Oh, Oregon

I was a graduate student in Eugene, Oregon, and I liked it. It’s a very liberal town, as is Portland, and we were only vaguely aware that the surrounding areas were extremely conservative. We also knew that there were areas to the south in particular that were flamingly racist and homophobic, and reading David Brin’s novel, The Postman, set in a future Oregon, it was completely unsurprising to have the antagonist be basically a white supremacist from down around the Rogue River. But that wasn’t us!

We were also vaguely aware that it was a very white population. After living in Philadelphia and even Salt Lake City, it’s become strangely obvious how radically white everyone was. We didn’t realize why, and no one talked about it (I hung out with university liberals, you know) but as I like to say, everything is the way it is because of how it got that way, and Oregon’s ugly history shaped its modern population, no matter how progressive they may be now.

Oregon was founded as a whites-only state.

According to Oregon’s founding constitution, black people were not permitted to live in the state. And that held true until 1926. The small number of black people already living in the state in 1859, when it was admitted to the Union, were sometimes allowed to stay, but the next century of segregation and terrorism at the hands of angry racists made it clear that they were not welcome.

Oregon was admitted to the union as a free state, but I get the impression they were against slavery only because it would require allowing inferior people to live there. In the 19th century, they had a law that black people would be flogged every six months until they left the state. In a fit of post-war ebullience, they ratified the 14th amendment in 1866, giving black people citizenship, but they rescinded their vote in 1868, after more soberly racist heads came to power, and only re-ratified it in 1973.

Portland stores didn’t server “Negroes, Jews, or dogs” in the 1950s, and public facilities were segregated until the 1960s…it was the kind of open racism we usually associate with the deep South. The difference in Oregon was that most of the black people had been driven out, so there was no one left to notice or complain, except, of course, for a comfortable sea of lily-white Oregonians.

I lived there for 9 years. It’s rather embarrassing to learn all this now, so many years later.

We left Oregon before any of our kids were old enough to attend public schools, but I wonder now whether this shameful history is ever mentioned to the kids there. Any Oregonians want to tell us?


  1. microraptor says

    We left Oregon before any of our kids were old enough to attend public schools, but I wonder now whether this shameful history is ever mentioned to the kids there. Any Oregonians want to tell us?

    The closest thing to this is that sometimes you’ll hear that the city of Grants Pass was a KKK stronghold (and it still isn’t the kind of place you want to be driving while black).

    That Oregon actually forced black people out? Not a peep.

  2. Numenaster says

    What microraptor said. I graduated from high school here in 1984 and from Portland State University in 1989, and I think I heard this mentioned once. Maybe.

  3. ryanPDX says

    We moved to Hillsboro (20 miles west of Portland) when I was 8 so I was in the Oregon Public Schools from 3rd grade on. They do not cover this in Public School. The sections on state history covered the Oregon Trail and the division of the Oregon Territory into the different states. There was short mention of KKK activity in Oregon during the civil rights section of our history classes and they included Portland when they mentioned the practice of redlining. None of this surprised me when I first learned about it because of all the skinhead activity and the fact that my 2000 person highschool only had 15 black kids.

  4. Lauren Fitzpatrick says

    Born and raised Oregonian here. Never heard anything about it, but I do remember wondering why our town only had one black family (that I knew of as a child, obviously) when I was young. A (comparative) bit of diversity hit our town when the Umatilla Chemical Depot was operating full swing, but I moved away before it wrapped up so I couldn’t say if it stuck or not.

    As for school… I attended church and home school mostly (where this was never mentioned), but I never heard anything about it during my two years of public education in 7th and 8th grades.

  5. yazikus says

    Well, I lived there for a bit, back in the day, and attended two different public schools. I don’t remember that it was mentioned in class, but I remember that there was a skirmish where the local punk rock crowd pushed a new neo-nazi group out of town. I did read an interesting book a long time ago about the founding of WA & OR, and how certain religious groups set up camp to have little theocratic states (I remember the Methodists, specifically). Sadly, I left this book in a purse at a scenic view point near Grants Pass.

  6. Trebuchet says

    My mother used to tell me that when I was a little boy in Montana, some stores had “No dogs or Indians” signs in the window. We didn’t have any black people, that I can remember.

    Back on Oregon, about 30 years ago my cousin in Portland had a number of friends who were in the Portland Police Department. They were, without exception, the vilest form of racists.

