About this project
Links to press about Whitelandia:
Greetings from producers, Tracy MacDonald and Matt Zodrow...and thank you for your interest in this project...
The story of Oregon's relationship with Black Americans is complex to say the least. It begins with harsh exclusion laws written into its 1859 constitution forbidding Blacks to enter the state. The state's founders sent word to potential settlers of a new "white homeland" free from the issues surrounding slavery they felt were consuming the country at that time. This was Oregon's beginning.
Today, contrary to its progressive reputation, Oregon is rated as "low" on the census map of U.S. diversity, ranking closely with states such as Kansas, Missouri, and Utah. Portland itself officially holds the title of "whitest major metropolitan city" in the United States.
How did we get here?
Through archival footage and interviews with citizens, activists, and community leaders, our goal is to reveal a state-sanctioned pattern of prejudice and discrimination evidenced by Oregon's broad governmental involvement with the Ku Klux Klan, its strict adherence to Jim Crow law, the bureaucratic destruction of Black American communities, and an intensified program of gentrification that is rampant in the state today.
This is a picture of us with our three children, Esme, Ella, and Salvador. We are standing in the alley behind our NE Alberta District home.
14 years ago, we bought a house in this historically Black neighborhood. We shared our street with Black families and we shopped and ate in Black owned businesses. We had always lived in diverse urban neighborhoods and were looking to raise our children in that environment. Over the years we witnessed the slow but steady gentrification of the community, but a core of Black culture seemed to be keeping a steady foothold in the neighborhood. In 2007, the downturn in the economy made it hard to make a living as filmmakers in Portland. When we were offered projects by PBS in Florida, we made the hard decision and moved our family to Tampa. Four years later we decided to come back, only to discover that we had been completely priced out of the neighborhood we thought of as our home. There was no way for us to buy a house and we could barely afford to rent. Today on our street, a 3 bedroom house rents for an average of $2400.00 per month - almost double from what we had known four years before. In order to live here, we rent a small 2 bedroom-1 bath house that barely fits all five of us. With the exception of a few apartments, all of the homes owned by Black families on our street and in our neighborhood are now owned by Whites, and the only Black owned businesses left on Alberta Street are a barber shop and a janitorial service.
For our family...this could be described as an inconvenience. To the Black American community that had called this neighborhood home for decades...this was a disaster.
And we realized that we had played a part in what the neighborhood had become. We had been complicit...it had been easy to overlook our own involvement in order to write ourselves into a narrative of Portland that was leaving its past behind for a brighter, quirkier future.
Would we have made the same decisions if we had known the full history of race in Oregon? Or at the very least the history of the neighborhood we lived in? The discrimination against Black Americans in Oregon is not a Black story. It is not a tale to be taken out and dusted off for Black History month once a year. It is just as much a White story. It is the story of a state created for white prosperity...a story that continues to impact all Oregonians...and all Americans.
As Intisar Abioto, the photographer and activist featured in the film and seen in the trailer, asks: "Why can't we initiate a new way of understanding history and culture where it's not just 'their problem'...where we all have something to work on...where we all have to think about the complexity of our roles...why can't that be a good thing?"
From the beginning, our goal has been to produce this film as partners with Black American communities, individuals, and organizations in Oregon. We have a primary advisory board put together from Dr. Cal Henry and his board of directors from The Oregon Assembly For Black Affairs http://www.oaba.us/about, and we are expanding that all the time. Recently we have asked Intisar Abioto of The Black Portlanders, and reporter Donovan Smith from The Portland Observer to join the board.
The money raised through this KickStarter campaign will go directly to our work in the field conducting interviews with citizens, activists, and community leaders from across the state of Oregon...and is essential to the continuation of this project.
The total budget for the film will be reached through a hybrid approach, seeking financial support through crowd-funding, local fundraising events, corporate sponsorships, and foundation grants. We are contracted with the Northwest Film Center http://www.nwfilm.org as our 501c3 fiscal sponsor.
When the film is completed, we intend to push for a theatrical release nationwide, but we will be putting equal effort into making Whitelandia available as an educational tool through the schools and universities and to promote and distribute to groups with interest in the subject matter, including civil rights organizations, churches, community and civics groups.
We hope we have inspired you to back this project. The rewards we have offered are all designed to keep our backers involved in Whitelandia's progress. Our intention is let the voices in the film tell a true story...and it is our promise to truly listen to those voices. Thank you for your time.
Below is an abbreviated overview of the history being told in Whitelandia. We wanted to leave you with an understanding of why this story is so compelling and needing to be told.
Oregon was admitted into the union in 1859 as the only state with a racially exclusionary clause in its state constitution. Through the 1920s, Oregon was one of the strongest Ku Klux Klan states in the country. The Klan was powerful enough in Oregon in 1922 to elect a governor - none of the states south of the Mason Dixon line could make such a claim.
During WWII, 25,000 Blacks came west to work in Portland building ships for the war effort. Vanport, a hastily constructed city of public housing, was built just north of Portland to house the new residents. As the war ended, Portland's political and business elite urged the Black residents to "go back home" so the city could move forward with new industrial development. Then, on Memorial Day, May 30, 1948, the rain-swollen Columbia River breached a railway embankment and sent a 10-foot wall of water crashing through Vanport City. In a matter of minutes, Vanport City was gone.
Seizing the opportunity, the city of Portland acted quickly to steer the newly displaced Black community into Portland's Albina neighborhood. Outlined in red on the Portland City map, Albina had long been the established location for minorities such as European Jews and Asians. In collaboration with the city, the Portland Real Estate Board threatened harsh retribution to real estate agents, banks, and insurance brokers that sold to Blacks outside of this "redline" district.
The decades that followed would see the destructive racism first incorporated into Oregon's constitution and then sustained through back-room politics, continue to wreak havoc on the state's Black population. Construction of the Memorial Coliseum sports arena, Highway Interstate-5, and the expansion of Emanuel Hospital would destroy thousands of homes and businesses in the Albina District, tearing apart and dispersing a once tight-knit Black American community.
Today, amplified media exposure and other factors have bolstered Oregon's appeal nationally and the newly generated attention has contributed to a reenergized immigration of Whites into the state. With the pandering to higher income residents for the increased tax base, and a foreclosure rate nearly double that of whites due to the targeting of Black Americans for predatory mortgage loans, a new Jim Crow seems to have emerged, leaping the racial divide and enforcing it's rule along economic boundaries instead.
Risks and challenges
The greatest challenge we face with this project is uncovering all of the stories and personal narratives that weave together the complex history of Black Americans in Oregon. We have been working on this project since August of last year, and have only just begun to organize the many interviews and historical documents that are needed in order to properly chronicle the story. From the lynching of Alonzo Tucker in 1902, a Black man in Coos Bay The Oregon Journal described as a "black fiend" who got the death he so thoroughly deserved, to the struggles and victories of Portland's Black Panthers in the 1970s, the WHITELANDIA documentary project is committed to finding the voices behind the stories that will preserve this important history.
In addition, this is a difficult subject that elicits strong reactions from many directions. Our intention is to open an honest dialogue about race. We anticipate that there will be tensions and struggles to overcome in this arena, and that at times, these tensions could serve to hinder a true and honest story from emerging. It is our intention to ask difficult questions, engage in difficult conversations, and push through rhetoric to create a meaningful commentary.
A successful round of funding from this KickStarter campaign will allow us to keep our current momentum going and to stay connected to the communities across the state that are contributing to the project.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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