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Lincoln has history of student activism
Lincoln High School has a long history of student political activism that continues to this day.
Historian, writer and professor Chet Orloff still remembers being surprised as a freshman there in 1963 that so many students were aware of city, national and even international affairs.
"It was shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis and so many students were knowledgeable about the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and other issues. Much more than me," said Orloff, a former executive director of the Oregon Historical Society, current adjunct professor of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University and an instructor at the University of Oregon School of Architecture.
The activism has taken many forms, including walkouts and protests at Portland City Hall and the Portland Public Schools headquarters, conveniently located within easy walking from the Southwest Portland campus. They have included anti-Vietnam War protests in the 1960s, a pro-gun control rally after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in March 2018, and participation in more recent youth-led climate strikes.
Current students say they feel much as Orloff did when he was there.
"For me personally, I think being so close to such a busy area plays a huge role in student led protests," Lincoln student Ja'Niah Casey emailed the Portland Tribune. "My junior year (currently a senior) I organized a student-led protest at PPS headquarters marching towards downtown. When you are marching in such a local and busy area you get way more eyes on you and a lot more people involved in such an important movement. I also believe that marching in busy areas allows other minorities and white people to march along, since downtown and Portland is a predominantly white city."
However, after learning more about the history of the school over the years, Orloff said he is convinced the activism was and is about much more than its proximity to a civic buildings. As Orloff sees it, Lincoln has long been a hotbed of social awareness.
Although the school has been located in several downtown area buildings since it was first founded in 1869, it has always been the city's central high school. It historically drew students from diverse collection of "feeder" schools in differing neighborhoods of the city, including Ainsworth, West Sylvan, Shattuck, Duniway and Chapman. They originally were located in ethnically and financially different neighborhoods, which included Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese, Jewish and Slavic communities on both sides of the Willamette River, he said.
Then, from the 1960s to 1979, Black students were bused to Lincoln and other predominately white schools from North and Northeast neighborhoods to integrate them.
"Their parents probably didn't mix, but at Lincoln they were thrown together into classes, athletics and other activities. I believe this helped to make the students socially aware," said Orloff, who edited the collection of essays in the book "150 Years of Lincoln High School" published by the Lincoln High School Alumni Association.
According to the professor, a higher percent of the Lincoln students were expected to pursue higher education degrees than at other schools in the city. They included students from wealthy families and including poorer students who wanted to better themselves. The expectations included community involvement before graduation.
"It's no surprise that so many Lincoln students became community and political leaders, like the Neubergers, Schnitzers, Bud Clark and Ted Wheeler," Orloff said.
The Cardinal Times, the longtime student newspaper, also played a role, Orloff believes. It has historically covered big political issues. For example, during the 1930s, it included articles on such Great Depression issues as the lack of jobs and housing. When Orloff served as editor in the 1960s, he continued the tradition of including stories of community interest, which it still does. The current online version includes a story about students who voted in the May 17 primary election, including senior Alex Dolle, who considers himself very politically involved and already has worked for three city of Portland bureaus.
"Ultimately, I registered to vote because I thought it was the right thing to do," Dolle said. "You can't make it through the public school system without some form of education on democracy, and I think voting is such an essential part of that."
And Orloff said he believes the teachers and administrators have historically supported the history of activism. For example, in 2019, Lincoln was the first and only school to offer a stand-alone course dedicated to environmental justice — even though the Portland Public Schools board approved a resolution in 2016 calling for such classes in all high schools.
"I would say Lincoln is a pretty liberal/progressive school," Cate Bikales, editor-and-chief of The Cardinal Times, emailed the Portland Tribune. "So there are many clubs and organizations (like Environmental Justice Club, for example) that enjoy organizing walk-outs and protests."
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