In 2014 Oregon State University received the African American Railroad Porter Oral History Collection. The audio recordings made between 1983 and 1992 tell the stories of Black railroad porters in Oregon in the early and mid-twentieth century.
The collection includes 29 reel-to-reel tapes of interviews conducted by filmmaker Michael Grice that were used as background for his documentary Black Families and the Railroad in Oregon and the Northwest.
Now the university has received a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust to digitize the collection and create a website to feature the digitized recordings and their transcripts.
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By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
Once numbering more than 50, 13 historically black towns in Oklahoma are struggling to survive.
African-American women wait outside a rural church while other members of their families attend a church business meeting in McIntosh County, Oklahoma, in 1939. (Smith Collection, New York Public Library/Gado/Getty Images)
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — His baby brother, barely a year old, came down with pneumonia in September 1948, when Lonnie Cato’s family still lived in the historically black community of Vernon, 70 miles south of Tulsa. The streets, even in the middle of town, were still gravel back then, but Vernon seemed to be thriving with 2,500 residents, two or three general stores and a couple of cafes, where blacks, whites and Native Americans all mingled without seeming to notice skin color. Or, at least, not caring much about it.
Everybody, including Cato’s family, was poor. But they didn’t seem to notice that, either.
“Vernon was a happy-going, barefooted, sand-between-your-toes kind of place,” Cato remembers. “Shoes was a luxury. We only wore them on Sundays when we went to church.”
The town didn’t have a doctor. And by the time Cato’s family got his little brother to a hospital in Tulsa, it was too late. The baby died. And for Cato’s father, that was the end of Vernon.
“I’m not going to raise my kids where there’s no doctor care,” he told the family. And they moved to Tulsa.
Cato was too young to notice, of course. But his family was part of a much larger trend that started after World War II and continued for several decades, a mass exodus away from small towns in general and historically black towns in particular, leaving their populations gutted. The general stores closed. The cafes vanished. Houses fell into disrepair and entire neighborhoods turned into vacant lots, old foundations overgrown by weeds.
“We have to do something or these historically black towns will die,” said Cato, now 77 years old. “And I think there’s too much history to just stand back and let that happen.”
In hindsight, World War II was the turning point, Cato said. An entire generation of young men went off to fight and even the survivors never came back to Vernon, where they would’ve spent their lives behind a plow on a cotton farm.
“I didn’t want to look a mule in the butt anymore,” an uncle told Cato after settling in Kansas City after the war.
While growing up in Tulsa, where he graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1959, Cato often went back to Vernon, taking a two-hour bus ride to visit grandparents and cousins. The town shrunk smaller with each visit. And by the time he came home from Vietnam, where he served in the Air Force during the early 1960s, Vernon seemed barely recognizable.
“Young people kept leaving until only the old folks were left,” he said. “And as they died off, the town was dying, too.”
With no local businesses left to collect sales taxes, one of Cato’s uncles launched the Vernon Charitable Foundation in 1973 to collect donations from people who had moved away, helping to pay for the town’s upkeep. But that source of funding dwindled as former residents died off and their children, who had no memories of town, saw no reason to contribute.
By 2005, the Vernon Charitable Foundation decided to change tactics and, instead of going after donations, go after grant money. But for that, the town needed an elected mayor, an office that had never been filled, even during the community’s heyday.
Cato had just retired from American Airlines, where he was a mechanic.
“I guess I’m going to have some time on my hands,” he told the foundation, agreeing to be a candidate. In fact, the only candidate.
He has since been re-elected three times, with McIntosh County allowing him to continue living on six acres near Skiatook as long as he owns property in Vernon and is registered to vote there, Tulsa World reported. And he can point to several accomplishments, including preservation work on the old Vernon School, which is now a community center, and the town’s first-ever paved road.
Vernon, if not exactly revitalizing under Cato’s leadership, has survived. And that’s all Cato really hoped for.
“But I’m not going to be around forever,” he said. “Somebody will have to take over.”
Getting ready for bed one night last September, Cato noticed blood on his toothbrush.
“I must have damaged my gums while brushing,” he thought, and shrugged it off. But he woke up later to find blood soaking into his pillow.
A visit to the emergency room at 2 a.m. led to surgery on his mouth, which led to a diagnosis of head and neck cancer, leading eventually to surgery at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Now in remission, he still has trouble chewing and swallowing, while he has lost nearly all sense of taste.
“I’ll trade taste for life any day,” he said with a laugh. “So it’s OK. I’m doing fine.”
But the health scare has convinced him not to run for re-election again in 2020, leaving Vernon – with a current population of exactly 37 people – to look for a new mayor.
Oklahoma used to have more than 50 all-black towns, established largely by freedman families who had come to Indian Territory with tribal slave owners in the early 19th century. All but 13 of those towns have vanished, and now they’re struggling to survive.
“It would be a travesty to let them die,” said Jessilyn Head, part of a husband-wife team from Oklahoma City who head up The Coltrane Group, an organization devoted to saving Oklahoma’s remaining historic black towns. “There’s too much history and heritage that would be lost forever.”
