At the 1988 Olympic trials, while outfitted in a one-legged purple track suit and sporting four inch fingernails, she set a world record in the 100 meters, running it at 10.49 seconds, knocking more than a quarter of a second off her best-ever time despite not even being one of the country’s best in the event a year earlier.
Florence Delorez Griffith grew up in a housing project in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles as the seventh of eleven children. From an early age, Griffith enjoyed competition and sought attention. She held handstand competitions, rode around on a unicycle, designed unique clothes for her Barbie doll, wore strange hairdos and owned a trained pet rat. And she was fast. Florence’s father often told a story about taking the kids to the nearby Mojave Desert when she was five and challenging them to chase jackrabbits. Florence caught one. “Jackrabbit” became her nickname.
By age 7, she was competing in track. In high school, she set records in sprints and the long jump. Following graduation, she competed at Cal State Northridge under the legendary sprint coach Bob Kersee and helped them win the national championship in 1978. Continue reading
On Memorial Day in 1948, the Columbia River, swirling fifteen feet above normal, punched a hole in a railroad embankment that served as a dike, starting a flood that would leave 18,000 people homeless and alter race relations in Portland forever.
For eight years, the embankment had kept the river out of a newly developed 648-acre complex called Vanport, then the largest public housing project in the United States. Originally meant to be temporary, Vanport was shipbuilding-magnate Henry Kaiser’s answer to a lack of local housing in the early days of World War II, when he was importing men and women from across the United States to work in his Portland-area shipyards. At the height of the war in 1944, close to 40,000 people lived in Vanport, including 6,000 African Americans, three times as many as had lived in all of Portland two years before. Continue reading