Portland State University will exhibit the Verdell Burdine and Otto G. Rutherford Family Collection starting September 24th. The Rutherfords assembled thousands of rare documents, newspapers, and photographs recording the history of African Americans for much of the 20th century, with special focus on the Civil Right Movement.
Published on May 31th, 2012
by Suzanne Pardington
“Verdell and her husband, Otto, were leaders in the black community, and their northeast Portland home was a hub of social and political activity from the era of racial segregation through the civil rights movement. Verdell saved everything, hoping that someday her archive would tell the story of the city’s early African American community to future generations.”
” ‘What you see in the Rutherford Collection is how everyday people helped advance the civil rights movement, and often those people were women,’ Patricia Schechter, history professor, says. ‘It puts Oregon on the map of the larger American story of freedom.’ “
“OREGON was more than a decade ahead of the federal government in ratifying civil rights legislation, and Otto and Verdell were instrumental in passing Oregon’s version in 1953. At the time, Otto served as president and Verdell as secretary of the local NAACP.”
“Prior to the law’s passage, African Americans were routinely banned from or segregated at many public places in Oregon, such as hospitals, hotels and amusement parks. Employment opportunities were limited to service jobs. Restaurants posted signs saying, ‘We cater to white trade only.’ “
“African Americans were not allowed to live in most Portland neighborhoods. In 1921, Otto’s father bought the family home on Northeast Ninth and Shaver, then a white neighborhood, with the help of someone who could ‘pass’ for white. Even after Oregon’s anti-discrimination law passed in 1953, it often was not enforced. Charlotte Rutherford recalls sitting in a movie theater balcony in the 1950s and roller skating at a rink only on Mondays in the early 1960s. At the time, she was unaware that she was not allowed to sit anywhere else in the theater or roller skate on another day because of her race.”
“The Rutherford collection ‘confirms that Oregon has a particular story to tell about civil rights that is different from the South or the East,’ says Schechter. ‘It’s going to help us tell the Pacific Northwest story.’ “
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Portland State University Campus library