Too small and under-funded to thrive individually, the 13 towns need to work together to promote awareness and tourism, Head said. Most of the towns have at least one annual event that could attract crowds – Vernon, for example, has a Memorial Day celebration that serves as a kind of town reunion, drawing former residents from all over the country. Anyone with an interest in black history should pay a visit, too, Head said.
“But people don’t know about these towns,” she said. “That’s one thing we have to fix.”
The Coltrane Group is working with state officials to post highway signs to help travelers find historic black towns, and the group is building a new website that will promote tourism to the towns, she said.
“Slowly but surely we’re seeing interest start to grow,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, maybe not even in our lifetimes, but these towns can be rebuilt and revitalized.”
Cato doesn’t have much hope for Vernon to grow. In fact, he doesn’t have any hope for that.
“It will never be any bigger,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
He’d be satisfied with mere survival.
“What’s left of this town,” he said, “should be held together so people will know how things used to be.”Post Views: 784
“Time for an Awakening” with Bro. Elliott 11-05-17 guest Activist, Organizer, Rev Dinah Tatman “No Justice No Profit”By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago“Time for an Awakening” for Sunday 11/05/2017 at 7:00 PM (EST) guests were Activists, Organizers, involved in the “No Justice No Profit” direct action in St. Louis, Rev Dinah Tatman and Rev. Ronald Bobo. Our guests talked about the progress of this national movement, and how Black communities nationwide can be involved, as it move’s into it’s next phase.Post Views: 298
By Elliot Booker — 4 years ago
A new five-year study into Black women’s hair products has found that a significant number contain ingredients that can increase the risk of miscarriage, uterine fibroids, cancers and respiratory problems.
The report, called Natural Evolutions – One Hair Story was produced by Los Angeles based not-for-profit organisation Black Women for Wellness (BWWLA) and was compiled by collecting health data, specialist reports, conducting focus groups of Black women who used hair products as well as interviews with product manufacturers and over 100 hair salon professionals.
Nourbese Flint and Teniope Adewumi – co-authors of Natural Evolutions – One Hair Story said they decided to compile the report because of the seeming lack of knowledge and research about the potential health risks of using hair products aimed at Black women in the US, the UK, Caribbean and parts of Africa.
Among some of the key concerns found by the report were the presence of chemicals such as formaldehyde, used in many hair straightening products, ammonia, which is used in hair dyes and bleaching agents all of which have been known to cause breathing difficulties and occupational asthma.
The report also cites research published in the International Journal of Cancer that deep-coloured dyes used over long periods are thought to increase the risk of both non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and multiple myeloma and also increase the risk of bladder cancer.
Other research included in the report is a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology which showed that the use of hair relaxers is linked to the incidence of uterine fibroids in Black women and girls.
The BWWLA report lists over 40 products most commonly used by hair care professionals, which feature a hazard rating given by Skin Deep, an online database created by non-profit organisation Environmental Working Group. The products listed range from those that are chemically synthesised to raw natural products.
Among them are popular products such as Luster’s Pink, Tigi Bed Head Self Absorbed Mega Nutrient Shampoo, and Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Sheen Spray.
Adewuni told reporters: “Though many of the salon workers we interviewed had gone to cosmetology school, very few had learned about the negative impacts that chemicals in products could have on their health. There is a great need to have products that Black people use assessed for health impacts.”
She added: “We believe that the onus should not be on consumers and workers to have figure out what is safe or not. Toxic personal care and cosmetic products should not be in on the shelves.”
Market research firm Mintel estimated the size of the Black haircare market in the US at $946 million in 2015. The market figure for the UK is harder to pin down, but according to some estimates African Caribbean women spend up to six times more on hair and beauty products than women of other ethnicities.
Yet the report found that products marketed at this group are the least tested of all hair and beauty products.
South-east London based Sandra Pinnock-Brown, sales & marketing director of Hair Everlasting Wholesale Hair Manufacture and distributor of Xsandy’s Brand said she was not surprised by the report’s findings.
She said: “The attitude of some manufacturers appears to be that they can sell anything to Black women and they will buy it. A more robust testing regime would cost more but they appear reluctant to incur greater expenses for this customer group.”
Rachael Corson, CEO and co-founding director of ethically-sourced haircare brand Afrocenchix , also based in London, agreed.
She said: “Sadly, those who gain financially from filling shelves with cheap chemicals promising beautiful, shiny hair are unconcerned with the health risks. They are not made by the Black women who use such products themselves.”
According to Irene Shelley, editor of Black Beauty & Hair magazine, lack of willingness and possibly funds on the part of manufacturers and retailers to conduct research are likely reasons for the continued availability of harmful products in the market.
“We read stories about Black women who have ended up in hospital on respirators because they had adverse reactions to products like hair dyes or hair glues,” she said.
Shelley added that more women are now talking about their experiences, and boosting knowledge and awareness of natural haircare.
“Black Beauty & Hair has a natural hair section and we’ve found that the natural hair movement has made women look closely at the products that they are using on their skin and hair,” she said.
By: Kirsty Osei-BempongPost Views: 443