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Memorial to celebrate West Slope resident's dedication to civil, social rights

Carol "Althea" Halvorson received Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Carol 'Althea' Halvorson relaxes with 'Zin Zin,' one of her favorite neighborhood cats, before her death at age 98 in January. The longtime West Slope resident endeared herself to neighbors with her gentle but focused dedication to social justice and civil rights issues.The neighborly camaraderie Mary Sievertsen shared for decades with Carol “Althea” Halvorson started in an unlikely manner.

Sievertsen, wrestling with having a son in harm’s way in the Persian Gulf War, skipped a West Slope neighborhood function near her Southwest Miner Way home.

“My husband John went to the first neighborhood picnic,” Sievertsen recalled. “I didn’t go. When my husband met Althea, he said, ‘My wife’s not here. Our son’s in the Gulf War.’ Althea said, ‘Well, as usual, I’m one of the few people who oppose the war.’ John said, ‘You need to meet my wife.’

“She came to my door, and we talked every day,” Sievertsen said. “We became friends at a deep level right off.”

Halvorson, who made a name for herself as an outspoken advocate of social justice and civil rights in Portland and beyond, died in January at 98 years old. The beloved neighbor and activist’s rich life will be celebrated on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Ainsworth United Church of Christ, 2941 N.E. Ainsworth St., Portland. Those who knew or cared about Halvorson are welcome to attend.

Althea’s daughter Carol, who has planned the service with family members and friends for months, said she looks forward to revisiting her mother’s unique vision and personality with those who fondly remember her brave, but never combative, public stances.

“She was against the Vietnam War before it was (commonly) accepted,” Carol noted. “She was just one of those people who, despite being kind of a timid person and quite shy, when she felt there was an injustice, she would speak out despite her personal inhibitions. She influenced the people she met in really strong ways.”

Born in the small farming town of Menoken, North Dakota, Althea Halvorson survived an accidental burning at age 5 and falling through ice at 6 to become an enthusiastic athlete and graduate as the valedictorian of her high school. When her suitor Sigurd Halvorson accepted an engineering job in Portland in December 1939, Althea chose to go along. The couple was married the first week of January 1940.

Seeing a sign on their drive in a Vancouver, Wash., restaurant that read “No Coloreds Served,” helped galvanize her sense of social justice.

Surviving a bout of tuberculosis, in which she was hospitalized for months, and a more idyllic period living in Oauhu, Hawaii, Halvorson returned to Portland in the early 1960s. To show solidarity toward the fair housing movement, she would pose as an interested renter to uncover landlord discrimination against black families seeking the same residence.

Her daughter remembers the fear and resistance she faced in their West Slope neighborhood.

“I was in high school waiting for the bus, and a friend of mine told me, ‘My dad said your family is going to be the most hated family on the block for what your mom is doing.’ I thought, ‘Wow, I’m proud of that, because she was doing something to make a difference in people’s lives.”

From the 1960s through the ’80s, Halvorson took part in picket lines supporting the United Farm Workers’ efforts to unionize and seek equity and justice for employees. She protested the Vietnam and later Persian Gulf wars and praised civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in her writings.

In 2008, she was presented the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award for her tireless activism and community service. At age 93, after telling presidential hopeful Barack Obama that she’d “been waiting 93 years for society to change enough to support his candidacy,” Halvorson scored a rare autograph from the president-to-be.

Sivertsen, who still lives on Miner Way where she met Halvorson all those years ago, looks forward to celebrating Althea’s life and accomplishments on Saturday.

“Althea was one of those rare people who walked her talk,” she said. “She was a compassionate, kind, peaceful and loving person. She was, for her adult life, dedicated to becoming an activist for making it a better world for future generations.”



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