Read the original story in The Oregonian here.
The late Verdell Rutherford hoped all the things she saved -- newspapers, photographs, letters, cards, memorabilia from the early days of the NAACP -- would one day tell the story of African-Americans in Portland and Oregon.
Could she ever have imagined that her boxes and boxes -- and boxes -- of artifacts would one day inspire Portland State University archivists and students, as well as other families concerned about preserving history?
Charlotte Rutherford believes her mother would be thrilled to know her life's work is being used the way she always dreamed it could be used. The collection educates, informs and chronicles a community that no longer exists in North and Northeast Portland.
A fraction of the Verdell Burdine and Otto G. Rutherford Family Collection will go on display at the campus library Sept. 24. Planners are working on a public program, a dedication and recognition ceremony, to be held in late October.
The goal of the program is to show the public how the collection is being used by others documenting the lives of African-Americans, said archivist Cris Paschild. Pieces will appear in a look at black pioneers at the Oregon Historical Society. Others are part of a black studies class at PSU.
The collection is also open to the public, which would have pleased Rutherford's mother, who didn't want it to be locked away in an academic vault.
Rutherford's parents were actively involved in the civil rights movement in Portland and Oregon. Her father was president of the Portland Chapter of the NAACP for two terms in the 1950s. Her mother was secretary for 20 years.
They led the chapter when it confronted the 1953 Oregon Legislature with a bill to outlaw discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants and amusement places on the basis of race, religion or national origin. Seventeen previous efforts had failed.
The couple also ran the local NAACP Federal Credit Union from their home in the 1950s and 1960s.
Verdell Rutherford was born in Wainwright, Okla. Her maiden name was Burdine. The family moved to Bend shortly after her birth, hoping to get land under the Homestead Act. After arriving, they learned African Americans were excluded from the act. They lived in Marshfield (now Coos Bay) before moving to Yakima.
She met Otto Rutherford while passing through Portland as a child, and the two were married in 1936. Until a 1999 stroke, she lived in the same Northeast Portland house that her husband had lived in since he was 11.
She was a secretary for Dr. DeNorval Unthank, one of Portland's first African-American physicians, for almost 20 years. As a member of the Culture Club, an African-American women’s association, she raised money for scholarships. She attended the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and wrote a bulletin for the congregation. For several years, she was a board member of the Urban League.
Her social and political activities, as well as her interactions with her family, are included in the collection. The documents and artifacts, which students have been pouring over for months, are rare because they collectively tell not only one's family's story over three generations, but the story of a community, Paschild said.
Charlotte Rutherford is humbled her mother's collection has inspired the donation of other albums and treasures. On Monday, she delivered to the Special Collections Office at PSU a bag of her cousin's memorabilia. Among the goodies were photographs as old as 1863, crisp Meier & Frank sales receipts, an Oregonian newspaper from 1951.
"As an archivists, I'm always shocked at how little people value what they have," Paschild said. 'What's so amazing about this collection is that (Charlotte's mother) consistently recognized the value of all this."
The gift has inspired many. Two PSU students who worked with the collection in class have volunteered to keep working this summer. They've also told Paschild they want to make this kind of work a career.