Interview of Shirley Minor
Recording by Winnie Huang for Vanport Mosaic
“Shirley: S-H-I-R-L-E-Y. Minor: M-I-N-O-R. First generation. Born: Portland Oregon. I live in the Woodlawn neighborhood, about 4-5 blocks from where I grew up. I grew up on 10th and Holland, and during the day, black folks were not supposed to live north of Ainsworth.
“My dad moved out here when he was 17. His mom didn’t want him to. And my mom and her whole family moved out here when she was young. All six of their kids, my grandpa and my grandma, from Louisiana to work in the shipyards. My dad saved his money and he bought a lot, and because black folks weren’t supposed to buy property over in that area, he bought it anyway. My dad still lives there. My mom is deceased. It was a real safe area. In the summer, we could play outdoors all summer long. Nobody hurt us. My mom wasn’t worried, my dad was working. I had friends all up and down the street there whom I still talk about at times. The only thing I didn’t like as I was growing up, I realized I was sort of isolated. I felt like I was isolated from everything in the east and the south. Over in that area there were very few black folks that lived there. The good thing about what my parents did was, we were a member of this church, Vancouver Baptist Church. Otherwise I would have had very little interaction with people who looked like me.
“Before college, we used to go up to Peninsula Park all the time. Families would congregate in the park, either Peninsula or Dotson Park, and my dad used to take me and my brother over to Laurelhurst a lot and we would feed the ducks. And also along McLoughlin, where the duck ponds are, he would take us over there a lot to feed the ducks. And then I love to skate so I would skate all day long. My mom would let me skate into the house with my skates on and each lunch and then skate back outside. I would have them on from daylight to sunset.
“I moved to go to school in Eugene and then I went to work for Lane County government. I moved back here in the ’80s. I bought my condo before I moved back here and it was a couple of years before it was built. When I moved back here I tried to explain to people what redlining meant. I said that sooner or later we were going to be forced out of our homes in these areas. So, if you are in a home and it starts aging out, you have to really set money aside or be in a situation where you can have some finance so you can fix up your home.
“A lot of houses were starting to deteriorate so people were starting to move. And so, it bothered me when I moved back here to see that so many people I knew that lived over in the area north, northeast were having to move out to the east side of town, which is quite a ways. And when I was starting to talk to people in my age group that were first born, I would be asking folks what are you going to do with your family home, you should try and hang onto it. If they didn’t, the family lost that. The house was sold and probably not sold for very much, at least not enough so that they could buy another home because houses were starting to increase, not just in value but in cost.
“When you drive up and down Vancouver or Williams, all you see is tall buildings. The houses that used to be here, and lots of businesses, they’re not here anymore. And there were a couple of restaurants that I used to come to over here – the Tropicana, I would come here every once in a while, it’s still there. There’s a restaurant that’s down on that corner there, it was a bar-b-que restaurant that later moved over on Russell, and I’m just not used to that. I’ll be driving down the street, and if you’re driving down at night, you hesitate because you’re not sure where you are because it looks so different. And they are still building.
“Portland is made up of 96 neighborhoods. This does not feel like a neighborhood. And it used to be a neighborhood because we could walk every few houses here and there with my friends, one lived here and another one lived there. If you do that now, I don’t know who lives in those houses now and I don’t consider this a family home area anymore. It’s mostly high-rise apartment buildings.
“I’m lucky that I still know a lot of people here, and some of them because I knew their families. But otherwise, if you haven’t been here for very long, I think you sort of feel a little lost. I’m glad I have that perspective on this city and I feel like now I don’t mind living here.”