June 4, 2020 – “When people feel left out of history, by design – when their achievements are ignored and left out – they will create enclaves of their own, both healthy and unhealthy, for self affirmation. But when all are involved, they will bring their histories as gifts to the table.”

-Dr. Kenneth Smith (1931-2008), theologian, Trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and an African American. From Cornerstones of Community: Buildings of Portland’s African American History, a project of the Architectural Heritage Center.

The Royal Palm Hotel in Old Town, one of Portland’s first facilities to employ and accept African-American guests during and post-World War II, and currently closed. Photo by Intisar Abioto.

Portland, along with cities around the world, has been confronted these past few months with many of the social and economic disparities that exist in our community. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many systemic inequities, from our schools to our health care, while the recent protests against racism have transformed our streets into platforms for social justice, becoming part of a long history of urban spaces as powerful sites of social movement.

The Architectural Heritage Center recognizes that discrimination against African Americans, and other races and cultures, has a deep history in Oregon and in our country. This is troubling, and we at the AHC don’t have easy answers. Yet, we draw from our perspectives on history, culture, and architecture to try to understand our contemporary context better and to find ways to create more just and equitable communities in Portland.

For one, we continue to remind ourselves of the interrelationship between architecture and culture. We look at the built environment as a way to learn more about the diverse cultures and people that have lived in Portland in the past, live here now, and will be part of Portland in the future. We acknowledge that different cultures experience the built environment in different ways. The Architectural Heritage Center can play a key role in facilitating the exchange of knowledge and dialogue about diverse perspectives on the built environment.

We also know that we have work to do at the Architectural Heritage Center to contribute to a more equitable society. This is why, at the core of our newly adopted 3-year strategic plan is a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goal that will inform all aspects of our operations, governance, programs, and outreach. We recognize that multiple voices, perspectives, and supporters are core to our work and who we are and, in the end, make us stronger as an organization.