The history and legacy of the African American community in Eugene dates back to at least the 1890s. Now, there’s an effort to preserve the historic property of one Black family in particular – the Mims.
The Mims family and the Eugene-Springfield NAACP are working to keep the history of one of the first Black families in area alive. Right now, the Mims Houses are on the Eugene Historical Register and National Historic Registry.
“But neither one of those protects the houses and the property from being demolished,” says Willie Mims, the son of C.B. and Annie D. Mims.
His family’s house was a place where Black travelers would stay when they were passing through town in the 1940s. Jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong stayed here at a time when Black people weren’t welcome in the city. Here’s Willie again.
“The main thing is this property is significant not just to my family," Mims says. "It is very significant to the Black community and the history of the Black community in this community. So trying to protect the property any way, however or whenever that we can, we should do that.”
Earlier this year, the Mims family launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise 56-thousand dollars to save the houses. The funds would have paid for a city-administered process to designate the properties as an S-H Historic Zone.
But that would have been an expensive and heavy lift for the Mims, who are getting older. The designation would have required getting the property up to code and improving its accessibility.
The Eugene-Springfield NAACP currently runs its operations out of one of the homes. The organization’s president Eric Richardson says they’re still looking for ways to improve the property.
“There’s still work so be done so right now we have one particular grant that we’re putting out and so we’re hoping to, with that grant, do some leveling on the house," Richardson says. "We’re just going to be concentrating on the leveling of the house right now although we do have a bigger plan for the property.”
Richardson says there’s room to imagine the role the Mims house could play in the future. That could be to transform the space into a museum-community center hybrid.
Richardson says that by the end of 20-18, they hope to install solar lighting and improving its parking lot. They’ll also continue sharing Black American history in Eugene.