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Fighting for History

Memorabilia from decades past cause friction at Matt Dishman

Donovan M. Smith | 8/14/2013, 10:45 a.m.
The historic Matt Dishman Community Center in north Portland is the focal point of a battle that essentially questions the ...
Ernest Richie gathers signatures to his petition outside of Matt Dishman Community Center in northeast Portland. He’s part of an effort to permanently return relics from the center’s historic Knott Street Boxing program to its former sole trophy display case. Photo by Donovan M. Smith

The historic Matt Dishman Community Center in north Portland is the focal point of a battle that essentially questions the relevance of the celebrated relics of decades-past to the 63-year-old site’s immediate future.

Matt Dishman’s boxing program brought the national spotlight to Portland during the 1960s and 1970s after local fighters like Ray Lampkin Jr., Chuck Lincoln, Thad Spencer, and many others made the center one of the most successful amateur boxing programs in the country. Mostly African Americans, they competed with the best fighters of the day, including renowned boxer Muhammad Ali to represent the United States of America in U.S. Boxing Trials and at the Olympics.

With the accomplishments came a number of accolades that are documented in historical write-ups from newspapers, to trophies and championship belts, all of which were once displayed prominently in the center’s only display case.

All of this memorabilia has now been packed into cardboard boxes and locked away in a storage room only to be seen again once a year.

Ernest Richie, 69, has started a petition for the boxing club’s history to be permanently replaced in the display case. He too used to box at Matt Dishman and is well acquainted with the many fighters who had placements in the display case.

He says he would visit the case every time he came to the center, operated by Portland Parks and Recreation, because it ‘brought back memories.

But his main concern is less personal, “You’re taking out our history, you’re taking the history of the people that created this, and now you’re taking it out,” he says.

Richie says that a similar thing had happened 10 years ago. All the relics were removed from the case and packed away. When this happened, Richie says he drummed up community support and together they began placing calls to former Portland City Commissioner Jim Francesconi, demanding that the materials be replaced.

Shortly thereafter the items were replaced, though in the move some things were misplaced and lost forever.

Now Richie finds himself fighting again to return the boxing history to Matt Dishman’s center stage.

He has well over 300 signatures from supporters, all insisting the awards be replaced.

He’s distributed the petitions to various churches and community organizations throughout the city. Support continues to swell.

“I know a lot of the people that have signed this [petition], they’re angry and upset,” he adds, “That’s been there for five decades, five decades, and someone comes in and takes it out. We’re supposed sit back and say nothing?”

The native northeast Portlander has since mailed off a letter to Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the current Parks commissioner, detailing his and other signees concerns. Mailed off on July 29, it urges Fritz to have the items reinstalled. He has yet to hear back.

Maximo Behrens, 39, the current director at Matt Dishman, is less than a year into his post. He says one of his main goals is to shed light on the multitude of programs the center has to offer.