Hundreds of friends and relatives gathered in the park last Sunday to barbecue, laugh and reminisce about the good old days. Adults recalled running through backyard sprinklers, visiting relatives after church and girls taking etiquette classes at the local community center.
It may sound like small-town Oregon, but this was in North Portland’s Eliot neighborhood, the heart of Portland’s African American community in the 1940, ’50s and ’60s.
Today the neighborhood bears little resemblance to its former self. Urban renewal projects demolished about 1,300 homes over the years, and gentrification has transformed it into a majority white part of town.
But founders of this, the 25th annual Gathering of Friends, a de facto neighborhood reunion, say the friendships forged in the solidarity of segregation and the grinding displacement of the past half-century have bonded them into a community like no other.
And as the event grows, more residents from the past return, and bonds with new generations form.
Back in the day
“When we grew up it was an idyllic time,” said 64-year-old Donna Maxey, who attended the Gathering with her 92-year-old mother Sunday, Aug. 28, at tiny Dawson Park. “I liken my childhood to ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ ‘Father Knows Best’ meets the Huxtables” from “The Cosby Show.”