The oft-overlooked histories of black communities in Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest, as well as the re-telling of racial justice victories made possible because of the advocacy of the Vancouver Branch of the NAACP, are celebrated during February as Black History Month is observed with special speakers, historical documents, artwork and exhibitions.
From working with the Vancouver Housing Authority to ensuring black people were not segregated in wartime housing, to addressing large scale unemployment of African Americans post-World War II and beyond, the local branch of the National Association of Colored Persons has been a dedicated custodian of civil rights since its formation as a local chapter over 70 years ago, and shows no sign of slowing down.
“The mission of the NAACP is to eliminate race-based discrimination and fight for the equality of all persons. We are constantly working, and as you can imagine, we are very busy,” said current Vancouver NAACP President Bridgette Fanhbulleh.
Fanhbulleh, past president Earl Ford, and assistant president Jasmine Rucker Tolbert, will lead the discussion when “NAACP Generations: Vancouver NAACP Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” is held Thursday, Feb. 7 at the Clark County Historical Museum.
The event, a collaboration from Clark County Historical Museum Executive Director Bradley Richardson and Claudia Carter, Vancouver NAACP assistant treasurer and artist, is aimed at exploring the NAACP’s early history in Vancouver, the evolution of the Vancouver branch, and its contemporary stories and accomplishments.
“The NAACP has been really active in this area, been active since the 40s,” Carter told the Portland Observer. “It kind of ebbs and flows with the time, but we still have a strong membership. And the ebb and flow comes with the activities and people who are really active in it. But we’re still growing and we’re still keeping it alive.”
Other free events as part of Black History Month observances include a community art exhibit at the Angst Gallery at 1015 Main St., Vancouver, on Friday, Feb. 1; and “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” a documentary film screening and discussion on Feb. 27 at the Old Liberty theater on 115 N. Main Ave. in Ridgefield.
Vancouver NAACP’s formation in 1945 followed the largest single increase in Vancouver’s African American population between 1940 and 1944, going from just 18 people to a population of 8,825. That boom coincided with a surge in the black population in the Portland-Vancouver area with the establishment of three Kaiser Shipyards to build ships for World War II.
A number of black residents were segregated in wartime housing at that time, which spurred a local group of concerned citizens to join and create the Vancouver NAACP, 33 years after the creation of the national organization was established, and 29 years after Portland’s NAACP was formed.
The Vancouver NAACP then worked with Vancouver Housing Authority to integrate housing, specifically in the McLoughlin Heights neighborhood of Vancouver, which was a primary location of the black population back then, and the largest wartime housing project on the west coast at the time.