Thelma Glover worked the phones.
In the living room, a spotless space with good light and four dozen photographs, she used the cordless to dial a friend. The call went to voicemail.
"This is Thelma," she said. "Is someone going to pick me up? I don't have no way to get there."
Glover needed a ride to the bank, the grocery and Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, where she's been a member for six decades. She had stopped driving three months before. At 98, she supposed, it was time.
"Hello?" she said into another answering machine. "Don't forget me."
Glover carried a wooden cane from room to room but leaned on it only once. Even at her age, she's too stubborn to stoop.
Before she gave up the 1964 Chevy Malibu wagon, Glover made regular trips to her old North Portland neighborhood just to look at what she lost. She drove down Williams Avenue and imagined the jazz clubs that used to dot the stretch. She curled along Commercial Avenue, peered up at the hospital high rise that replaced her house.
"That was my first home," she said. "I was living close to everything that I was accustomed to. But they came and took the place. I had to give up my life."
Hers had been a quintessential black experience. She came to Portland from the South in 1941, expecting a better, safer community. Instead, Glover found what African Americans in Chicago and Detroit and San Francisco did: Black communities anywhere were expendable.
Government officials across the country penned African Americans into less-desirable areas. Later, when white people wanted the land, planners declared the communities blighted and forced African Americans out.
The bulldozers came for Glover and 200 other families -- mostly black -- in 1970 when Emanuel Hospital officials decided they needed their properties. Glover found a place in East Portland, eight miles and two interstates from her church, her bank and her friends. She has given it 45 years, but the pink-and-white house at the end of a cul-de-sac has never felt like home.
She put down the phone, smoothed her wig and adjusted two necklaces around the pink cowl-neck sweater she guessed no one would get to see. Without a ride, she couldn't even visit the neighborhood that held her best memories.
Most cities haven't tried to make amends for the ways they systematically pushed black people out of neighborhoods. But last year, Portland leaders decided to try. They announced a multi-million dollar program aimed at bringing back people pushed or priced out of close-in neighborhoods. This winter, they'll begin doling out down payments.
Glover won't get one. For her, it's too late.
The Great MigrationThelma Glover attended Grambling State University the first year it awarded teaching certificates to black women. Casey Parks/The Oregonian
Glover's life began exceptionally. Her family owned 40 acres in North Louisiana at a time when most black farmers were sharecroppers. She attended Grambling State University, then known as the Louisiana Negro Normal and Industrial Institute, the first year it awarded teaching certificates to black women. If the girl in Glover's graduation photo hoped for success, the straight line of her mouth conceals it.
"Black people in Louisiana didn't smile then," she said.
Those were the days of Jim Crow laws and the Great Depression. More African Americans were lynched in nearby Caddo Parish between 1877 and 1950 than all but one other county in the United States. Black men struggled to find work.
When she married Cephas Glover in 1940, the soldier suggested they do what black people across the region were doing: Flee.
More than 1.4 million African Americans left the South that decade. Most from Louisiana headed to California or Oregon. In the 1940s alone, Portland's African American population increased tenfold, from 2,000 to 20,000.
The Glovers were among the first. The train ride took four days. There was no air conditioning, Glover said, and the conductor kept the windows closed in their car. They arrived dirty and sweaty with no place to stay. The hotels and restaurants near Union Station posted signs in their windows: "We cater to white trade only."
Portland, the Glovers soon learned, was no promised land.
Cephas labored on the railroad. Portland didn't employ black teachers then, so Thelma toughed it out in jobs she hated. She worked for Meier & Frank, praying every morning her mother would never learn the department store made her wear a black-and-white maid's uniform.
Only one landlord would rent to them. They spent their honeymoon living with 12 other African Americans near the foot of the Broadway Bridge. The second-floor apartment didn't have running water, Glover said, so all 12 took turns bathing in the same tub of water.
"I was afraid I would get germs," she said. "I lived like that, because that's where we had to be."
They looked for their own place. Glover wouldn't have children until they owned a home. But the Portland Realty Board forbade its members from selling to blacks or Asians. Banks also refused to lend African Americans money for mortgages.
The discrimination was so prevalent that in 1942, industrialist Henry Kaiser platted an entirely new city, Vanport, to house African Americans who came to build ships for World War II.
The Glovers moved into Vanport, erected on a Columbia River floodplain, in 1943. The walls were so thin Thelma Glover could hear her neighbors whispering next door.
She worked in a cannery and in a rich couple's home. She saved pennies in a jar.
By the fall of 1945, they had saved almost enough to afford a house the newspaper ad described as a home. The wood frame on North Commercial had five bedrooms, an enclosed porch and apple trees. It was $4,990 and just a block from Emanuel Hospital.
The Glovers secured an off-the-books loan and rented the house out while they paid it off. To earn cash faster, Thelma and Cephas left Vanport and worked as live-in domestics for a Jewish couple in Southwest Portland. A few years after they left, a flood destroyed Vanport.
