“Working-class Black women’s role in building and sustaining Black communities in the Pacific Northwest”
Tessara Dudley and Dr. Shirley Jackson (faculty mentor)
History Department, Portland State University
In response to the scholarly focus on the historical racism of the Pacific Northwest, this research attempts to answer the question of how Black communities have persisted in the face of discrimination. This study is a historical examination of the roles that Black women have played in building and sustaining Black communities within predominantly white regions, with a specific focus on the Portland-Vancouver area during and after World War II. This work focuses on the activities of working class Black women, a significant proportion of Black women migrating to the Pacific Northwest during World War II, examining their community-building activities in order to understand key factors behind the persistence of these Black communities. The results of this research bridge a gap in the literature, illuminating the particular ways that smaller Black populations negotiated the early stages of transition from Jim Crow politics to the Civil Rights movement. This transition came as a result of mass migration out of the US South, with Black women leaving domestic work and taking their families to the cities of the north and west. By maintaining connections and creating national networks, women were able to establish a base from which to facilitate the migration of waves that followed, fashioning kinship and building resilience into communities. The study shows that the activities of these women laid the groundwork for the militant organizing of the civil rights era.