Portland Has Renamed a Park After a Black Woman for the First Time in City History

Verdell Burdine Rutherford was a local leader in the NAACP and a historian for the city’s black community.

Verdell Burdine Rutherford. IMAGE: Courtesy of Naim Hasan and Portland Parks & Recreation.

For the first time, Portland has named a park after a black woman.

Verdell Burdine Rutherford Park is the new name of the 8-acre site at Southeast 167th Avenue and Market Street previously known as Lynchview, which got its name from Patrick Lynch, who donated a parcel of land to the Centennial School District in the late 1800s.

Burdine Rutherford was born in Oklahoma in 1913, and as an infant moved to Oregon with her family, which had hoped to secure farmland under the Enlarged Homestead Act. But they arrived only to learn that black people were prohibited from owning free land in this state.

In 1936, she married Otto Rutherford and the two settled in Portland, where they would become leaders of the Oregon chapter of the NAACP, Otto serving as president for two terms and Verdell as secretary for many years. The couple ran operations for the civil rights organization out of their home at 833 NE Shaver St., which is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of their most important achievements was the passage of the Public Accommodations Act, which outlawed discrimination in hotels, hospitals, restaurants and movie theaters on the basis of race, religion or national origin.

Verdell Burdine Rutherford’s daughter, Charlotte, at the park named after her mother.

Burdine Rutherford was also an avid collector of records for Portland's black community, amassing an impressive archive of newspapers, letters and photographs over a span of 60 years. A decade after her death in 2001, Verdell's daughter, Charlotte, donated the materials to the Portland State University Library Special Collections and the Black Studies Department, so they would be accessible for academic research and public use.

The name isn't the only refresh for the green space. Portland Parks & Recreation recently completed a new playground and picnic shelter and paved pathways with funding from the 2014 Parks Replacement Bond and fees. Later this summer, a Portland Loo will be added, but in the meantime there is a portable toilet on site.

A community celebration for Burdine Rutherford and the park's renaming will be held at a yet-to-be-announced date.

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