PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It is impossible to overstate the influence Beatrice Morrow Cannady had on civil rights in Oregon. But the current president of the Portland NAACP — which Morrow Cannady co-founded in 1913 — says she doesn’t get the historical recognition she deserves.
Originally from Texas and then Chicago, Beatrice Morrow moved to Portland to be with her future husband, George Cannady. When she co-founded the Portland chapter of the NAACP 109 years ago, she was an activist who stood up to the Ku Klux Klan.
She was the first Black woman to graduate from Lewis & Clark Law School. She was also an editor of The Advocate, Oregon’s largest Black newspaper of the time.
Sharon Gary-Smith, the current president of the Portland NAACP (the oldest chapter west of the Mississippi) is pleased there are tributes to Morrow Cannady in the area: a school in Clackamas County named after her, an affordable housing project in Northeast Portland that bears her name, a large mural in North Portland that celebrates her.
“She spoke truth to power,” Gary-Smith said. “That’s what our legacy, that’s what our mission is. That’s what our vision is.”
Still, she believes more people should be aware of Beatrice Morrow Cannady.
“To be that fearless, and again as a woman, and then as a Black woman is really a testimony to me to her unshakeable sense of right and civil rights and equal rights,” Gary-Smith told KOIN 6 News.
Cannady was a personal friend of civil rights icon W.E.B. DuBois, who founded the national NAACP just 4 years before Cannady co-founded the Portland chapter. She even entertained DuBois at her Northeast Portland home that recently went on the market.
A community group led by artist Intisar Abioto is trying to reclaim the home and turn it into a community asset. Negotiations are ongoing to purchase the home, which KOIN 6 News was told still contains artifacts connected to Morrow Cannady’s life and career.
That is something Sharon Gary-Smith would love to see.
“Say her name. Say it with spirit. Say it with knowledge. Beatrice Morrow Cannady, Portland product,” she said.
Beatrice Morrow Cannady died at the age of 84 in 1974. But her legacy lives forever.