Remembering Vanport aka the “Negro Project”…

Date(s) - May 27, 2019
1:00 pm - 3:00 pm

5300 N Marine Dr

What’s up Afros! #OutdoorAfro

In partnership with the Oregon Zoo, we will be remembering Vanport while exploring the Smith and Bybee Wetlands.
Smith and Bybee lakes were once adjacent to Vanport, Oregon’s second biggest city until the devastating flood of 1948. In honor of the 71st anniversary of the flood, we will learn about the culture and history of Vanport while exploring and learning about Metro’s largest natural area.

WHERE: Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area, 5300 N Marine Dr, Portland

WHO: Suitable for all ages

COST: Free but registration is required via this link,

THINGS TO BRING: Water (Staying hydrated is very important).

WHAT TO WEAR: It is best to wear layers since weather can be a bit tricky this time of year. Site for more tips on layering:

WEATHER POLICY: This is a rain or shine hike.

OUR VANPORT HISTORY: Vanport, Oregon was the largest WWII federal housing project in the United States, and as such, attracted national attention to the region. At its peak, Vanport was home to over 42,000 residents, making it the second largest population center in the state. The housing project was “hidden” beyond Portland’s city limits. For many long-time Portland residents, Vanport was known as the “Negro Project” despite the fact that African Americans were no more than 25% of residents at any given time.

Portland had become, in early 1941, one of the major shipbuilding centers in the United States. The primary shipbuilder, Henry J. Kaiser, fearful that workers would leave the area due to a lack of housing, purchased 648 acres of land outside of Portland city limits to build a wartime housing complex. City officials were unhappy with Kaiser’s independent approach, but the contractor had become impatient with the inevitable slowness of municipal government.

Construction began in August 1942 and before Christmas the first families were moving into apartments. Despite the fact that Vanport was built with federal funds and constructed after Executive Order 8802, local officials enforced de facto segregation. In Vanport, only three sections, a total of 50 buildings were allotted to black residents. Moreover Vanport was one of only two housing projects in the Portland area that accepted any blacks.

At the end of the war, approximately 5,000 African Americans continued to live in Vanport with another 5,000 crowded into Northeast Portland. Black residents of Portland continue to believe that local officials kept Vanport open because they did not want more African Americans to move inside city limits. However, on May 31, 1948, the Vanport Flood washed away the temporary city and forced the city to accept its residents.

Despite its short life span, Vanport helped create several “firsts” for Oregon and the Portland area. The first black teachers and policemen in the state were hired in Vanport during the war years. The Vanport Interracial Council worked to establish a Portland office of the Urban League. Vanport College was the precursor to Portland State University where many veterans used the GI Bill to get a new start on life. In the end, Vanport became part of the story of civil rights and African Americans in the West.

RELEASE: Please make sure you review a copy of the Outdoor Afro trip waiver so that we can start this activity on time (I will bring paper copies for you to sign to the event)

PETS POLICY: To protect plants, wildlife and people, Metro does not allow pets at most regional parks and natural areas. Pets can damage sensitive habitat and threaten wildlife the region has worked to protect. In natural areas where dogs are not allowed, people see more wildlife and get closer to it. Seeing-eye dogs or other service animals are allowed. Please bring cleanup materials.

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