Celebrating Portland’s Diverse History and Supporting Black-Owned Businesses

Aug 11, 2023

Cheerful small business partners in restaurant

August is Black Business Month, and we want to celebrate the occasion by encouraging our readers to support local Black-owned businesses. But it’s also important when discussing this month to address the reasons why it came into being in the first place.

While Black Business Month itself was founded in 2004, African American leaders have been working to highlight the hard work of Black business owners for far longer. In 1900, Booker T. Washington founded the National Negro Business League (NNBL) – 12 years before the United States Chamber of Commerce came into being. Washington believed that economic empowerment was vital for African Americans to achieve equality, and the NNBL maintained directories of Black-owned professionals across the US. In 1966, the organization changed its name to the National Business League. It’s still in existence today, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, promoting Black entrepreneurship and financial literacy.

Portland may have a reputation in modern culture as a progressive city, but it’s also had a history of racism and economic disenfranchisement in the not-so-distant past. The Albina district in Northeast Portland was once a thriving community, home to most of the city’s African American population with its own prosperous business district. Unfortunately, racist city planning in the latter half of the twentieth century forced many businesses to close and residents to leave their homes.

Construction projects in the 50s and 60s including Interstate 5, Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum and the Legacy Immanual Medical Center resulted in Black families being evicted from their homes, which were then demolished. These projects gave rise to gentrification in the 80s and 90s, driving many of the remaining residents out of their family homes and scattering them across the city.

In 2023, shopping districts like Mississippi Avenue and Alberta Street still host many Black-owned businesses. But they no longer serve as hubs for Portland’s Black community the way they once did, and the surrounding areas now have the distinction of being known as “Historically” Black neighborhoods. While the 60s can sometimes seem like distant history, many Portlanders alive today still remember their parents or grandparents being forced to relocate due to city policy, and many have experienced the pain of being priced out of their childhood homes due to rising costs.

Nationally, the US Census Bureau has found that only 2.4% of US businesses are owned by African Americans, despite making up 12.8% of the total US population. Black business owners are still struggling to receive the funding and resources they need to succeed. That’s why providing support by patronizing these businesses and recommending them to others is so vital to supporting the Black community. When we get to know our neighbors and support small, local businesses, it makes all of us stronger.

If you’d like to find local Black-owned businesses to patronize this August – and the rest of the year – you can visit the twice monthly Come Thru Black & Indigenous Market in Southeast Portland or browse through the Mercatus Black Owned Business Directory.