Five kids. She came here from Louisiana in 1967 with five kids. That's all I could think about last Wednesday night, December 16, as city council honored former North/Northeast Portland State Senator Margaret Carter by naming a day after her. How on earth did she do it?
Carter, who was born in Shreveport, came to Portland to escape domestic abuse by her first husband. Balancing the considerable demands of motherhood with study, she got her master's in educational psychology, began working as a counselor for Portland Community College in 1973, and was elected to the Oregon House in 1984. She was later elected to the Senate in 2000, serving until she retired in August.
In a state where the majority of residents are non-native, I suspect many of us in Portland have occasionally felt the demands of moving to this odd new city are overwhelming. But listening to the descriptions of Carter's early life here made me feel pathetic for having grumbled about rude baristas and the weather.
"Her first week as a state representative was a rough one," said a minister, introducing Carter. "She was called the n-word, she was called a monkey."
It's easy to see why Carter's achievements entitled her to an honoring ceremony that lasted 80 minutes—50 minutes longer than scheduled on the city council calendar.
"Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle," said Reverend Doctor LeRoy Haynes, vice president of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, "like the tireless devotion and passionate concerns of people like Margaret Carter. Her life is a testimony to the virtues of hard work, commitment, education, sacrifice, and to the commitment of godly people."
"I'm a much better person for your having allowed me to serve with you for all these years," said Carter. "Yes, I'm about to reach my 74th birthday, but as the song goes, I'm not tired yet. It ain't over yet. And I can't even promise you that I'm through with politics."
Until this point, I was all for it, but when the ceremony concluded with a laying-on of hands—literally, our city council laying their hands on Carter's shoulders and praying for her, I couldn't help feeling we had gotten carried away with ourselves. But then I remembered those five kids. She came here with five kids, alone, in 1967. And again, I marveled at what incredible strength of character that must have taken.