  7. microraptor says

    @Trebuchet- I don’t know if you’ve been following it in the news, but there have been a number of high profile incidents of racial violence by the Portland PD in recent years. They have a very bad reputation.

    Unlike most of the other Oregonians who are chiming in here, I live south of Eugene. The racism around here is quite appalling: people put “lynch Obama” bumper stickers on their cars, gun stores have made (if you’ll pardon the expression) a killing off of exploiting fears about him, and there was even an incident at a local high school when a group of students threatened a basketball player from a team up by Salem with a noose a few years ago.

    One thing I realized regarding Oregon history- not only did Oregon’s sordid past involving black people never get brought up, but Oregon’s involvement with the Indian Wars never mentioned either, despite there being several famous battlegrounds close to the school.

  8. batteur says

    I’ve lived in Eugene and Portland most of my life since 1971, when I was very young, and have had relatives in the state since the early 20th c. I haven’t seen a lot of people expressing overtly racist attitudes in a serious way– no more than what I’d expect from similar people anywhere. But I’ve been in kind of a progressive bubble, and as a white person I wouldn’t see the worst racism, anyway. Southern Oregon was supposed to be the worst– Curry county on the coast, and Klamath Falls/Grants Pass. I know until recently in Portland it was impossible for black people to buy houses outside of certain neighborhoods. Today there’s a lot of gentrifying, and the black population of Portland is shrinking, which is messed up. Whatever’s going on here today racism-wise, it doesn’t seem to be real overt, compared to things that are happening elsewhere in the US.

    Reading about the 20s KKK boom, it appears to have been the result of a campaign not unlike the Tea Party– it boomed for a few years, then fizzled as the guy who organized it was disgraced… or died, or something. It apparently was not the violent movement it was in the south, and was more into the anti-Semitism than anti-blackness, if for no other reason than there weren’t a whole lot of black people around. And they had some actual political issues they were pushing, apart from the obvious ones. From what I read, it reminded me of the TP a lot.

  9. nemistenem says

    Although even Portland is somewhat segregated with the Willamette river creating the geographic line of separation (higher black population along with working class stiffs) on the E side of town, racism is alive and well in the hinterlands in our otherwise great state. It is definitely more of a generational thing and I suspect it will die an unfortunately very slow death as the older generations themselves die out. We have some property in E Oregon and although those folks are the “salt of the earth” type who go out of their way to help us light skinned city folks with all sorts of things, I have heard many racist comments, including profuse use of the N word especially if the topic of Obama ever comes up.
    As to the history or racism here, I have known of this for some time. Several college friends at UofO were from S Oregon and related that the last lynching had occurred not too many years before they were born. Sad but true.

  10. says

    We often don’t get taught this kind of ‘bad acts’ history, not when there was widespread social approval of those bad acts (unless in the US South!).
    For example, how many of my fellow Ontarians here know of the hugely popular KKK parades in Hamilton in the 20s? I’m talking tens of thousands of people, for a KKK event with the bigots in their full idiotic regalia. I learned of it only because I went to university in Hamilton, and worked for a radical socialist prof who told me about lots of this kind of thing.

  11. numerobis says

    Oh god the comments on that article. Full of people contradicting the well-researched article above the comment because it hurt their fee-fees.

  12. dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!" says

    My hometown of Ashland is just as hippie-dippie as Eugene or Portland (if quite a bit smaller), but half a century ago the Klan was marching in the 4th of July parade and to this day is 90% white and 1% black.

  13. yazikus says

    I will say that I think Klamath Falls is super weird. I’ve heard it is a Mormon stronghold. However, the sidewalks are all heated (geo-thermal, I think?) so there is never snow on them. Once, when travelling through, I needed coffee, and there were no coffee shops that I could find. At last, we did find one and ventured in. We should have been more aware of the sign out front reading Judean Java…

    Next thing we know there is a group singing contemporary christian music, we are being pushed aside by servers carrying trays of communion wafers and juice and the barista is proselytizing us. It was bizarre. The coffee was crap. We ran as soon as we could.

  14. says

    I grew up in a Seattle suburb, and there weren’t very many black kids in our school there, either…but we had lots of kids of Japanese descent. We didn’t hear much about the WWII camps, but a little leaked through, and I had friends who could tell stories about their families at that time. I heard about sundowner towns in the area, though, because some of my family members were fucking racist as fuck.

