News of racist graffiti on North Mississippi Avenue sparked plans for a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with black-owned businesses that was held last Saturday night.
But it was an event with a twist; organizer Teressa Raiford linked the racism of the graffiti to the racism of gentrification that, they say, still makes black people uncomfortable shopping or socializing in white-owned businesses on North Mississippi.
Raiford is currently communications director for the Portland Black History Project, and created the event in her capacity as the Business and Economic Chair of the OABA.
The "Walk Thru and Sit In" on North Mississippi was planned to coincide with the weekly jam session in the alley near the Sons of Haiti M W St Joseph Grand Lodge where the graffiti appeared sometime after midnight on Wednesday.
"The past two weeks organizers with the PBHP have been meeting with Lodge brothers and other volunteers to help restore and rebuild programs at the location.
"We posted pictures and did the usual Facebook check in and now we have a feeling that the exposure may have set off the indecent actions of a group of racists," Raiford wrote on the Facebook event page.
The idea for the protest percolated through a series of postings on the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs listserv Friday morning, where several community members shared stories of discrimination and rude treatment by white-owned businesses on the rapidly-gentrified avenue over the years.
"Many of the members of the black community have stated that several businesses located in gentrified communities have frowned upon them when they come into the establishments," the page said.
"This has been occurring so much so that blacks no longer visit those communities."
It was early on Thursday morning when the death threats, swastikas and n-bombs were first visible on the grand old Masonic lodge's blue and white clapboard façade.
The words "Die Nig" were spray painted on the front door with a swastika, and the word "n****r" was painted on every exterior wall.
The case has been taken up by the Portland Police Bureau bias crimes unit, and a reward of up to $1,000 has been announced by Crime Stoppers.
The outcry against the graffiti is universal and has drawn outpourings of support for the Masonic lodge members, who painted out the damage Thursday afternoon.
"It is terribly disturbing and disappointing when this kind of ugliness takes place in our community," said Kyle Busse of the City of Portland Human Rights Commission.
"It's a reminder that we have to remain vigilant and stand together against hate," he said. "The Sons of Haiti Temple brings depth and richness to our community and we're lucky to call them our neighbors."
Meanwhile, the Mississippi Avenue graffiti incident seemed to open up old wounds for many, and online discussions sprouted up across different social media platforms with local residents searching for the best information on what happened, who was impacted by it and what the community response should be.
"Mississippi Avenue's Burning with Racist Epitaphs and that's just was visibly displayed on two black-owned establishments my concern is what hasn't been said or done by those who incubate hate in their hearts, mind souls," wrote Rev. Renee Ward on the OABA listserv.
"Portland's African American people need to do more protesting and less partying. Assemble for a purpose not a pleasure. Less hate more, more love. Boycott businesses along Mississippi and show up in solidarity and let folks know you may have moved us out of the neighborhood, but we haven't disappeared. . . we're still here so you might as well deal with it," Ward wrote.
Later on Facebook, Ward posted updated information on the avenue's reaction to the vandalism.
"I've just received notification that members of the faith and business community have extended their love to the Masonic Temple," she wrote, sharing a long message from the Grand Master's wife about the outpouring of support for the service organization.
"My apologies to you and others I may have offended by my recent commentary regarding stemming from prior apathy and complacency we've historically shown in the past regarding such hostile and racial acts," she wrote. "However to the African American population at large, may I still remind others that we all have an obligation to show our support to one another when in need. QUESTION: Am I My Brother/Sister's Keeper? ANSWER: 'Yes, I AM.' It is well with my soul."
On the Facebook event page for the sit in, it is clear that for some people, the graffiti brought to a boiling point a sense that the street is hostile to black people – whether there is racist graffiti on the walls or not.
"Many of the members of the black community have stated that several businesses located in gentrified communities have frowned upon them when they come into the establishments," the page says. "This has been occurring so much so that blacks no longer visit those communities.
"The first step in healing is working through the problems. Let's do it together. Doesn't have to be a march or protest but we can take the bus this Saturday and get off on Albina and Alberta then walk down the avenue to the Lodge on Mississippi and Fremont. Walk past the businesses respectfully and stop at the lodge. We encourage you to bring items for a potluck or spend some cash at the food carts located in the business lot."
Leave a Crime Stoppers tip online at www.crimestoppersoforegon.com, text CRIMES (274637) and in the subject line put 823HELP, followed by your tip, or call 503-823-HELP (4357) and leave your tip information.