Along this route, you’ll meet Sam and Mattie Reynolds, who made their way from Shreveport, La., to Eugene in 1942 as part of what’s known as The Great Migration.
They struggled to find a place to live at a time when no one wanted to rent to African-American families and restrictive covenants prevented them from owning homes. With strength and perseverance, Sam and Mattie Reynolds raised their children and helped build a community and a church that stands as a lasting legacy.
In The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson recounts the journey of over five million African Americans who made the great migration from 1915 to the 1970s from the South to the West, Midwest and East. Like the white immigrants who migrated before them, Black migrants moved in search of a better life and more opportunity to experience the American dream. The Reynolds family was part of what is known as “The Great Migration.”
Sam and Mattie Reynolds came to Eugene in 1942 with four of their 12 children. The couple had a hard time finding housing, as no one wanted to rent to an African-American family. Sam Reynolds was able to obtain a job with William Spicer, who owned a construction company and was also able to secure a house for the Reynolds family in a community of majority African-American families on the north bank of the Willamette River near the Ferry Street Bridge.
In 1949, the Ferry Street Community was razed by the County to expand the bridge. Residents were given 10 days to leave and were relocated to three locations: the south side of the river near High Street, Glenwood, and a remote section of West 11th near Bailey Hill Road. The homes along West 11th had no flush toilets and no running water and often the Amazon Creek flooded the area. This is where the Reynolds family helped establish a community and a church that exists to this day.
“Although the section of West 11th Avenue was beyond the city limits, by 1952 the deplorable housing conditions caused a stir in the city. The area had apparently been barred from the installation of water and sewer lines and septic tanks. A state panel called the records of racial discrimination in Eugene and Salem among the worst in Oregon.” (Eugene Modernism 1935-1965, 2003).
In reaction, a local civil rights organization: the Lane County Fellowship for Civic Unity, was soon established and its main focus was to support better housing and employment opportunities for African-Americans.
Directions to first stop
Travel by LTD bus to the Sam Reynolds Bus Station or by car and park near St. Mark’s at 1167 Sam Reynolds St, Eugene, OR 97402. If you parked at St. Mark’s, travel north on Sam Reynolds Street toward West 11th. Turn right onto the sidewalk next to West 11th and continue east for less than a block until you reach the Sam Reynolds bus station and plaque. If you took the bus from downtown, get off at the Sam Reynolds Station Inbound and cross West 11th to view the plaque on the south side of the street at Sam Reynolds Station Outbound.