Two Dozen Black People Sue Portland, Oregon, Claiming Forced Displacement

Some 26 Black people who either lived in or are descendants of people who lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood in the city of Portland, Ore., are suing the city, its economic and urban development agency, and Legacy Emanuel Hospital.

NBC News reports the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Portland accuses the city, the agency, and the hospital of forced displacement and the racist destruction of homes in the neighborhood of Albina. The suit exposes how urban improvement projects and the construction of U.S. highways came at the cost of Black and minority neighborhoods across the country.

“In many cases, city and state planners purposely built through Black neighborhoods to clear so-called slums and blighted areas,” states a 2020 report by Pew Charitable Trusts, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit public policy group.

One of the people suing is Bobby Fouther, whose two-story childhood home is now a parking lot after it was demolished in the 1970s along with many other properties in the Black neighborhood.

“Growing up there was just all about love,” Fouther told NBC News.

Fouther’s great-aunt and her husband bought a house in Albina in 1934, which Fouther and his sister visited almost daily, according to the suit. However, residents were pushed out in the 1950s and 1960s for the building of Interstate 5 and Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the original home of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers. Then in the 1970s, a hospital expansion was announced.

According to the suit, between 1971 and 1973 the Portland Development Commission demolished an estimated 188 properties (including 158 residential homes inhabited by 88 families and another 83 individuals). Thirty-two businesses and four churches were also demolished. The suit adds that 74% of the homes demolished were Black-owned.

The suit states that during the first phase of the hospital expansion city officials secretly agreed to compensate the hospital for the full cost of the land and the demolition of the buildings. Homeowners were not fairly compensated and many were not compensated at all.

“I was taken out of my safe and loving community. I was moved into a neighborhood that saw me as a nuisance and to a school where I was one of three Black children,” Connie Mack, one of the plaintiffs, told NBC News.

Many of the residents, like many Black Americans across the U.S., were forced to live in those neighborhoods due to redlining and laws establishing all-white neighborhoods. Additionally, the displacement of many Black Americans across the country is partly responsible for the racial wealth gap.

Both Legacy Health, which owns Legacy Emanuel Medical Center and Prosper Portland, formerly the Portland Development Commission, declined to comment on the suit.