Hands Up Don’t Shoot – Rebel Metropolis.

On August 14th, enemies of racism, anti-blackness, and state violence against citizens took to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to protest. They marched in the long shadow of the cracks in the walls of the police state, cracks that formed when Ferguson, Missouri residents took to the streets to decry the murder of Michael Brown by a police officer.

Protesters took to the street on MLK between Alberta and Killingsworth, near to the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct building. The police stayed out of the way of the protest, not sending uniformed officers to the scene, but patted themselves on the back for drawing the exact opposite lesson that protesters sought to send:

Capt. Pat Walsh, who leads the bureau’s tactical operations division, said the bureau anticipated a couple of hundred protestors Thursday night, but the officers held back. “We didn’t need to be coming and going with our police gear and be targets,” Walsh said.

Nevertheless, several hundred people gathered together to speak against injustice, and in doing so, captured the meaning of a street named for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard far more than any pizza joint or upscale bistro could ever do:

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality… No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28, 1963.

I have my own photos from this event, some of which I’ll post here, but for now I want to draw your attention to Hart Noecker’s summary of the protest, at Rebel Metropolis. In my eyes, Mr. Noecker is Portland’s most important journalist. His writing combines palpable anguish at injustice, as well as unwavering optimism at the ability of people to make change. His commitment to justice and action put the lie to the supposed value of ‘neutral journalism.’ We are blessed to have him among us, in our community. 

Mr. Noecker was also a participant in the Tour de Gentrification earlier this year, which included a stop at the empty Vanport lot at MLK & Alberta, a site that the mayor disingenuously claimed would not ‘contribute to gentrification’ if it hosted a Trader Joe’s. Mayor Hales, I think, is one of those folks who says whatever seems convenient, and then convinces himself that he believes it; and he is not particularly concerned with whether anyone else does. 

As it is, redevelopment of the Vanport lot to serve the consumer needs of a narrow segment of the population of inner North/Northeast Portland is a concrete example of predatory gentrification, one part of a broader pattern of violence that the state sanctions or participates in, against the already-dispossessed among us. 

MLK: Travels on Black America’s Main Street.

These two signs appeared on the Vanport lot at MLK & Alberta recently:

tilove2 tilove1

“Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America’s Main Street” is Jonathan Tilove’s photojournal of his visits to various Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevards in the U.S., published in 2003. He writes:

The second question ["Are there any nice ones?"] has become more nettlesome as time has gone on. The implication of this question is that the streets might do more honor to King is they were nicer, a point of view expressed even by many folks on King. But why? If we wanted nice we could have undertaken a journey along Pleasant Street. Gentrification is about making a street “nice.” King’s life was not.

The genius of King streets is how they honor Martin Luther King in precisely the way that the national holiday cannot, by provoking passions and controversy and conflict, by stirring fervent debate about the meaning of his life and what kind of street would do him credit. They hit people, quite literally, where they live, where they work. And by laying bare the racial fault lines in one community after another, by calling attention to the circumstances of life in the heart of the black community while demanding better, the streets that bear his name are Martin Luther King’s greatest living memorial. They stir, they disturb, they tell the truth[.]

Of Portland’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, Tilove writes:

[U]p the West Coast black folks arriving in Portland, Oregon – drawn… by the lure of jobs in wartime shipping – encountered signs in store windows all up and down Union Avenue: WHITE TRADE ONLY. Today, Union Avenue is Martin Luther King Boulevard, the spine of the neighborhood they call “the soul of Portland.”

But this ghetto in this, one of America’s whitest big cities, would be laughed out of any serious national competition. Too leafy. Too ruly. And these days, yesterday’s ghetto is today’s good investment. Property values are rising.

Sitting in Stellar Coffee, one of the rare black-owned businesses on MLK, Charles Bolden despairs of the black future on the block. “In ten years,” he worries, “I don’t think any blacks are going to be here…”

To Bolden, this is all pretty simple. Whites want to reclaim the “reserve” where black people have been living…

Yes, [O.B.] Hill says, Portland’s MLK is changing. “If people cannot afford to stay, they leave.” And, he continues, “Wherever they are moving to, you can rest assured that there are people moving out as they move in, ’cause that’s the nature of this game. Once black people begin to move into a community, white people exit it.

“Movement is as natural as the movement of the sun,” Hill says. “You have the most creative people on the Earth. Wherever we move, we’ll be able to get by.”


Update (August 29th): a side panel was added to the frame, and it reads:



Design: Shani Peters

Spreading Rumors is a series of projects, a group of people, working on ways to distribute ideas in our changing cities. There are many more of these shapes around town, made by people who are asking questions about private property, public spaces, and development.


Protest Against Police Brutality and Murder: today, at Vanport Square.

10357605_10202603022057359_1406373594564068006_nThursday, August 14th, 6 pm, 5229 NE MLK.

we shall gather across the street from the Portland Police Department’s NE Precinct to express our anger and voice our solidarity with the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri and people across the country who have fallen victim to this brutal police state.
we want both Mayor Hales and Police Chief Reese to very publicly denounce these horrible actions…”

Visit the facebook event page.

Sometimes folks are visited by the spirit of Dr. King, and remember that the boulevard carries his name because justice, truth, reconciliation are aspects of communal life that matter, and matter deeply; commerce and convenience are nothing compared to them. Folks participating in this event today are people I am proud to call my neighbors.


Historical photos of the boulevard at New Seasons.

The New Seasons on N. Williams has some historical photos of food-relaed area businesses on its walls, including these:

seasons4Photos of other MacMarr Stores are here at Vintage Portland.

Of course, the addresses on all four of these photos are wrong. All of these businesses were on Union Avenue.


Fuller’s Restaurant, and the Egyptian Theater on the right. The Fuller’s building was rehabbed into what’s now the New Song Community Church.


This one below is the worst-labelled; the street name is wrong – Dr. King hadn’t been born yet – and the number is wrong – the city renumbered Union Avenue in the early thirties.


For photos and stories of old taverns on Union Avenue and the nearby neighborhoods, drop into the Volga Germans in Portland website.