Advocacy in Action: Beatrice Cannady and the Fight to Empower African Americans in Oregon
By Rebecca Tew
Beatrice Cannady (1889-1974) was an advocate for African Americans in Oregon at the beginning of the twentieth century. Cannady was heavily involved in organizations and clubs that supported the African American community in Oregon and worked in numerous ways to fight racism as it appeared in the state. She is remembered as a civil rights activist who fought to make African American voices heard. At the time, terms such as “negro” and “colored” were used to refer to people of African descent in newspapers and among organizations. We use the terms “African American” and “Black” today, but for direct quotes in this project I will use the terms as recorded in the newspapers of the time.
Quintard Taylor in the Oregon Encyclopedia article “Beatrice Morrow Cannady” gives some information on Cannady’s background. Cannady was born in Texas in 1889 and taught in Oklahoma for a brief amount of time before coming to Portland, Oregon, where she moved to marry her husband, Edward Daniel Cannady. Beatrice Cannady was an educated woman. She graduated from Wiley College in Texas in 1908 and also graduated from the Northwest College of Law in Portland. Cannady faced the challenge of being a woman and being African American. While a lot of women at the beginning of the 20th century were working to gain more rights, African American women had to face both gender and racial inequalities. In African American Women in the Struggle to Vote, Rosalyn Terborg-Penn describes being an African American woman as having a “double burden of racial and gender discrimination.” (160) This is significant to Cannady’s advocacy because it shows how remarkable her accomplishments were and how she worked for both racial and gender equality.
According to the Morning Oregonian from February 15, 1920, Beatrice Cannady was appointed as the Pacific Coast organizer for a national educational congress for African Americans whose “sole object” was to “lift the negro to the higher plane of useful activity.” Cannady, along with other members of this congress, worked toward “race-advancement” for African Americans in the country. This is just one example of many that shows Cannady as being a leader and activist for the African American community in Oregon. It was not always easy for Cannady to be an advocate for racial equality in Oregon because the African American population was small and isolated. In “As Citizens of Portland We Must Protest,” Kimberley Mangun explains that in 1920 there were only 1,500 African Americans living in Portland, which was only .6% of the city’s total population. (400)
Beatrice Cannady was a prominent advocate for African American men and women in Oregon. Mangun noted, “many considered her to be the unofficial spokesperson for the city’s African American population.” (386) Cannady was able to use her voice to help empower African American people by speaking at high schools, colleges and to other groups and organizations across Oregon. An example of this is shown in the Sunday Oregonian on March 6, 1921, where the article “Mrs. E. D. Cannady To Speak,” tells of Cannady speaking to members of the Epworth League of the Montavilla Methodist Episcopal Church about the progress that African American people had made over the past 50 years. The article also tells of Cannady being the associate editor of the Advocate, which was a newspaper that addressed racial inequalities in Portland and reported on the activities of the Black community.
As Taylor notes, the Advocate kept its readers informed of issues of discrimination in Oregon in places where Cannady saw it, like restaurants and schools. Cannady also protested the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon, especially with boycotts of the Klan-inspired film “The Birth of a Nation,” and informed the readers of Klan activity throughout the state. In the Morning Oregonian on August 20, 1921, an article explains that Cannady, along with E. W. Agee and O.S. Thomas, two other members of the Portland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), signed a petition that asked Governor Ben Olcott to prevent the KKK from organization or public demonstration.
Throughout the 1920s, Cannady spoke for African Americans in as many ways as she could. In addition to being a newspaper editor and prominent advocate, she also was interested in becoming a lawyer to be able to represent African American people in court. Featured in the Oregon Journal on June 5, 1922, Cannady explains “I will work among my own people. As it is they must always go to the white attorneys, and often they are suspicious.” Quintard Taylor notes that Cannady was one of two women in a class of twenty-two who graduated from the Northwestern College of Law in Portland. She was the first African American woman to graduate from the school.
Beatrice Cannady was an important activist in Oregon. She was able to use her voice to empower African American men and women and worked to keep the community informed of inequalities as they appeared. Cannady was highly accomplished and is significant to Oregon’s history for many reasons. She was a spokesperson for African Americans in Oregon, involved in numerous activities and actively spoke out against the Ku Klux Klan. Cannady’s work is significant because she was a Black woman who acted as an activist around the time of woman suffrage, when both women and African Americans were working to achieve a stronger voice in politics and their communities to bring about change.
“First Colored Woman Lawyer in the Northwest,” Oregon Journal, June 5, 1922, 6.
“Mrs. E. D. Cannady to Speak,” Sunday Oregonian, March 6, 1921, Sec 1:8.
“Negroes Protest Klan,” Morning Oregonian, August 20, 1921, 9.
“Organizer is Appointed,” Morning Oregonian, February 15, 1920, 5.
Mangun, Kimberley. “‘As Citizens of Portland We Must Protest’: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the African American Response to D. W. Griffith’s ‘Masterpiece’.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 107, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 382-409.
Taylor, Quintard. “Beatrice Morrow Cannady.” Oregon Encyclopedia. https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/cannady_beatrice_morrow/#.WpmoVZPwaCR
Terborg Penn, Rosalyn. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
About the Author
Rebecca Tew participated in Professor Kimberley Jensen’s Winter 2018 Nineteenth Amendment Honors Colloquium at Western Oregon University. Rebecca is a junior studying to become a middle school math teacher.