Milwaukie unveils mural honoring city's historic people of color
Celebrating two momentous — yet often overlooked — pieces of Milwaukie's history, the city's newest mural at the intersection of Southeast 40th Avenue and Harvey Street, kitty-corner from Water Tower Park, highlights Ah Bing along with Dorothy and Hurtis Hadley.
The mural was created by Jeremy Okai Davis over the course of September and early October. Davis is the artist who also painted the portrait of Florence Ledding that hangs in the entrance of the new Ledding Library building.
Davis, who is Black, suggested to Milwaukie officials that the mural originally intended to honor only Bing include the Hadleys, thinking about his 2-year-old son.
"I think about little Black kids seeing people that look like them in public places, places that they don't typically expect to see themselves, and how important that is for self-confidence," Davis said.
Ah Bing was a foreman who worked in Seth Lewelling's orchards, managing more than 30 workers. While working on the Lewelling farm, Ah Bing cultivated the Bing cherry. As the story goes, one day Seth Lewelling and Ah Bing walked through the rows of cherry trees where each man maintained separate seedlings. In Bing's row, Lewelling found that he had developed a new type of cherry. Someone suggested to Lewelling that he name the cherry after himself, however, he declined. He said he would name it after Bing because "it's a big cherry and Bing's big, and it's in his row, so that shall be its name." By all accounts, Bing stood more than 6 feet tall. While working in Milwaukie, Bing's wife and children remained in China. In 1889 or 1890, Bing returned to China to see his family, however, he was never able to return to the U.S. due to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
Hurtis and Dorothy Hadley operated the Milwaukie Pastry Kitchen in downtown Milwaukie in the 1970s and early '80s. This was the first Black-owned bakery, not only in Milwaukie, but in the entire state. Hurtis was the first Black person to be accepted into Oregon's three-year baker's technology and apprenticeship program, and after graduating a full year early, making him the first Black state-certified journeyman baker as well. Hurtis later went on to become the bakery manager and trainer for the Oregon division of Albertson's.
The Milwaukie Arts Committee officially unveiled the mural on Saturday, Oct. 24, with a small ceremony. During the event, the Hadleys spoke about their experiences operating the Milwaukie Pastry Kitchen, as well as the racism they endured.
Dorothy Hadley thanked the Oregon Black Pioneers for their continued support in making sure that African American history is being told.
"I never thought that a poor Black girl who survived the Vanport Flood of 1948 and grew up in the housing projects of Portland, Oregon, would be making history," she said.
The mural was commissioned by the Milwaukie Arts Committee as part of its goal to increase public art, using funds allocated to them by City Council. For more information, visit milwaukieoregon.gov.
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