Say We Are Here: Selections from the Verdell A. Burdine and Otto G. Rutherford Family Collection
The Rutherfords took a leading role in fostering NAACP activities in Oregon from the 1940s to the 1970s. The Portland branch was founded in 1914, making it one of the earliest in the nation (the founding chapter in New York City was established in 1909). As civil rights agitation picked up after World War II, the Rutherfords led the effort to pass a Public Accommodations Law to prohibit discrimination in Oregon. Otto was president and Verdell secretary of the Portland NAACP when this bill finally passed in 1953.
Verdell’s secretarial and bookkeeping skills gave her activism a boost as well. She owned her own typewriter and mimeograph machine and did publicity and organizing work from their house on Shaver Street, often enlisting her children’s help. The Rutherfords participated in national civil rights meetings throughout the period. A special highpoint was achieved when the annual NAACP conference was held in Portland in 1978.
Otto and Verdell also gave time and energy to allied civil rights organizations, like the Urban League. Otto supported the railroad brotherhoods in union organizing efforts and founded Local 901 of the Amalgamated Textile and Clothing Workers Union at Dehen Knitting, where he was hired as the company’s first African American employee in the 1950s. Daughter Charlotte Rutherford went on to help found the Black United Front and the Black Justice Committee.