The City of Vanport and its Struggle with Racism Before and After the Flood of Vanport

The City of Vanport and its Struggle with Racism Before and After the Flood of Vanport

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It demolished everything within its path. It shattered the homes of thousands, it destroyed the lives of many, and it ended the lives of few. It was known as the Vanport Flood. On Sunday, May 30th, 1948 the Columbia River poured through the city of Vanport without any warning to the residents who lived there. Stuart Mcelderry described within his article “Vanport Conspiracy and Social Relations in Portland, 1940-1950,” that a railroad embankment serving as a levy gave way. Within 45 minutes the entire city of 18,500 people was under several feet of water and gone for good. The city of Vanport was home to many white and African American families who then became homeless. As devastating of a tragedy this was, the flood of Vanport was a stepping stone for racism within Oregon and the Portland area.
Due to the fact Vanport was temporary housing built in just a couple months, it lacked foundation and sturdiness. The fragile apartments caused the majority of the buildings to be swept away in the wave of water that was 15 feet above the actual city. (Oregonian). The surprisingly low number of casualties, along with the multiple day wait for the river levels to go down so that the city could be thoroughly searched, allowed time for rumors to be created about the flood due to the extent of the natural disaster. It had many people wondering whether or not HAP lied about the actual number of deaths that occurred. Theories consisted of the government secretly loading the dead bodies on ships, to the bottom-floor apartments being “clogged with bodies,” or that a school bus had been seen with limbs of children trying to escape through the windows. (McElderry) The aftermath of the flood left the thousands without a home, food, or for some, no ma...


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Abbott, Carl. "Vanport." The Oregon Encyclopedia. Web.
Law, Steve. "Vanport Flood Left Changes in Wake." Portland Tribune. Pamplin Media Group, 06 June 2012.
Maben, Manly. “Vanport.” Portland, Or.: Oregon Historical Society, 1987. Web. 86
McElderry, Stuart. “Vanport Conspiracy and Social Relations in Portland, 1940-1950.” Oregon Historical Quarterly. Vol 99, No.2 (Summer 1998), pp. 134-163
McGregor, Michael. “The Vanport Flood & Racial Change in Portland.” Oregon History Project. Oregon Historical Society, 2003.
Pearson, R. N. (1996). African Americans in Portland, Oregon, 1940-1950: Work and living
conditions – a social history. Unpublished dissertation, Washington State University
Department of History, Pullman.
Pearson, Rudy. "Vanport (1942-1948)", African American History in the American West: Online Encyclopedia of Significant People and Place. Web.

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