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Bringing Local Black History to Life

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

Alberta Street art will tell the stories

Danny Peterson | 5/29/2019, 9 a.m.

Kayin Talton Davis and Cleo Davis (from left), creators of five major historical markers coming this summer to Northeast Alberta Street, with two of the history makers featured in the installations, Paul Knauls Sr. and Donna Hammond. The Obelisk-like shaped markers will recognize and celebrate the shared African American history of the neighborhood. PHOTO BY DANNY PETERSON

Recognizing Northeast Alberta Street as central to a shared African American history is the intention of a series of art markers that will soon be unveiled at key intersections.

Eight foot tall obelisk-shaped markers will be erected at five locations along the street this summer and will feature the stories of eight local African American history makers using graphics and text. They are being designed by husband-and-wife artist duo Kayin Talton Davis and Cleo Davis. Combined with interactive videos, and even a play centering on members of the black community, the entire project will tell the stories of what made the Alberta Arts District what it is today.

Photo by Danny Peterson

Kayin Talton Davis (left) and Cleo Davis is the wife and husband team behind the design of permanent obelisk-shaped historical markers slated to appear on Northeast Alberta Street this summer. The works will feature text and graphics of eight African American history makers of the region. The couple is standing near the intersection of Alberta and 14th Avenue, the future spot for one of the markers.

Creating permanent art that recognizes where the black community has experienced drastic displacement and erasure is a necessity, the two artists explained. The black heritage markers create a link to a much different Northeast Alberta: One that saw the rise of gangs and negligent landlords in its past, but also the ushering in of a highly successful black community and African-American based resources and programs. “My hope is…it will be evident to all who travel and live in the Alberta District that we the Negro, Colored, African-American, Black have had a valuable contribution to the building of Portland and continue to do so--despite the obstacles littered in our path,” said Roslyn Hill, one of the history makers featured on the markers, and a local leader affectionately known as the “Queen of Alberta Street.” Hill is credited with being one of the original developers of Alberta as an arts district in the early 1990s and was honored by AARP in 2008 as an “Urban Blight Fighter.” Other black history makers to be recognized in the art installations include Paul Knauls Sr., Joe Benjamin, Marnella Mosely, Mitchell Jackson, Angelette Hamilton, Benita Presley, Donna Hammond, Pat Strickland and Sam Brooks. The markers will be installed along Alberta at the intersections of 11th, 14th, 17th, 18th, and 24th avenues, respectively. The histories told by the obelisks will be amplified by the availability of a new type of interactive virtual reality technology called 360 videos that utilizes a phone app to connect users to the historical stories, and a new play by Portland playwright Shalanda Sims called “Redefining Alberta” that premiered at the Alberta Rose Theater on Saturday. A number of artists and creators including 360 video producer Todd Strickland and others, were involved with the art markers. The effort got its start from an initiative from the neighborhood organization Alberta Main Street and its partnering media production company, called Diversa. Creating black heritage markers was an idea that began at a community meeting at Alberta Main Street more than four years ago when people in the neighborhood began expressing concerns over the rapid changes that had happened to the street, Alberta Main Street Executive Director Ann Griffin told the Portland Observer. “We wanted to make sure that the history of black achievement did not go away,” Griffin said.

Photo by Danny Peterson A number of artists and creators were involved with the Alberta St. art markers that feature Paul Knauls Sr. and Donna Hammond (center), and six other African American history makers of the region.

Kayin Talton Davis recalled how she had been interested before in the possibility of doing some art work along Alberta related to black history. She was really excited to be able to do it and hopes the markers will also emphasis “the future of the black community in Portland—that it is not gone, that it is alive, and that it is just growing and changing form.” The artist couple had previously been involved with street art projects related to black heritage with the Historic Black Williams Project on North Williams Avenue in 2012 and a street beautification project in front of Urban League of Portland on the corner of Williams and North Russell Street last fall. The new project will also entail an Alberta Street District Guide—to be made available in local establishments--that will feature portraits of each of the history makers featured; and when scanned with one’s phone, opens up the app to play the accompanying 360 video about each one.

Diversa Executive Director Zoe Piliafas said she hopes the app could also be used to educate Portland youth in schools. The African American heritage markers project was made possible by support from Prosper Portland, Pacific Power Foundation, Oregon Community Foundation, and others.


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