Black in Eugene 

Former NAACP leader talks about growing up Black in Eugene in the ’70s

Illustration by Chelsea Lovejoy

Eric Richardson moved to Eugene from St. Louis, Missouri, with his family in 1971 when he was four years old. He remembers the racism he faced in school as a young boy in Eugene in the late ’70s, pointing out that it was less than a decade since the Voting Rights Act had been passed in 1965 as well as the Housing Act and the assassination of Martin Luther King, both of which happened in 1968. 

“I think a lot of times a lot of the Black folks who come here with their own life find that they either have to make it make their space for themselves or they just get really disenchanted and leave,” Richardson tells Eugene Weekly, “because there really hasn’t been a chance for the community here to grow and thrive just because of the climate of discrimination, housing discrimination, educational employment discrimination.”

But he highlights the history of the Black community in Eugene and in Oregon, noting that the NAACP branch in Portland is the oldest branch west of the Mississippi and that the city held the first Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) national competition in 1978, an NAACP youth program that highlights academic and cultural achievement. 

Richardson also says that the Eugene/Springfield NAACP branch, which formed in 1976, has been very closely related to local churches. Richardson was the local NAACP president of for six years before transitioning to being executive director for an additional two years,

“During the ’70s, Bethel Temple Ministries and St. Mark’s Church were the only two Black churches in town,” he says. 

Richardson tells EW that when Bethel Temple Ministries moved to its current location on 18th Avenue, “Reverend Schankle actually built that church by himself over several years.” 

“So the church is a testimony to the Black community,” he adds.

Pondering African American culture in Lane County, he adds, “Don’t forget about Skateworld in Springfield where they had every Saturday night the disco dance sock hop” where folks could take off their roller skates and dance. “It was a big thing, I know the summer of ’78-79 I can remember that.”