    And of course, David Neiwert has done a fantastic job documenting injustices in the Pacific Northwest (although his top story today is about a dead conspiracy theorist near Minneapolis — these people are everywhere, Yankeeland as well as Southern bastions of the Confederacy.)

  15. says

    Sorry if this is a repeat. Here in Mexico the internet connection is spotty and tends to delete my attempts to post.

    I grew up in Grants Pass in the late 40’s and 50’s before leaving for college in 1959 so I know something about that part of the state in those days. Several black families did try to move in during the 50’s but they were made to feel very unwelcome and left. Grants Pass is on the main north south highway and blacks did stop there for meals and I in my experience weren’t refused service. Motels might have been another story – I don’t know. Racism certainly wasn’t universal. I had a summer job with the city water department mostly digging ditches. One day we unloaded a truckload of chemicals for turning the Rogue River water into something more or less potable. The truck driver was black and when it was time for our mid-morning break my salt of the earth Southern Oregon coworkers invited him to join us. The look on the waitresses face was priceless but we were served. There were very few Jews in town and the only minority group with enough numbers to be looked down upon were the Catholics – anti-Catholicism was quite evident among the Baptists and otter fundies. The Methodist Church was relatively liberal. I visited Grants Pass quite often until my mother died in 2005 and racism certainly isn’t as prevalent now as it was then. Things began to change in a big way in the 60’s when many communes were formed and with the arrival of retirees and people seeking a relaxed lifestyle Grants Pass isn’t that different from Eugene with regard to the culture wars. And I do know a few blacks in GP.

    Nothing about Oregon’s racist history in our Oregon history lessons.

  16. Onamission5 says

    I’ve been trying to tell people that this is the case for years. Oregon is not Eugene, PDX, and Ashland. Which aren’t exactly bastions of racial tolerance themselves, historically or contemporarily speaking, but they are decidedly more liberal than the remainder of the state.

    I’m from the Rogue River region of which you speak, PZ, born and raised between Josephine and Jackson counties. When friends from back home ask me how I can possibly live in the US south (it’s so racist!), I remind them that I was born in a sundown town, in the land of the Rogue Wars. I point out that my former town has a place named Dead Indian Road. Then I mention the internment camp at Tule Lake during WWII– the same camp where George Takii’s family and, briefly, the family of Oregon’s fifth state laureate, Lawson Inada, were held. Oregon: Just as racist as everywhere else.

    The town I moved from, People’s Republic of Ashland (LOL) had valuing diversity as part of its informal motto. Oh how we loved to talk about how much we loved diversity! Spouse and I used to joke, “Yes, we like all kinds of white people here! New Age white people and rich white people and tourist white people and Unitarian white people and…” But. Not really a joke when the population of the most liberal town in the region by far is over 97% white, now is it.

    My SIL and her friend, driving from Ashland to PDX, stopped for gas outside of Roseburg and were informed by some men loitering at the station that they ought to go back to Mexico. Neither had ever even been south of the US border, but weren’t about to attempt educating a bunch of strange racists on the difference between Thailand and Mexico. Way my SIL tells it, hightailing doesn’t come close to describing how quickly they left.

    The Welcome to Oregon sign in the Illinois Valley on the CA/OR border of Redwood Highway is rumored to have used to also say, “Now go Home!” back when I was a little kid. I have no recollection of this being the case, but do remember my parents saying as much. A sentiment with which many agreed, and many still do, although it’s now as much an admonishment against wealthy white transplants driving up property values as it was a warning to hippies, tourists, and migrant laborers.

    I often hear people cite Oregon’s relative non-involvement in the Civil war and the fact that slavery was outlawed as evidence that it has an anti-racist history. Those same people don’t really like being reminded that the reason OR didn’t get much involved in the civil war was that it was too busy practicing genocide against Natives, and the reason slavery was outlawed was so that white slave owners wouldn’t move to OR, bringing their slaves with them. Law makers were trying to keep the black population in check, not practicing altruism.

    No, to answer your question, it is not mentioned. At least, not once that I can remember in all my 11 years of public schooling. Granted, I graduated high school in the late 80’s, and left the state ten years ago, maybe things have changed (things have probably not changed). There’s a very strong culture amongst white folks of “that does not happen here, and even if it did and I am not saying it did that doesn’t happen any more.” Very little awareness that cultural legacies pass from one generation to the next, and if they go unquestioned, they remain unchanged.