By the time the Glovers moved into their home in 1948, Thelma was 30. She visited a doctor to ask about finally having children.
"But I had a growth as big as an orange," she said. "I couldn't have them anymore."
The Glovers spent their 30s and 40s blocks from jazz clubs and black churches. They hosted parties in the living room and picnics in the yard. They kept the hedges trimmed. They grew tomatoes and collard greens. They finished the basement and built a garage.
"We had put lots of money in it," Glover said. "It was fixed up nice."
Then, in 1970, two white men showed up at her door. The city had declared the neighborhood "blighted," they said. The hospital needed the land.
Thelma Glover, her husband and all her friends had 90 days to leave.
The story was similar across the country. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, city leaders from San Francisco to New York leveraged a new federal program called "urban renewal" to transform areas they considered slums. In Portland and elsewhere, those neighborhoods were often home to African Americans.
"Urban renewal," James Baldwin said in 1963, "means Negro removal."
Eliot, the inner-city neighborhood where Glover lived, was 70 percent black when Portland leaders began eyeing it for redevelopment.
Plans to seize Glover's home and others had taken shape in 1960, years before the men came to her door. Emanuel Hospital leaders told Portland planners they wanted to expand. Consultants found 55 acres -- land occupied by black homes and businesses -- that the hospital thought it needed for new facilities.
The community was home to barbecue restaurants, record stores and grocery shops. Photos from the time show the Glovers and their neighbors kept their homes looking immaculate.
But urban renewal gave Portland planners the power -- and the money -- to bulldoze. Portland detailed everything wrong about the neighborhood in a 1966 federal grant application. The community contained high rates of substandard housing and unemployment, officials wrote.
"This area contains the highest concentration of low-income families and experiences the highest incidence rate of crime in the City of Portland," they wrote in the application. "Approximately 75 percent to 80 percent of Portland's Negro population live within the area."
Portland officials deemed Glover's neighborhood "beyond rehabilitation." In 1970, the federal government offered $5 million to demolish and rebuild.
Glover and others tried to fight. They formed the Emanuel Displaced Persons Association to petition to keep their houses. Glover served as treasurer. They hired lawyers and accused city leaders of lying about how much housing was available for African Americans in other parts of the city. They asked to be paid more for the homes they were losing.
"I just didn't think we got the money we should have," Glover said.
Portland paid $5,000 for her land, Glover said, about the same she and her husband had paid 25 years earlier, before they added the garage and redid the basement.
Two years later, the Emanuel Displaced Persons group surveyed the old neighborhood. The federal money had run out, and the hospital decided against immediate expansion. Twenty-two blocks -- including Glover's lot -- sat empty.
"What's maddening is people could have stayed here," chairwoman Ina Warren told The Oregonian in 1973. "The community is destroyed forever."
Even in the 1970s, Glover said, Portlanders weren't keen on integration. Some African Americans bought homes in Northeast Portland. But the only place the Glovers could find was on an East Portland cul-de-sac with no streetlamp posts.
"It was dark, dark," she said. "They called this 'out in the rural.' I was the onliest black out here."
For the first time, Thelma Glover lived in a white neighborhood. She was 53.
The neighborhood wasn't in city limits when they moved in. Even now, East Portland has fewer sidewalks and public transit options than the inner city.
Little things annoyed her. The dining room looked into the kitchen; proper homes kept them separate, she believed. And the living room was too small to host a party. But the couple made do. They decorated the basement with shag carpet and a bear rug. They built a bar in the corner. Most of her friends didn't have cars, though, so they couldn't visit.
"You can live in a gold house, but there's something missing without your friends and everything," she said. "I'm out here with nothing but strangers."
A few years after they moved in, Cephas Glover died of cancer. Relatives visited, but Glover spent the next three decades more or less alone. She assumed people forgot what happened to black folks like her.
Then in 2011, officials at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center called. The hospital was about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. But first, they wanted to publicly apologize.
Hospital leaders called it their reconciliation project. They spent a year interviewing Glover and others who lost their homes. By then, many had died.
When Emanuel leaders organized an apology breakfast in 2012, only four of the 200 who lost their homes could attend. The hospital invited a few dozen black community leaders to fill out the audience.
Glover, then 94, drove herself there. She wore a dress of many colors and had a table in the front.
"I still miss it," she told community leaders who stopped to hug her. "But I'm glad to visit today, and I hope we can get something good going for all of us."
A historian recounted the story. Dr. Lori Morgan, the hospital's chief administrative officer, said it was "past time" to address the demolition.
"It's a part of Emanuel's history," Morgan told the crowd. "It's not a proud part, but it's one that I'm quite determined we are going to own."
Glover didn't speak, but some black leaders in the audience did. They wanted more than an apology. They wanted reparations.
"I walked into this room knowing you did wrong," said Lolenzo Poe, then board chair of the Urban League. "What's far more important is what you're going to do about it."
