DeNorval Unthank

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DeNorval Unthank
DeNorval Unthank.jpg
Born(1899-12-14)December 14, 1899
Allentown, Pennsylvania, United States
DiedSeptember 20, 1977(1977-09-20) (aged 77)
Portland, Oregon, United States
Years active1926–1970
Spouse(s)Thelma Shipman
A meeting of the Portland Urban League in 1955; Unthank is seated second from right.
DeNorval Unthank Park

DeNorval Unthank (December 14, 1899 – September 20, 1977) was an American physician and civil rights activist in Portland, Oregon. Unthank was one of the first black doctors in Oregon and the only black physician operating in Portland during the 1930s. He became the first black member of the City Club of Portland in 1943, and co-founded the Urban League of Portland in 1945.


Unthank was born in 1899 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He had seven siblings, and his mother died when he was nine.[1] Unable to support him, his father sent him to live with his aunt and uncle in Kansas City.[2] Unthank attended the University of Michigan, and later transferred to the University of Kansas where he graduated with a Bachelor of the Arts degree. He later received his medical degree from Howard University in 1926.[2][3] Unthank moved to Portland in 1929, into the all-white neighborhood of Westmoreland. Unthank's family was harassed with threatening phone calls and repeatedly had rocks thrown through the windows of their home,[4] forcing them to move four times before they were able to settle.[3][5] Unthank was the only black physician operating in Portland during the 1930s. He became the first black member of the City Club of Portland in 1943. Unthank co-founded the Urban League of Portland in 1945, and served as president of the Portland NAACP chapter.[5] Unthank moved with his family to the Irvington neighborhood in 1952.[3] He was named Oregon Doctor of the Year in 1958.[6] Four years later, he was named Citizen of the Year by the Portland Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.[4]

Unthank retired from medical practice in 1970, and served as a medical consultant for the Oregon Workmen's Compensation Board from 1970 until 1976.[3] He died on September 20, 1977.

Personal life[edit]

Unthank and his wife, Thelma Shipman, had five children: DeNorval Jr. (1929–2000), Thomas, James (1938-2018), Thelma (1940–2009), and Lesley.[7][8]


DeNorval Unthank Park, in the neighborhood of Boise, was dedicated to him in 1969.[2] A rededication ceremony was held in 2011.[9][10] Other namesakes include Unthank Plaza, a senior living facility in the Boise neighborhood, and the DeNorval Unthank Health Clinic, also in the Boise neighborhood.


  1. ^ Karol, Gayle (February 16, 2008). "1899-1977: DeNorval Unthank, breaking local barriers". The Oregonian ( Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "Dr. DeNorval Unthank Biography". Oregon History Project. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d Cheesman, Shannon L. (June 24, 2011). "My dad was very proud and honored to have the park named after him" (pdf). KATU. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Smith, Gordon Harold (February 6, 2003). "Black History Month". Congressional Record Daily Edition. 149: S2045 – via ProQuest Congressional.
  5. ^ a b Pearson, Rudy. "Unthank, Dr. DeNorval (1899-1977)". Black Past. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  6. ^ "Remembering Dr. DeNorval Unthank's legacy". Legacy Health. February 22, 2016. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  7. ^ "Thelma Unthank-Brown Has Died at 69". The Skanner. June 24, 2009. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  8. ^ Basalyga, Stephanie (November 14, 2000). "Architect shaped Pacific Northwest style". DJCOregon. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  9. ^ Koffman, Rebecca (June 17, 2011). "North Portland's Unthank Park is rededicated". The Oregonian ( Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  10. ^ "Park rededication honors Dr. DeNorval Unthank". City of Portland, Oregon. Retrieved September 2, 2016.

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