This master's thesis, written by Melissa E.E. Williams in 2007, explores housing conditions for African Americans in Vancouver,Washington during and after the Second World War. Vancouver’s African American history has been overshadowed by local historians and scholars who study the Portland metropolitan area, as a result, the social conditions and contributions of Vancouver’s black residents have not been fully explored in context of World War II, the Cold War, nor the early Civil Rights Era. This thesis is the author’s attempt to initiate scholarly research about blacks in Southwest Washington State. Vancouver’s black population boomed from 18 in 1940 to nearly 9,000 in 1945 as war industries drew thousands of African Americans to the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver created a housing authority to accommodate all newcomers, in the process initiating the city’s first public housing, which was racially integrated.
At the war’s end, the Housing Authority sold many of its temporary units to scale down its property management, forcing many residents out of its projects and into private homes or to other cities. The permanent units the Vancouver Housing Authority (VHA) had maintained for returned veterans and low-income tenants fell away in 1958 when the Authority turned over its properties to the City of Vancouver.
Because city officials found public housing undesirable their 1950s urban renewal plan platted suburban communities where VHA housing once stood. This redevelopment impacted those black residents who no longer had access to affordable public housing. Concerned citizens in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), and local churches mobilized during late 1940s and into the 1950s to garner social and municipal support for black home ownership.
Yet despite efforts on the parts of African American individuals and social and civil rights organizations, Vancouver’s black population dropped dramatically as a result of the waning war economy, the loss of affordable public housing, and incidents of racial intolerance. Many African American migrants who had wished to stay in Vancouver after the war’s end found it impossible to settle permanently in the city.