    @ microraptor #1 & ryanPDX #3:
    I am surprised that the Klan got even a mention. Maybe the decades of denial are starting to crack?

  17. Christopher says

    My hometown of Ashland is just as hippie-dippie as Eugene or Portland (if quite a bit smaller), but half a century ago the Klan was marching in the 4th of July parade and to this day is 90% white and 1% black.

    It’s not like you need more than one black dude to perform all of Shakespeare’s collected works. Plus, going on vacation to see Shakespearean plays is so far into the “things white people like” camp that I doubt you will find many people of color visiting much less deciding to stay.

  18. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    echoing ryanPDX

    There was short mention of KKK activity in Oregon during the civil rights section of our history classes and they included Portland when they mentioned the practice of redlining.

    Yep. Echoes my experience there in the public schools. The Oregon Dept of Education has a section about race…it covers 1844-1959.

    As for the “Lash Law” referenced by PZ, here’s what ODE has to say about it:

    The infamous “Lash Law,” requiring that
    blacks in Oregon – be they free or slave – be whipped twice a year “until he or she shall quit the
    territory,” is passed in June. It is soon deemed too harsh and its provisions for punishment are
    reduced to forced labor in December 1844.

    but it’s far worse than you even imagine. I’ve written about this on Ed’s blog, but I’m not sure I’ve written about it here:

    The entire time you lived in Oregon, PZ, the constitution’s language forbid Black people from living in the state.

    No free negro, or mulatto, not residing in this state at the time of the adoption of this constitution shall come, reside, or be within this state, or hold any real estate…

    In substance and practice the constitution did not forbid “free negroes” or “mulattos”, but the language had been retained. No amendment struck, edited, or removed that language

    …until the year 2000.

    That’s right, the fucking year 2000.

    I’m embarrassed that when I first read the text of the constitution (which was NOT in Oregon public schools – because why???) I was outraged, but allowed myself to be placated by the fact that this was “non-operative” language from the original drafting. I wasn’t savvy enough to realize that an amendment can actually cause wording to be removed, not just add wording to counter a negative effect. Only a few years later (yes, I didn’t read the full text of my state’s constitution until in my 20s, sometime around 1995), I found Measure 14 was circulating in its petition form.

    Once making the ballot and receiving the name “Measure 14” I discussed it with quite a number of people. [Feel sorry for them, I probably ranted a good bit.] Whether or not my ranting [and, no, I didn’t rant to every single one of them] encouraged them to think of me as irrational and suspect that something irrational must be going on with the ballot measure via transitive irrationality, I was highly disturbed that most didn’t join the rant. It seemed truly rant worthy to me [once I was aware that it was possible to take that language out].

    Worse, the measure to remove the language passed by
    Yes: 867,901 71.14%
    No: 352,027 28.86%

    You read that correctly. The “No” vote was **MORE THAN ZERO**.

    What was even more disgusting to me was that there was no monied, organized opposition, and yet “No” managed to get votes in the hundreds of thousands, and very nearly 1/2 of the “Yes” votes.

    It’s hard to imagine something more shameful to a state than having more than a quarter of all voters – 28.84% – stand up and declare, “I, for one, would like to take this opportunity to say please make sure that our constitution continues to declare the negro and the mulatto unable to live, visit, or own property in Oregon. My principles positively demand this language be retained.”

    Yeah, I love a lot of things about Oregon, but there were reasons my best friends kept moving out-of-state. Being a person of color in Oregon can just slowly wear a body down.

    Sometimes quickly.

  19. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @dysomniak, #14:

    Has anyone from Eagle Point ever seen a real, live black person outside of the SOU campus or maybe a performance of the Willie Wigglestick Festival?

    Talent? That’s a bit closer to I5, I guess. Maybe someone from Talent has seen a Black driver who missed an exit?


    I will say that I think Klamath Falls is super weird. I’ve heard it is a Mormon stronghold. However, the sidewalks are all heated (geo-thermal, I think?)

    Yep. Geothermal.

    As I understand it, it’s waste steam/vapor no longer hot enough to crank a turbine for electricity but still quite warm (probably 40-65 degrees celsius, but that’s a guess based on what’s considered industrial waste heat, not knowledge of the particular system).

    Klamath has OIT – the Oregon Institute of Technology – which gives it a state supported graduate degree-only research institution with a desire to do tech demonstration projects right in the middle of geothermal-land. So not only does the town save money in the long run by going geo, it gets state funds and federal research grants funneled through OIT to do research/demonstration projects that actually do public good.

