From the Multnomah Lawyer: Still I Rise: A Proclamation of the Black Experience in Oregon
As we celebrate Black History Month in 2022, we remember the important contributions and achievements of Blacks and African Americans to our shared history. We celebrate the first Black and African Americans - the pioneers, the forerunners - who made the impossible possible, helping to claim space for Black people despite the struggles and barriers they faced. We follow in their steps and continue to advance the fight for equality and inclusion, we recognize that we are standing on the shoulders of our ancestors.
As Black attorneys in Oregon, we build on the contributions of McCants Stewart, the first Black attorney in Oregon who was also the first to argue before the Oregon Supreme Court; Beatrice Morrow Cannady, the first Black woman to graduate from Portland’s Northwestern College of Law; Aaron Brown, the first Black judge in the State of Oregon; Mercedes Deiz, the first Black woman to be admitted to the OSB as well as the first Black woman judge in Oregon.
Through their actions, they shared the sentiments of Sidney Poitier, the first Black actor to break through racial barriers to win the Oscar for Best Actor:
“Though history will accurately acknowledge my presence in those proceedings, my contribution was no more important than being at the right place at the right time, one in that series of perfect accidents from which fate fashions her grand designs. History will pinpoint me as merely a minor element in an ongoing major event, a small if necessary energy.”
The list of firsts in our legal profession in Oregon by African American and Black attorneys continues to this day and even though their names are not listed, their contributions and “necessary energy” affirms that African American and Black attorneys can excel, succeed, and thrive in a state that was purposefully designed to, at worst, exclude and oppress us and, at best, tolerate us. The lessons they pass down to us are that of courage, upliftment, and commitment. They inspire us to make our dreams and ideals a reality, they dare us to speak out, and they encourage us to be bold in seeking our liberation and the liberation of others. As Rosa Parks stated, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free...so other people would be also free.”
The Oregon Chapter of the National Bar Association (OC-NBA), the Black lawyer bar association in Oregon, commits itself to uplifting and advancing Black attorneys and attorneys of color. Founded in 1980 as the Association of Oregon Black Lawyers (AOBL), in 1997, AOBL transitioned to OC-NBA. Our mission includes advancing the rule of law to ensure access to justice; upholding the honor and integrity of the legal profession; and promoting professional and social engagement opportunities among Black lawyers, law students, members of the Bar, and the Oregon Community.
The pandemic has impacted our ability to provide a space for Black attorneys, attorneys of color, and allies to gather and socialize. This inability to provide such spaces to gather, support each other, and be in community has been hard especially as we experience both the racial reckoning following George Floyd’s murder and other high-profile cases throughout our nation involving Black and brown people, and political turmoil. And even in this moment of time filled with uncertainty, history, and in particular Black history, reminds us that we will still rise - it compels us to be resilient and recognize that our ability to heal and transcend this acute and collective trauma must be in community.
Despite the pandemic, OC-NBA continues to be active in our community. In 2021, we held events: an outdoor social at Amalfi’s; a virtual Black Movie Trivia; Black History Month CLE; and career panels for law students. In 2022, we hope to reinvigorate our membership by continuing to find ways to provide members and the legal community opportunities to socialize and network, supporting Black law students, and once again organizing our Ebony and Ivory Gala. In the meantime, we hope to have your support for our mission and work by considering:
- Becoming a member and/or joining a committee. To join, visit ocnbaorg.wpcomstaging.com/membership-more-to-come
- Attending or participating in one of our events
- Partnering with us to host a social or CLE
If you have questions or would like to learn more about OC-NBA, feel free to reach out to members of our Board: Angela Addae, Valerie Colas, Kiosha Ford, Ekua A. Hackman, Hansary Laforest, Dexter Pearce, Shaina Pomerantz.
Title of article inspired by Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise: A Book of Poems.
 In 1906, Stewart represented Oliver Taylor against Star Theater of Portland after Taylor was denied seating due to his race. Stewart argued that the government should ensure black rights and combat discrimination. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with Stewart and ruled in his client’s favor.
 The National Bar Association is an organization established in 1925 by Black lawyers during the time the American Bar Association would not admit African American and Black members. www.nationalbar.org
 Founding members were John Toran (first president), Jasper Ambers, Ken Dixson, Clifford Freeman, Monica Little, Marcia Neal, Bruce Posey, Roosevelt Robinson, and John Rodgers.
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