One year ago, The Skanner News traveled to the Portland Archives to research our 2012 history month special edition on the history of gentrification in North and Northeast neighborhoods.
The incredible staff at the archives, who carefully tend and make available original documents from throughout the city's history, urged us to crack open their files on the Black Panthers. So a few months ago we went back and started sifting through their box of documents, which in fact were police surveillance reports.
These files are unique because the only reason they exist is that one man, a Portland Police officer named Winfield Falk, had kept them stored at his home along with dozens of other boxes of police surveillance files – long after they should have been shredded.
After his death, Falk's family turned the recovered surveillance files over to the Portland Tribune, which in 2002 produced a series about the surveillance called "The Secret Watchers."
As we looked through the Black Panther files – and a separate box with nothing but photographs that had been part of the surveillance effort – we were struck by report after report that clearly showed the tension and fear between police and the Black community in the late 1960s, though the 1970s and into the 80s, when these particular files seemed to peter out.
The heart of the police surveillance seemed to be their dedication to preventing bombings, arson and street violence.
However, a significant amount of the reports appeared to involve scrutiny of clearly-legal activities including a sickle cell anemia fair at Irving Park, fundraising for the Children's Free Breakfast Program, and an emerging movement in the Black community to track federal spending in the Model Cities Program.
In fact quite a few photographs appear to have been taken at a community protest at the Portland School Board meeting to shut down Harriet Tubman Middle School in 1982.
We were struck by the similarity between what was happening in Northeast Portland then and what is happening today.
In these pages you will find a history section unlike any we have ever done before. We are including images from the surveillance files – heavily bordered and marked "From the Archives" – in the hopes that they will spark discussion about our modern-day community issues.
Do you know people in these surveillance photos? Some are beloved in our community even now. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you can identify anyone in the pictures so that we can interview the subjects and put their story on the record as well.
We have even more images from these surveillance files, courtesy of the Portland Archives, that we hope to put online soon.
--Lisa Loving, The Skanner News Editor