Additional research and data collection by Emma Williams
At the start of the 20th century, Black Portlanders had built a small but well-established community of several thousand. Despite racist laws that prohibited Black people from residing in Oregon, Black families built lives in what is now Old Chinatown and the Pearl District and along Williams and Vancouver boulevards. Clubs and churches formed the social bedrock of the community, bringing people together to care for their neighbors and listening to speakers advocating the pressing issues of the day. A mainstay at the lectern was a longtime Portlander, fierce advocate for her community and champion of women’s rights: Harriet Redmond, who went by Hattie.
Read newspaper clippings and other primary sources that helped tell Hattie Redmond's story.
Please note, the language used to describe people in many of these sources is racist, misogynistic, classist and shows other forms of discrimination. Very often, the terms used and the way people were talked about was considered offensive at the time.
Hattie Redmond is buried at Lone Fir Cemetery, section 11, lot 51, grave 2S.
In the mid- to late-1800s, the waterfront areas between SW Montgomery and NW Kearney were largely working class, home to Black families and immigrants from East Asia and Europe. In 1880, Portland’s Black population was estimated at 487 (up from less than 200 in 1867), and most of the community lived near the waterfront. The area offered inexpensive housing and proximity to the railroads, docks and hotels where Black men and women could find work, often in defiance of anti-Black laws. Black churches and social hubs dotted the neighborhood.
These churches and community centers were where Hattie found her gift as an orator. She began by acting in plays and reading poetry at socials for the A.M.E. Zion Church on NW 3rd Street between present-day Burnside and Couch. Later, she held her meetings for suffrage at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church on present-day NW Broadway and Everett.
Hattie's early life
Hattie, the first of eight children born to Reuben and Lavinia “Vina” Crawford, was born in 1862 in St. Louis. It wasn’t until Hattie was six that the family left Missouri for Oregon, around 1868.
Reuben and Vina had both been enslaved at birth in the South. When he was around thirteen years of age, historical sources suggest that Reuben Crawford’s enslaver sent him to St. Louis to learn ship caulking, the highly skilled task of making wooden ships watertight. He would later use this trade to buy freedom for himself and Vina.
As a skilled laborer doing war work he was not conscripted as a laborer by the Union Army, which controlled St. Louis throughout the war. He was subsequently able to make enough money to purchase freedom papers in order for both of them to leave the South. (The Crawfords were not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, which only freed enslaved people in states that seceded.)
When the Crawfords arrived in Oregon in 1869, the latest and most restrictive of Oregon’s Black exclusion laws had been ratified just over a decade earlier, in 1857. The measure expressly forbade Black people from settling or voting in the state, making contracts, owning real estate, or even being under anyone’s employment.
The Crawfords were allowed into Oregon only because a family in Hood River underwrote their move. The Nyes were pro-slavery Southerners who had been displaced during the Civil War. Following the war, many white Southerners moved to Oregon and sponsored Black families to work their farms because they wanted formerly enslaved laborers. Reuben was hired to work on the Nye’s farm, and Vina was hired as a domestic worker. After buying their freedom and moving 2,000 miles, Crawfords were expected to live on and tend the land of white Southerners for their livelihood.
With their parents working for most of the day, Hattie tended her seven younger siblings. At the time, Hood River – which lay on the tribal land of the Wasco and Wishram tribes, as well as bands of Columbia River Indians – was only just beginning to be parceled out by the federal government to white settlers. The population was small enough that at times, the Crawfords were made something of a spectacle of within the community. An encyclopedia of the region at that time claimed that “although Meriwether Lewis’ servant York was the first 46 African-American to pass through the Hood River area, in 1805, the distinction of being the first African-American residents goes to the Crawford family of Missouri.”
Less than a year after their arrival, Michael Nye, the family patriarch, fell ill and died. His claim was quickly sold, and in 1870, the Crawfords moved to what is now the inner northwest neighborhood of Portland.
Hattie and her siblings attended the Portland Colored School, a small house at SW 4th and Columbia Ave, nearly a mile from their home. When the school was established in the fall of 1867, 21 Black children attended and were taught by a single teacher in attendance. When the school closed due to the integration of Oregon schools in 1872, it had thirty students enrolled, including the Crawfords.
After a year or so working odd jobs around the docks, Reuben found work as a ship caulker. His remarkable skills earned him a great deal of local fame and steady work. Towards the end of his long career (he worked until he was 80), the Oregonian even named him "the best known ship caulker on the West coast." As his reputation grew, he became more involved in local politics and community organizing. He served as secretary for the Portland Colored Immigration society around 1879, and was an active Lincoln Club member. He eventually held high office in the integrated Caulkers Union and dedicated himself to fighting for equal pay for Black workers.
As a child, Hattie often accompanied her father to his meetings. As she grew older, she became active in the women’s auxiliaries of several social clubs and fraternal organizations. These organizations gave Hattie the opportunity to participate in a community of civically engaged Black women. They discussed issues like suffrage and temperance, and mounted campaigns to elevate these issues to the public forum.
Fighting for suffrage, building Portland's Black community
In November of 1892, Hattie married Emerson Redmond, then a waiter at the Portland Hotel. The small ceremony was officiated by the Reverend T. Brown at the Crawford’s home on 287 Grant Street. The marriage was short-lived and tumultuous by most accounts. They had no children. Because racism and sexism, she could not specialize in a trade like her father. Like many Black women, she worked as a domestic labor, which was grueling and rarely well-compensated. While she didn’t attain the professional reputation of her father, she continued his legacy of advocacy for Black Portlanders.
To many politically active women at the time, the issues of temperance and suffrage were the twin pillars of feminism and social reform. In the 1890s, Hattie split her civic energy fairly equally between campaigns for suffrage and temperance. By 1912, however, she and other activists became less certain that total abstinence was a feasible goal, and cut direct ties with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. They reformed as the Colored Women’s Council with a broader focus on the issues facing “poor and unfortunate women” in their community. Redmond acted as secretary and spokesperson of the council from its formation.
Many of the members saw suffrage as the most pressing of these issues. Despite low turnout for many of their early meetings and regular defeat in the polls, Hattie’s push for suffrage – and the affiliated network of coalitions and aid groups she helped found in the process – gained gradual acceptance and support from local Black churches and community leaders, with her meetings at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church sometimes drawing curious husbands and fathers as well as the women who regularly attended.
Ultimately, Hattie’s decades of advocacy paid off when women’s suffrage was officially ratified by Oregon’s (male) voters. Hattie celebrated by registering to vote as soon as she was able, in April of 1913.
Her life after 1913 was full and purposeful. She was elected vice president of the state’s first Colored Women’s Republican Club in October of 1914, hosted regular luncheons at Mt. Olivet until at least 1923, and taught Sunday school at A.M.E. Zion Church – where, on February 29, 1924, she gave a speech on Booker T. Washington for the Oregon Federation of Negro Women’s clubs. Eventually, she retired with pension from her 30-year career as a janitor at the Federal Courthouse, and worked on numerous Republican campaigns.
Hattie passed away of bronchial pneumonia on June 27, 1952, at the age of about 90. She was buried in Section 11, Lot 51, Grave 2S of Lone Fir Cemetery. Excluded from the history of suffrage in Oregon until recently and with no relatives to tend to her gravesite, her headstone sunk or was lost within a few years of her death.
In 2012, on the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Oregon, the Friends of Lone Fir erected a headstone in her honor.
The marker reads, “Harriet ‘Hattie’ Redmond. Black American Suffragist.”