    So they’ve got all kinds of power sharing, environment-protecting, anternative-constructing, hippy-dippy projects right in the middle of one of the right wing bastions of the state.

    Not that everyone is right wing, of course. Some of the OIT folks are quite liberal, and I have a friend who grew up there. But it’s no exaggeration to call it a right wing bastion.

    Still and all, beautiful land and awesomely cool city-of-the-future tech projects. Go there. Visit Crater lake.

    Then leave.

  20. says

    Another Oregonian here, and no, they don’t cover this stuff in the schools, except the occasional oblique mention by teachers going off lesson plan. L says that one of his teachers explicitly brought it up, but it wasn’t part of the official curriculum.

    don’t know if you’ve been following it in the news, but there have been a number of high profile incidents of racial violence by the Portland PD in recent years.

    That’s actually been down a bit lately; it’s been 2-3 years now since the Portland PD killed an unarmed PoC.
    You, OTOH, appear to be giving Portland too much credit.

  21. LicoriceAllsort says

    Native Oregonian from the rural outback south of Eugene. Not only will friends/family deny that there’s a problem with racism, they don’t believe the history that’s presented in the article and don’t believe that it holds any relevance for today. It sure as hell was not taught in school (unlike creationism and abstinence-only sex ed).

    I first stumbled on the racist history of the state in the article linked by Onamission5 about sundown towns. I was initially unfamiliar with, and appalled by, the concept of sundown towns at all. “At least Oregon doesn’t have any of the–wait a minute. What??” I shared the link on Facebook and tried to bring it up a few times. No one believed it or wanted to talk about it.

  22. David Marjanović says

    Shit, this is like discovering you graduated in LeGuin’s Omelas.

    Read it backwards: Omelas is Salem, O[regon].

  23. LicoriceAllsort says

    Oh, and this is absolutely not a problem that’s limited to just the rural portions of the state. I was handed a magazine with white supremacist ads in it while at a sporting event in Eugene in 2013. From liberals in Eugene I hear way more about “not seeing color” and being “post-racial” than I do on the east coast. They don’t believe that the racist culture is problematic for them, because they think they’re completely colorblind.

    And while I had never met a Black person until I went to college in another state, that didn’t mean I hadn’t managed to absorb lots of harmful stereotypes growing up. A classmate of mine got into deep trouble for playfully calling a Black peer “boy” in the Army while they were horsing around. He didn’t understand it was racist (I didn’t either, at the time) because he had no idea about the racialized context that that word (along with images of watermelon and fried chicken, which I also didn’t realize were so toxic until many, many years later) occurred within. Again, because we had never been around Black people and mistakenly thought that meant we hadn’t seen racism.

    It’s glossed over in the article, but many of the laws that applied to Blacks also applied to “Chinamen” as they were called in older texts in Oregon. It’s why you can still go to San Francisco and Seattle and see a big Asian population that remains visibly absent in Portland.

  24. Christopher says

    Especially since NeIC linked to the wikipedia article about it that had this gem:

    Le Guin hit upon the name of the town on seeing a road sign for Salem, Oregon, in a car mirror. “[… People ask me] ‘Where do you get your ideas from, Ms. Le Guin?’ From forgetting Dostoyevsky and reading road signs backwards, naturally. Where else?”

  25. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    More about Measure 14, if you’re interested, in this Eugene Register-Guard article.

    @Licorice Allsort:

    Meh, I think that there’s quite a significant population of Asian descent in Portland, though I’ll have to check the numbers.

    What we don’t have is a significant Asian district like a “Chinatown” with many decades of history behind it. The people of Asian descent in Portland are much more likely to be Vietnamese and/or Khmer and/or Thai and to have family roots in the area only since the 70s than they are to be Chinese or Korean and have roots going back to Mao’s revolution or before.

  26. Onamission5 says

    Indeed, LicoriceAllsort. Anti-miscegenation laws specified just how Chinese, just how Hawaiian, just how Native one was allowed to be and still legally marry white people. For example, someone who had one NA parent could marry a white, but for anyone of Chinese, Hawaiian, or black ancestry to marry a white person, they couldn’t have more than one grandparent who was a PoC.

