On Sunday, May 29, Willie Mims (81) unveiled a granite monument in front of his historical childhood home on High Street to a crowd of around 200 people. The monument and the event represent an effort to right the wrongs of Oregon’s past, namely the way that this state alienated African Americans for decades.
The NAACP invited the community to see the unveiling of the Mims House Memorial and enjoy King Estate Wine and Ninkasi Brews, for a donation. Seven speakers reflected upon the monument before the unveiling, talking about what it means and the history of the Mims family.
The monument featured the faces of C.B. and Annie Mims, along with a written history of their legacy.
The Mims house, located at 330 and 336 High Street in Eugene, served as a refuge for countless African Americans who otherwise couldn’t reside in the city because of Eugene’s exclusionary practices in the 1940s.
The Oregon Bill of Rights had an exclusion clause prohibiting African Americans from being in the state, owning property or making contracts.
While the exclusion clause was no longer being officially enforced, the language remained in Oregon’s constitution until 2002.
“When we talk about the University of Oregon, this place right here [The Mims house] housed football players who couldn’t stay on campus,” Lyllye Parker, a past resident of the house and member of the Congress of Racial Equality, said. “Not because they couldn’t afford it — they were on scholarship — but because they were black.”
C.B. and Annie D. Mims purchased the house under the name of their sympathetic employer Joe Earley. Even prominent entertainers such as Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong couldn’t find any other place to stay while in Eugene.
“I didn’t swim in the Jefferson swimming pool. I couldn’t sit in the McDonald theater. I couldn’t go into a restaurant and be served,” Parker said at the event.
Even at the unveiling the majority of listeners were white, which speaks to the small amount of African Americans in Oregon. The 2014 US Census has the number as low as 1.8% of the population.
“County Commissioners decided the blacks could live ‘across the bridge’ in the floodplains among the piles of scrap wood that was burned for electricity,” Lisa Ponder, who built the granite monument, said.
This kind of practice was known as “redlining.” It was a way of keeping African Americans out of Eugene while still allowing them to do low-level work in the city. Oregon, usually thought of as a fairly progressive state, has a long history of attempting to push African Americans and other racial minorities out. White Oregonians in the 1840s opposed slavery but, also opposed living alongside people of color.
“The best job offered to black men outside of railroad labor was busboy, shoeshine or a janitor boy,” Willie C. Mims, son of C.B. and Annie D. Mims, said.
C.B. Mims worked as busboy and janitor to get enough income for their home and shared every bit of it that he could with others in need.
“My mom taught me to share, be willing to share. She always said if someone was hungry and all you have is a piece of bread, break off a piece,” Willie Mims said.