The young always inherit the revolution. –Huey Newton
In another time, in a historic North Portland neighborhood, a revolution was taking place. It began with young Black men in the neighborhood feeding children free breakfasts. Then came the free health clinic and dental exams. Eventually, the Panthers’ mission changed, but that is a separate story.
Walking Through Portland With A Panther: The Life of Mr. Kent Ford. All Power! is now onstage at the Portland Playhouse. This new play, written by Don Wilson Glenn and directed by Damaris Webb, focuses on the life of Kent Ford and his iconic role as an activist dedicated to helping his neighbors and as co-founder of the Portland chapter of the Black Panther Party.
As Mr. Kent Fort, La’Tevin Alexander leads us on a dynamic and fact-filled walk through the Albina District as Ford knew it in the late 1960s through the ’70s. Albina is where 80 percent of Portland’s African-American residents lived from the late 1940s until they were displaced by the Interstate 5 freeway, Lloyd Center, Emanuel Hospital, and gentrification.
“Wherever the Black man came to, we were always seen as temporary people,” muses Ford. Prior to World War II, Oregon had less than 2000 Black residents. But they flocked to Portland during the war years to work in the federally desegregated defence industries. Housing was supplied by the government in a pop-up city along the Columbia River known as Vanport. The city was destroyed in May, 1948, when the Columbia flooded, leaving more than 17,000 people homeless. The displaced found housing on higher ground in North and Northeast Portland and attempted to integrate into Portland society. By the 1950s, says Ford, Albina was known for its poverty, joblessness, and police brutality. The riots came in 1967, and Ford became an activist in 1968; the Portland Black Panthers became an official chapter in 1970.
Walking Through Portland With A Panther is produced by Damaris Webb and staged by Vanport Mosaic and Confrontation Theatre. The Vanport Mosaic Festival runs yearly, and 2022 marks the 80th anniversary of the building of Vanport, once Oregon’s second largest city and the largest World War II federal housing project in the U.S.
Creative team includes Lara A. Klingman, set/props/sound projection; Wanda Walden, costumes; Riley Lozano, production stage manager; and Kent Ford, dramaturgy.
The play runs through June 26 at Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott St., Portland. Tickets are available here.
This is important history. Full marks to the theater crew for presenting it, and to Judy for bringing it to our attention.