
  • How have legal structures created entitlements to which spaces or kinds of spaces?
  • How has access to living space been regulated along racial lines?  
  • What have been the housing conditions on tribal lands in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest?
  • What are the impacts of Oregon's 1973 land-use law (Senate Bill 100) on this history?
  • Where are the gaps between law and practice?
  • How has the real-estate industry shaped neighborhoods or towns in urban and rural areas across the state?
  • How has land and housing speculation shaped access to home and to income and wealth distribution?
  • How has growth and decline in labor demand affected access to housing?
  • How have fair housing laws impacted rural property-ownership and housing access?
  • How have investment and disinvestment shaped rural and urban communities?
  • How have structural restrictions on housing impacted people's understanding of their worth or value to the larger society and, conversely, how has structural access shaped understanding of worth?
  • How have debates over freedom in choosing where to live and over freedom to make choices about privately owned property been connected to the foundational debates over U.S. democracy and capitalism?

The following archival collections may be useful in addressing this subject:

  • Urban League of Portland Records, 1910–2014, Oregon Multicultural Archives, Oregon State University (finding aid here).
  • Metropolitan Human Rights/Relations Commission (MHRC) records dealing with housing, City of Portland Archive & Records Center (more detail available here).
  • Multnomah County Library's Central Library holds a large collection of historical material relevant to Oregon and especially the Portland area, including newspapers, city directories, maps, and reports and studies by various organizations and governmental agencies. Collections include: Various histories and reports by and about particular racial groups in Oregon (for example, African Americans or Chinese Americans), and about race relations and race discrimination; original publications of the Portland Realty Board, a local organization of real estate professionals; and reports and other publications of the Portland Planning Commission (later the Portland Development Commission), detailing planning efforts for major projects including highway construction, and "slum clearance" urban renewal projects, 1950s-present. Contact the library (https://multcolib.org/contact) to let us help you find specific resources relevant to your area of research.
  • Rutherford Family Collection, in the PSU Special Collections, includes material related to the 1953 public accommodations law:  http://library.pdx.edu/research/special-collections-university-archives/african-american-history-in-oregon/

To Submit a Proposal:

Send PDF documents as email attachments to eliza.canty-jones@ohs.org, with the subject line “Housing Symposium Proposal,” a 500-word or shorter description of your proposed talk and associated manuscript submission and a short CV, resume, or biographical statement. Proposals are due by midnight on Sunday, April 16, 2017.