Saturday, February 21, 2015

A letter from the mayor to a home birth baby - 1948

It is easy not to notice this letter.  It is tucked in a case at the Oregon Historical Society.  There is a new exhibit called "Moving On; Black Portland in the 1940's and 1950's."   There is so much to take in and so I do not see it the first time I go.  It is in a small case about Dr Unthank; an African American doctor.

It is dark and I have to squint but then I see.  It is a letter form the mayor of Portland in 1948.  The letter says welcome and that the baby was born at home.  

I think to myself- 1948. Ah ha.  Babies were indeed being born at home in Portland.

Does it mean this baby was African-American because it is in this exhibit?  Did this famous doctor attend births?  I know he did not have hospital privlidges because of segregation laws. Did he work with midwives?  I wonder all these things.

And then I pause.  I was born in 1948 too. I think of the fact that the mayor wrote a welcome letter to all the babies born in Portland. I look at the photos of Portland in those days.  I see the post man walking down the street calling hello to the people on their porches and in their shops.  He reaches in and pulls out a letter for a new mother; a letter from the mayor welcoming her new baby.  This was before the neighborhood was bulldozed down for a freeway and a colosseum and Emanuel hospital and the school district building.   It was before the streets became hip and even more was torn down for high rise apartments and more places to eat out and shop.

It was written in a time, before the PDC decided to tear so much down. It was a time when  a baby could be born at home in the mostly African-American neighborhoods of Albina and Williams Street; when doctors made house calls and a mailman brought each baby a letter, from the mayor. welcoming  them  to the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment