On permanent display at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education sits a posed, solemn black and white photo.

Of the eight men standing, side by side in suits, one stands out, third from the left.

“Martin Luther King. Yeah, he actually came here in 1961,” said museum director Judy Margles. “He spoke at a number of churches throughout the city.”

The photo shows Dr. King, during that visit, gathering with local civil rights leaders at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Portland in 1961 (Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education)
Maggie Vespa

“He was really at that time looking at issues of fair housing,” said Margles. “There was a lot of urban renewal going on in Portland at that time in the Albina neighborhood, which is where the African-Americans had been relocated after the Vanport flood.”

In a chilling use of space, curators placed the photo feet from a Ku Klux Klan hood.

In general, the display focuses on Portland's racist past. It's something heads at the Oregon Historical Society say shocks people.

“A lot of folks come into this exhibit thinking ‘Well, Portland is so progressive and so on top of things... we didn't need a civil rights movement. There was no discrimination here in Oregon!’” Kerry Tymchuck, executive director, said. "Well, clearly not true.”

Exhibit at Oregon Historical Society
Maggie Vespa

As proof, Tymchuck pulled out the delicately preserved first draft of Oregon's constitution, a document that famously banned African-Americans from living anywhere in the state.

Meanwhile, students from Liberty High School in Hillsboro toured the Historical Society’s “Racing to Change” exhibit, which covers the civil rights era in Oregon.

“I mean we can like look at books and learn about things and Google it or whatever, but it's different to actually go to a museum dedicated to the civil rights movement, so I think it's nice or important to be able to see it,” said 16-year-old Dominique Marshall.

Their teacher Barbara Kraft has been focusing on the Civil Rights era for three weeks, leading up to Wednesday’s anniversary.

“The issue is, when we say the word ‘assassination’, that students know that it happened but it's really bringing to them what that really meant, the death of a leader who had been an advocate for so many,” she said.

A big part of the display was the signed copy of Dr. King's book “Strive to Freedom”. Kids stopped in front of the small glass case to see his signature.

“It kind of reminds us that we need to keep going, keep progressing, instead of just stopping and thinking we've done enough,” said 16-year-old Ashlynn Lawbaugh.