Home Interviews Resident Spotlight: Clifford Walker of Humboldt Neighborhood

Resident Spotlight: Clifford Walker of Humboldt Neighborhood

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Tell us about your Portland roots:

My father worked for the Union Pacific railroad as a cook, that is how my family moved to Portland. I learned a lot from the men who worked with him- telling me stories of the city of Albina, a railroad town, started by those who worked in the Albina RR yards. I was born at Emanuel Hospital, and grew up in a house where the Portland Public Schools’ headquarters is located now. I beared witness to many homes that would be removed from that area. 

As a kid in the Humboldt neighborhood, there were no cars in the street, so the kids could play in the streets among horse drawn coaches with produce for sale. 

This was before the I-5 freeway, and I could walk straight to school up Humboldt. Then the big ditch came to make way for the freeway. I grew up on the corner of Humboldt and Alberta streets. Back then Interstate 5 was Highway 99W. The safety patrol would help students get across the street every morning, waking up early every day to help. 

The Humboldt hills, is what we call Mississippi ave and its upward slope. Kids would pick berries and beans to make money in the summer time. The bus would come to the neighborhood to pick people up and take them to the fields to work, where Hispanic families would be working the fields. 

We lived in neighborhoods that did not want to trade with you.”

Where did kids play back then? Was there a park? 

As a kid, although there were no parks to play in; (Humboldt does not have any park in its official boundaries and the neighborhood association has expressed its concerns) we would ride a bus out to the west side of the river to Macleay Park with tin cans and catch crawdads. Or travel to Swan Island and catch squirrels and fish. 

Are there any old buildings in Portland that you miss? 

No…but I do reflect on the stories my mother told me. When my father would come home from work, he would visit the neighboring businesses, and advocated for them to change their signs on the businesses that said “Cater to whites only.” He was very political. Nowadays we see signs that say “we cater to everybody” and that is a big change. We lived in neighborhoods that did not want to trade with you. 

Our situation was unique as we did not come from Vanport. Most Black people here came from Vanport, but my family had a chance to get established here before the flood. Yet people would protest us being in their neighborhood, as they were worried we would bring their property values down. 

Where did kids play back then? Was there a park? 

As a kid, although there were no parks to play in, we would ride a bus out to the west side of the river to Macleay Park with tin cans and catch crawdads. Or travel to Swan Island and catch squirrels and fish. 

Are there any old buildings in Portland, that you miss? 

No…but I do reflect on the stories my mother told me. When my father would come home from work, he would visit the neighboring businesses, and advocated for them to change their signs on the businesses that said “Cater to whites only.” He was very political. Nowadays we see signs that say “we cater to everybody” and that is a big change. We lived in neighborhoods that did not want to trade with you. 

Our situation was unique as we did not come from Vanport. Most Black people here came from Vanport, but my family had a chance to get established here before the flood. Yet people would protest us being in their neighborhood, as they were worried we would bring their property values down. 

— Interviewed by Jessica Rojas, NECN