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Beatrice Morrow Cannady: a monumental figure in Portland’s early civil rights movement

As editor of The Advocate and a champion of anti-discrimination campaigns across the Pacific Northwest, her legacy still resonates today in the fight for justice and equality.

Beatrice Morrow Cannady, noted civil rights activist, poses for a portrait.

To encourage interaction, Beatrice held “interracial teas” at her home in Northeast Portland.

Photo via Oregon Historical Historical Society Research Library

When thinking about the life of Beatrice Morrow Cannady (1890-1974), many firsts come to mind.

At 24, she became a founding member of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, which remains the longest continually chartered branch of the organization west of the Mississippi River. She was also the first Black woman to graduate from the city’s Northwestern College of Law — now Lewis & Clark Law School — and campaign to become an Oregon state representative.

Following her divorce from husband Edward Daniel Cannady in 1930, Beatrice took over as editor and owner of The Advocate, the state’s only African American newspaper at the time.

It’s hard to imagine someone having as much gravity in today’s ongoing struggle for civil rights as she did back then in the face of such vitriol and systemic hate — not to diminish by any means the vital work being done by contemporary activists.

A group photo from the Pan-African Congress in New York City in 1927.

Beatrice (fourth from the left) represented Oregon at the 1927 Pan-African Congress in New York City.

For 15 years Beatrice campaigned to prevent the showing of “The Birth of a Nation,” a racist film that portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force. Off screen, she offered journalistic coverage on the KKK’s activities across Oregon, risking her well-being to protest against segregation at local schools, restaurants, hotels, and government.

By the time she left Portland in 1938, her head-on approach to improving race relations had paved the way for the next generation to take up the cause of equality, cementing a legacy that deserves to be remembered and celebrated to this day.