Black History Month: DeNorval Unthank

Today I want to talk about DeNorval Unthank, one of Oregon’s most prolific civil rights activists.

Unthank moved to Oregon in 1929, only 3 years after Oregonians amended our constitution to allow legal black settlement. He was the only black physician in Portland. Providing critical medical care during the Great Depression, Unthank devoted much of his energy to improving racial equity and race relations in Portland. As a healthcare provider who served patients of many races, he was able to leverage his role as a professional and community leader to call out inequity.

He was co-founder of the Portland Urban League and was the first black member of the Portland City Club. He also served as the president of the Portland NAACP.

Unthank was often quoted as saying: “I have always felt in my life that a person should set his own goals and then head toward them. You may have some bad experiences along the way, but if you’re determined you can make it. A Negro may have a few more doors closed to him and he may find them a little harder to open, but he can open them. He must keep trying.”

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