Couple C.B. and Annie Mims moved to Eugene right after WWII. C.B. was a skilled millwright, having spent the war years working in Washington state shipyards. The couple came south expecting rich employment in Eugene’s booming timber industry. Instead, they found a city with low-paying, limited work opportunities and major prohibitions against African-American residency.
The Mims were forced to adopt a squatter lifestyle in a downtown neighborhood of tents and other makeshift dwellings alongside the Willamette River—a flood-prone area largely populated by other struggling Black people.
However, in 1948, with loan money from C.B.’s boss Joe Earley, owner of the Osborne Hotel, the Mims were able to circumvent the city’s prohibitions against property ownership by Black people. They purchased a pair of dilapidated houses at 3rd Avenue and High Street that Mims family members have now occupied for more than four decades.
The Mims Houses were Eugene’s first Black-owned properties. And in the mid-1980s, C.B. and Annie’s son Willie secured historical preservation funds that enabled restoration of both buildings and placement on the National Registry.
Into the ’80s, one of the Mims buildings operated as a rooming house for Black visitors in Eugene. For a time, Black people were prohibited from staying in local hotels. House guests included Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and a host of Len Cassanova’s Black University of Oregon football recruits.
In 2016, the local office of the NAACP moved onto the Mims site. The organization helped raise a portion of the funds needed to create a memorial on the property. NAACP president, Eric Richardson describes awareness of Eugene’s African American experiences through the ’90s as largely neglected. “Most of the history of that Black experience was oral,” he says, “with people just telling others how it was back in the day.”
Willie Mims has a very personal perspective. He lived in the Mims houses, and he considers the property an important piece of Eugene’s racial legacy. “It is part of the community’s history, and I definitely think that it stands there as a salute to that history,” he says, “but also as a reminder of what we don’t want to go back to.”