Saturday, May 30, 2015

Lifting as She Rose

            I am very proud of the students in Jason Miller’s class at Madison High School and their efforts to put a gravestone on the unmarked grave of Augustus “Gus” Waterford, the first African American employee of the Portland Fire Bureau.  I thought they could use a little encouragement, so I dedicate this newest Weird Portland post to them.  Keep up the good work.

Harriet "Hattie" Redmond (1862-1952) was an important leader during the 1912 campaign for Women's Suffrage. By the time she passed away in 1952 she had been forgotten.
            Portland’s African American community has been politically active in defense of their civil rights since the earliest days of Portland’s history when Abner and Lynda Francis successfully campaigned against Oregon’s Black Exclusion laws. After the passage of the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870 guaranteed the right to vote for African American men, Portland’s black community organized to get the most out of their newly won ballot power. Organizations like the Portland ColoredImmigrants’ Aid Society cooperated with the local Republican Party in order to multiply their power. By the 1890s they had succeeded in cracking employment barriers in a variety of fields: African Americans were hired by the Police Bureau, the Fire Bureau and other city departments.  Although black city employees were really only tokens and most of them did not keep their employment for long, the fact that they were hired at all shows the political clout that black Portlanders were able to wield.
            Although African American men began voting in Portland in 1870, African American women, just like their Euro-American counterparts were excluded.  In 1872 when Abigail Scott Duniway approached the Morrison Precinct polling place “with a determined but modest demeanor that evidently meant business” (according to the Oregonian) she was accompanied by three other women, including Mary Beatty, an African American woman.  After an intense debate with polling officials Duniway, Beatty, Mrs. E.F. Hendee and Mrs. M.A. Lambert illegally voted in the presidential election.  Although their protests raised eyebrows among Portland’s men, it was only one of the earliest volleys in the long struggle for women’s right to vote.  It took forty years for Duniway and her sisters to win the vote and many people credited their success to the broad coalition and diverse support they were able to build.
In 1913 Hattie Redmond became the first African American woman in Oregon to register to vote.
            The coalition that won the vote in 1912 included a wide range of groups from the Colored Women’s Equal Suffrage League (CWESL) and the Men’s Equal Suffrage League to Esther Pohl Lovejoy’s Everybody’s Equal Suffrage League. Although the initiative passed by only a slight margin, it drew support from a wide and diverse group of Portlanders.  The Suffrage Initiative didn’t do well at the polls statewide, but the margin in Multnomah County gave it enough to pass and the CWESL and its president Hattie Redmond got a lot of credit for their efforts to get out the vote.  In addition Redmond held regular voter education meetings at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, the largest African American church in the city at the time, which ensured a solid “yes” vote from the black community.  Redmond became the first black woman in Portland to register to vote in 1913, when the new law went into effect.
            Hattie Redmond was a forty year old widow, although she claimed to be thirty-eight, when she registered to vote.  She was born in St. Louis in 1862 and had come west with her parents as a child.  Her father, Rueben Crawford, was very active in Republican Party organizations and the Colored Immigrants’ Aid Society.  By the time he died at the age of 89 in 1918, the Oregonian called him the most well known ship’s caulker on the west coast.  Hattie was married to Emerson Redmond in 1893, but the marriage was not successful and he was estranged from his wife when he died in the Multnomah County Poor Farm in 1907. That same year Mt. Olivet Baptist Church opened and the Crawford family were founding members.  Hattie was also one of the founding members of the Oregon Colored Women’s Council (later renamed Oregon Colored Women’s Club). With the motto “Lifting as We Rise” the women of the Colored Women’s Council organized the CWESL with Redmond as president.
            After the passage of the Suffrage Initiative in 1912 Redmond continued to work on electoral campaigns through the Colored Women’s Republican Club, which supported candidates, and the Women’s Christian Temperance League, which helped to pass the Prohibition Initiative in 1914.  In addition she had a decades-long association with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) as well.  Most of her life though was spent working.  In 1913, when she registered to vote, she was working as a hairdresser, but she had many jobs, mostly in the domestic servant realm.  For thirty-nine years she was a janitor in the Federal Courthouse, a position from which she retired with a small pension in the 1930s.  By then she was well into her 70s, but she still had a long life ahead of her.  Her health became more precarious, but her financial situation improved slightly in 1941 when she was hit by a car while crossing SE Powell near her home on 32nd and received a small settlement.
During the Centennial of Women's Suffrage in 2012 Hattie Redmond was rediscovered and it was found that her grave at Lone Fir cemetery was unmarked. A new stone was placed on her grave at a ceremony attended by more than 200 people.

            Although Redmond was honored by the YWCA in 1950, most of her political and social activity had been long forgotten by the time she died at the age of 90 in 1952.  She was buried in Lone Fir Cemetery, near her father Rueben Crawford. Over the years the small stones on the graves were buried and for many years no one even knew they were there.  In 2012, during the preparations for the Centennial of women’s suffrage in Oregon, researchers discovered Redmond’s contribution to the campaign and got interested in her life.  Exploring Lone Fir cemetery they uncovered her long buried gravestone.  That summer Friends of Lone Fir paid for a new stone for the grave and Senator Avel Gordley dedicated it in a ceremony attended by more than two hundred people. Hattie Redmond once again proves C.E.S. Wood’s aphorism, “Good citizens are the riches of a city.”
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