The RtR Oral Histories project documents the stories of residents of color who have lived in LO for 20 plus years and made places for themselves despite the city’s culture of racist hostility that earned it the nickname “Lake No Negro.” Interviewees also share stories about what the community looked like when they moved to LO, the ways it has changed (and in many ways, hasn’t) and express their visions for where they’d like to see it go from here.
Growing up in Queens, New York, Lake Oswego was a very different experience for Dawn Hayami. She moved to the LO in 1984 after a previous stint in Oregon. The lack of diversity was striking to her and for much of the time since then, Hayami found community with other people of color through work and other activities in Portland. In fact, she hadn’t heard the infamous “Lake No Negro” nickname until after she moved.
Hayami says a major turning point was when Walidah Imarisha presented to her Lake Oswego United Church of Christ community in the early 2010s. The presentation on Oregon’s history of exclusion laws and anti-Black policies inspired church members to start a learning group, which would later become a foundational collaborator with Respond to Racism and other local anti-racism efforts.
Like many parents who make the choice to move to Lake Oswego, Pat Ginn and her husband decided to relocate from Portland into LO because of the reputation of the schools. In addition to her sons going through the Lake Oswego school system, Ginn also took a job with the district. During her time working with LOSD, she saw the reputation clash with the reality, both in how it affected her boys and how the district cycled through its diversity efforts and countless staff of color.
Years of watching the high rates of attrition and doing untold hours of unpaid work trying to create support for other staff of color led Ginn to join former PPS colleague Willie Poinsette and Respond to Racism where she serves on the leadership team. During her time with RtR, Ginn has played a key role in planning, school district and local government engagement, and youth support.
Patricia and James Walker
Patricia and James Walker have lived in Lake Oswego for about 45 years. Their first home was about 4 miles from the city and after a short stint in southern California, they decided to move to LO, in part, because they thought it would provide their children with a good education and give them a chance to live close to the Walker’s parents. Patricia lived in Vanport, Oregon until she was 3 years old, when the city was wiped out by the infamous Vanport flood. James family was based in the state of Washington.
Since Patricia’s brother and father worked at the Lake Oswego Country Club, she was aware of the “Lake No Negro” stigma. While they’ve spent four plus decades making a place for themselves in LO, they kept close ties to their North Portland community, including joining fraternities and sororities. Patricia would go on to work nearly two decades as one of few Black teachers in LO schools. The Walkers have been a constant presence and brought their wisdom and community building spirit to various Respond to Racism and LO for LOve events since the emergence of these grassroots groups.
Willie and Bruce Poinsette
For Willie and Bruce R. Poinsette, moving to Lake Oswego came down to three factors: the reputation of the schools, advantageous property tax and insurance rates, and perhaps most importantly, a friend with a timely offer in an unfriendly housing market. Willie, coming from New Jersey, and Bruce R., originally from South Carolina, didn’t know anything about the “Lake No Negro” nickname, but incidents like a white woman literally clutchig her purse at the grocery store when she saw Willie made it clear fast. The treatment of their son in the LO school system was particularly hard for them to deal with and being isolated, both in and outside of the town, only added insult to injury.
These experiences were at the forefront of Willie’s mind when she agreed to meet with Respond to Racism co-founder Liberty Gonzales and ultimately build the organization in the summer of 2017. As President, Willie has led the organization to become a force in the city of LO, engaging local stakeholders across the spectrum in anti-racism and elevating the voices of community members of color. Throughout the process, Bruce R. has also been a constant presence and now serves on one of the city’s commissions.
Photos by Intisar Abioto
Interviews by Bruce Poinsette