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Rutherfords' Albina home earns place in national civil rights history

COURTESY OF STATE HISTORIC PRESERVATION OFFICE  - The Northeast Shaver Street home of the Otto and Verdell Rutherford, where activists pushed for Oregon's civil rights laws, has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.An Albina home that was the defacto headquarters for Oregon’s civil rights movement during the past 50 years has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

A bungalow on Northeast Shaver Street that was home to Otto and Verdell Rutherford and their family, was named in early August to the national history list. It joins hundreds of other historic buildings, homes and sites across the state.

The house could also be the first historic property in Oregon listed on the National Register primarily for its association with the Civil Rights era.

The Rutherfords led the Portland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during the 1940s and 1950s, the height of the group’s push to end racial discrimination in public accommodation, employment, education and housing across the nation.

The Rutherfords were among activists who worked for decades to pass Oregon’s Public Accommodations Act. The law was enacted in 1953 with the help of lawmakers, including then-state Rep. Mark O. Hatfield.

Much of the organizing for the law took place at the Rutherfords’ home.

“Our house was home for my two brothers and me,” said Otto and Verdell’s daughter Charlotte Rutherford. “But for years it also served as the office for the NAACP here. In the mid-’50s the NAACP Federal Credit Union was also started in our dining room. My dad made the speeches, but my mom was doing the work. The mimeograph machine in the basement and her typewriter were the foundation for the organization and other groups, too.”

COURTESY OF BOSCO-MILLIGAN FOUNDATION - Verdell and Otto Rutherford, far right, were among the Oregon NAACP officials who worked with then-state Rep. Mark O. Hatfield to adopt Oregon's Public Accommodation Act in 1953.

Link to African American history

According to a national register nomination report by Cathy Galbraith of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation, the location of the Rutherfords’ King neighborhood home also helped it tell the story of Portland’s African American community and how it was confined for years to the Albina area.

The Rutherford House is also significant for its association with William H. Rutherford, a pioneer African American business owner from 1907 to 1934. The Rutherford family has owned the house since 1923, making it one of Portland’s homes owned by an African American family longer than any other property in the city, according to Galbraith’s nomination report.

Early in the 20th century, African Americans and other minorities were restricted by a Portland Realty Board policy to purchasing properties in the Albina area, according to the nomination report. The policy wasn’t changed until the adoption of Oregon’s civil rights measure in 1953.

According to Galbraith’s report, in 1980, 20,000 African Americans lived in Albina, making up 30 percent of its population. By 2010, that number dwindled and none of the Albina census tracts had a majority African American population.

Otto Rutherford moved into the Shaver Street house with his parents and siblings in 1923. In 1936, he married Verdell Burdine. They were married for 64 years, spending much of their adult lives battling for civil rights and documenting Portland’s African American history.

Oregon’s State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation recommended the building’s nomination to the national register in October 2014.

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