Black United Front Oral History Project

Pauline Bradford: Involvement in the Oregon and National Association of Colored Women's Clubs

In these edited excerpts from her oral history interview, Pauline Bradford discusses her continuing involvement with the Harriet Tubman Club, one of many member clubs of the Oregon and National Association of Colored Women's Clubs.  These clubs played important roles both locally and nationally in improving interracial relations and promoting civic engagement and uplift within African American communities.  The motto of the NACW reflects these committments: "Lifting as We Climb."

National and Oregon Associations of Colored Women's Clubs

[The] Harriet Tubman Club was just one, at that time there were sixteen clubs. It was the Oregon Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, okay. And during those times, that was the main issue going, you had all kinds, you had the Altruistic, Literary Research, Multnomah Women, Kwanzans...  Now this national is a part of the National Association of Colored Woman’s Clubs, that’s the oldest Black women’s organization in the world really. 'Cus that started in 1896 after the call came out in 1895… Mary Church Terrell was the first one. But here in Oregon, the first president was Gray, her name was Gray... Katherine Gray.  

On the meaning of "Lifting as We Climb"

You’re supposed to be trying to bring someone up with you.  You’re supposed to try to pass your knowledge down, and you're supposed to encourage people to do the best they can and try to help. In other words, the better, the more people know, the more they're advanced, the better they improve themselves, the better it is for the race and the country as a whole. Because it's not, we don’t want it just to be us, we want it for everybody, 'cus we live in the country. And you want the country to prosper. But you want everybody to be able to prosper and you wanted everyone to be treated fairly.


Joining the Harriet Tubman Club

What happened was the lady lived next door to me belonged to the Harriet Tubman Club, Mrs. Conway. And she invited both Angie Britton and myself - the neighbors on either side of her - to come visit the Harriet Tubman Club...  She was a little older than we were and they were interested in getting some younger women involved... I was so impressed with those ladies. They were so concerned all the time about each other, about the neighbors, you know. If someone was sick, they would make sure that someone was gonna go over and maybe clean the house for them or fix some meals for them, you know. That just seemed to be the concern they had for them... I just admired them. Of course, they put you to work right away as soon as you got in there. [chuckles] 

The Harriet Tubman Club Today 

And the later years, when we were older... we would be bringing in information about what’s going on in our part of the town or the things that we knew about, and that was kind of interesting to share. It was kind of a sharing deal. And then of course, we ate, you know, visited. Maybe we wouldn’t see each other until the next meeting. You know, because people lived in different parts and go to different churches, you know. But it was still a way of communicating.

We’re just old ladies now. ...we got to get some young women involved in Harriet Tubman so we can keep this club going. This club was organized in Portland in 1922. Now that’s a long time. And I don’t want this generation to be it! [points to herself] See, after all, there were sixteen clubs in Portland at the time and they're all down to four now. 


Further reading:

Ollie A. Johnson and Karen L. Stanford, Black Political Organizations in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002.)

Beverly W. Jones, "Mary Church Terrell and the National Association of Colored Women, 1896 to 1901," The Journal of Negro History 67 (1982): 20-33.


Selections and research by Joshua Ross.

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