Emanuel leaders didn't offer money. But a few months later, they affixed 10 giant panels to the main atrium, detailing the havoc the hospital wreaked.
One 47-x-60-inch panel names every person, including Glover, who lost a home. Another shows a picture of her house in 1969. The lawn is mowed. A tree shades the walkway. A car sits out front, a luxury when everything she loved had been steps away.
In 2012, Glover drove back to look at the exhibit. She ran a finger over the picture of her house. It was a nice gesture, she thought. But it couldn't undo what happened. It didn't bring black people back.
"I'm alone," she said recently. "I like to ride over there and look. But it's not the same, even when I look."
The city atones
The land that Glover left sat empty for decades. Even as other close-in neighborhoods gentrified, Glover's old neighborhood remained a collection of empty storefronts and vacant lots, a place people from Irvington or Alameda drove through on their way downtown.
Emanuel Medical Center eventually expanded. In 2011, it built a state-of-the-art children's hospital on Glover's old block. The neighborhood around it, fueled by a more recent round of urban renewal, has become one of Portland's most desirable for the creative class. The number of black residents continues to decline.
A few years ago, amid criticism that city policies gentrified the heart of the African American community, Portland leaders followed Emanuel's lead and acknowledged they had helped displace hundreds of black families.
Last year, city officials decided to take another, bolder step. They created programs to bring residents back.
Over the next decade, Portland urban renewal officials plan to spend $96 million on "right to return" programs for families either pushed or priced out of the inner city. They'll subsidize apartment rentals and help older residents hold on to properties. They'll also provide down payments to buy homes, some of them new, in North and Northeast Portland.
When Portland housing officials announced the first round of down payment grants last May, more than 1,000 people applied for 65 spots. To choose who gets the money, the city created a "preference policy." Applicants are ranked based on the degree that city actions pushed them from the inner city.
"If families have evidence that they had their property taken by the city, they move directly to the top of the list," said Matthew Tschabold, the Portland Housing Bureau's equity and policy manager.
Glover's past should guarantee her a top spot. In meetings announcing the programs, city officials set up posters that showed her old house.
But fliers for the down payments didn't mention the minimum requirements: Applicants must earn at least $31,000 to qualify for a mortgage. Those who earn less can volunteer 300 to 500 hours to help build their homes.
At 98, Glover lives off Social Security, not enough to qualify for a loan in a red-hot market. Though she tries to walk a mile a day, she's not in shape to put in sweat equity.
"So if you don't have nothing they can't help you?" she asked when a friend explained the program last fall. "Do they know they the reason I don't have nothing?"
Glover is a joyful woman, given to high-pitched peals of laughter and a gentle teasing of her visitors. She pushes back against self-pity and repeats, often, "I'm just doing the best I can."
But that day, she stewed after her friend left. Hours later, she worked out the math as she washed dishes. Her East Portland home is worth about $250,000 now. Smaller homes in her old neighborhood sell for half a million dollars.
"I heard them say at Emanuel that they didn't do right," she said. "I thought they were going to do something for us. I have to save and skimp and do the best I can. But see, Emanuel and the city doesn't have to do the best they can. They making good money off the property they got from me."
'Do it like I want to'
Just before Christmas, Glover microwaved plates from Meals on Wheels for lunch. She missed fried fish and good salads. She longed for a rotisserie chicken and ice cream.
If she lived close-in, Glover thought, she could walk to the store. The white people on her cul-de-sac were nice, but they didn't take care of one another the way black communities did. Younger African Americans looked after the elders.
Glover ate in front of a television on the kitchen counter. She watched "The View," then stood to wash the plate.
"If I keep living, I'm going to have to have somebody to help me," she said. "Then I wonder can I afford it."
Glover had nowhere to be, so she started on a tour of her photographs. She picked up her cane and headed for the hallway.
She drifted past pictures from Louisiana, portraits from when she and Cephas met. Old friends from Portland beamed from the walls. She stopped to wipe dust off a framed image of her mother. Glover smiled at Cephas, forever smoking a cigar in the bedroom.
"You know how come I put pictures everywhere, on the floor and everywhere?" she said. "So I can see my family and I won't be so lonely. I just do it like I want to."
She left the cane behind and continued searching. She squealed when she discovered a wallet-size image of her old kitchen. Glover shook her head. In the photo, she was smiling.
"Look at me," she said. She stared at her 30-year-old self for a few minutes, a housewife washing dishes, a woman who didn't know what she would lose.
She moved to another room. For all of the hundreds of pictures, she couldn't find what she wanted most: a snapshot of her old home. She knew Emanuel had a photo in its exhibit. Portland keeps a small copy in its archives.
Glover combed her albums but couldn't find one of her own. In the end, the hospital and city had taken hold of Thelma Glover's memories, too.
-- Casey Parks
[email protected]; @caseyparks
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.
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