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City rededicates park named for civil rights pioneer

by: Courtesy of the Unthank family Dr. DeNorval Unthank

Portland Parks and Recreation rededicates North Portland's Dr. DeNorval Unthank Park Friday evening to introduce a new generation to Dr. Unthank's contributions to the city's African-American community.

The rededication is from 5 to 8 p.m., June 17, at the park, 510 N. Shaver St. It kicks off a summer of activities at the park, starting June 22 with games, arts and crafts projects, basketball and a free evening meal.

Part of the ceremony celebrates the revitalization of the park. Portland Parks and Recreation will be joined at the ceremony by representatives of the Portland Police Bureau and the city's Youth Violence Prevention Office to honor Unthank, a local civil rights pioneer.

The former Kerby Street Park was renamed for Unthank in 1969 to commemorate his role in bringing down racial barriers. The location was selected by a neighborhood committee to increase the amount of open space and recreation areas in part of North Portland hard hit by construction of Interstate 5 and the Memorial Coliseum.

Nearly 20 years ago, the park in a neighborhood hurt by urban decay, gangs, prostitution, crime, low employment rates and abandoned houses. Improvements recommended by Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design were made to open sight lines through tree pruning, and by additional lights added in early 1990.

Strong community involvement was also a key factor in fostering a safer atmosphere, according to Portland Parks and Recreation.

Portland's Self Enhancement Inc. built a community center near the park. In 1999, the city created the Mississippi Historic District target area to improve public safety, housing and business. Since then, commerce has thrived in the area and the neighborhood has improved.

Last year, Portland Parks and Recreation made improvements to the park such as pruning and tree canopy elevation to keep the park open. Additional lighting will be installed this summer.

Dr. DeNorval Unthank (1899-1977) practiced medicine in Portland from the late 1920s until the 1960s. He was the city's only African-American doctor until the 1940s, and served on the staffs of Good Samaritan, Providence, St. Vincent and Emanuel hospitals.

He was a medical consultant for the state of Oregon workers' compensation board from 1970-76. He became the first black member of Portland's City Club in 1943, encouraging the club to publish a significant 1945 study called 'The Negro in Portland.'

In 1958, the Oregon Medical Society named Unthank Doctor of the Year.

Unthank also was president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and cofounder of the Portland Urban League, which was charted in 1945.