Portland NAACP Branch 1120 was founded in 1914, by Dr. J.N. Merriman as its first president and Beatrice Morrow Cannady, editor of African American newspaper The Advocate as its first secretary. To date, the Portland NAACP Branch is the oldest continuously chartered branch west of the Mississippi.
Since opening its doors, the Portland NAACP branch refused to shy away from one of the greatest tasks that Americans are sanctioned by the Declaration of Independence to uphold – protecting the singular belief that all men are created equal, and ensuring that Portland uphold its civic responsibility to do just the same.
The Portland NAACP branch has been steadily involved in establishing and upholding civil rights for the African American community and for people of color in Portland. Here are just a few of our major accomplishments:
- Helping to overcome state exclusion laws, Portland NAACP branch 1120 stepped in the middle of a thirty-year struggle to finally persuade Oregon voters to finally repeal these laws in 1926 and 1927.
- Contributed to the defense of Dr. Sweet of Detroit, Michigan, and ten other African American men charged with the killing of two mob participants sent to drive the doctor from his home. With the branch’s help, Clarence Darrow was retained to defend the case to its successful acquittal.
- Established an African American presence in unions, which collectively established the framework for equitable treatment in many service and labor jobs which had giant compensation gaps between African Americans and whites.
- Worked to repeal real estate codes and civic housing policies that effectively restricted African Americans to living within the Albina community.
The NAACP Portland Branch has adopted the new motto “Educate. Empower. Engage” to remind itself and all of us that the keys to building a better future and enable our bodies for the fight ahead are the ones that will unlock first our minds and our hearts.