Black United Front Oral History Project
Dennis G. Payne
Dennis G. Payne (b. 1948) was a member of the Portland State University Black Student Union in 1968 and was involved with the creation of the PSU Black Studies Program.
He was born in Hubbard, Oregon in 1948 and was raised in Portland. He attended Eliot Grade School, which was opened in 1954 for Black students living in the Steel and Broadway Bridge areas. Today, these neighborhoods contain the Memorial Coliseum, the Rose Quarter Arena (Moda Center), and the Portland Public School District building.
Payne attended Benson High School from 1962 to 1966. At Benson, he served as freshman class vice president and sophomore, junior and senior class presidents. He also played football and basketball and ran track. He was elected Secretary of State for Oregon's Beaver Boy State Program during his junior year in the summer of 1965.
In the fall of 1967, Payne enrolled at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. The Black Power movement and the fight for civil rights arrived on Oregon College campuses during the mid-1960s and he was one of only three Black students on Willamette's campus. Payne stated, "I carried forth the struggle. There were several instances at my dorm and on campus thereafter, and I was encouraged to leave and move back to Portland."
He moved back to Portland in December and enrolled at Portland Community College (PCC) in the winter of 1968. At the time, PCC was located at Portland State University (PSU) in Shattuck Hall. By fall term 1968, Payne transferred to PSU and joined its newly formed Black Student Union.
Dennis noted that "Here in Oregon, we were so isolated from the rest of the country and the Black Power movement that we could not believe the images on TV showing Black people being beaten by police and attacked by dogs."