    A decent, if brief (if 28 pages can be called brief) historical timeline of racial animus in the state of Oregon, with references to national events, is available here. It’s not so much in depth as it is 28 pages of blurbs, but it’s a not half bad place to start for anyone clueless of Oregon history.

    Correction @ my #20: Inada is the fifth poet laureate. Not just any ole laureate.

  27. LicoriceAllsort says

    Demographics from 2010 census per Wikipedia. The percent Black or African American is pretty similar among the three cities, but Asian population in Portland is 1/2 of Seattle’s and less than 1/4 of San Francisco’s.

    White: 69.5% (Non-Hispanic White: 66.3%)
    Asian: 13.8%
    Black or African American: 7.9%
    Hispanic or Latino (of any race): 6.6%
    American Indian and Alaska Native: 0.8%
    Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander: 0.4%
    Other race: 2.4%
    Two or more races: 5.1%

    White 76.1% (non-Hispanic White: 72.2%)
    Asian 7.1%
    Black or African American 6.3%
    Hispanic or Latino, of any race 9.4%
    Native American 1.0%
    Pacific Islander 0.5%
    other races 5.0%
    two or more races 4.7%

    San Francisco:
    Whites 48.1% (non-Hispanic White: 41.9%)
    Asians 33.3%
    African Americans 6.1%
    Hispanics or Latinos of any race 15.1%
    Native Americans 0.5%
    Pacific Islanders 0.4%
    other races 6.6%
    two or more races 4.7%

  28. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    If I have time later, I’ll try to talk about (and find sources for) what I (think I) know about the neighborhood where I bought my house in Portland: Woodlawn.

    As I understand it, it was a defiantly anti-racist community, founded as such, and remained an independent municipality for a long time before being absorbed by Portland in part because Portland didn’t **want** to absorb it. It had the first public transit (a streetcar) in the state and many other good things going for it. The streetcar tracks are still visible in a couple small places.

    Anyway, I don’t have sources at the moment, just my memory, so if I have real time later I’ll write something up.

    Yes, Oregon has a horribly racist history, but even in the 1800s we had passionate advocates for justice among us that were getting at least some things right.

  29. Ichthyic says

    The closest thing to this is that sometimes you’ll hear that the city of Grants Pass was a KKK stronghold (and it still isn’t the kind of place you want to be driving while black).

    My oldest living relatives have lived in Grant’s Pass nearly their whole lives.

    I spent a few days with them back in the 80s, while on a trip up to Alaska.

    these issues never came up, but now I have to wonder…

  30. microraptor says

    I want to put LicoriceAllsort’s numbers in perspective with Southern Oregon.

    Here’s Douglas County

    As of the census[7] of 2000, there were 100,399 people, 39,821 households, and 28,233 families residing in the county. The population density was 20 people per square mile (8/km²). There were 43,284 housing units at an average density of 9 per square mile (3/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 93.86% White, 0.18% Black or African American, 1.52% Native American, 0.63% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 1.02% from other races, and 2.70% from two or more races. 3.27% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 18.4% were of German, 13.2% American, 12.6% English and 10.2% Irish ancestry. 96.5% spoke English and 2.2% Spanish as their first language.

    Jackson County
    As of the census[13] of 2000, there were 181,269 people, 71,532 households, and 48,427 families residing in the county. The population density was 65 people per square mile (25/km²). There were 75,737 housing units at an average density of 27 per square mile (10/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 91.65% White, 0.40% Black or African American, 1.09% Native American, 0.90% Asian, 0.18% Pacific Islander, 2.88% from other races, and 2.91% from two or more races. 6.69% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 17.4% were of German, 12.9% English, 10.2% Irish and 8.8% United States or American ancestry according to Census 2000. 92.7% spoke only English at home, while 5.6% spoke Spanish.

    And Josephine County

    As of the census[15] of 2000, there were 75,726 people, 31,000 households, and 21,359 families residing in the county. The population density was 46 people per square mile (18/km²). There were 33,239 housing units at an average density of 20 per square mile (8/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 93.90% White, 0.27% Black or African American, 1.25% Native American, 0.63% Asian, 0.11% Pacific Islander, 1.17% from other races, and 2.68% from two or more races. 4.26% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 18.5% were of German, 14.3% English, 10.4% Irish and 9.3% American ancestry according to Census 2000. 95.6% spoke English and 2.8% Spanish as their first language.

    These three counties constitute one of the whitest parts of the country.

  31. says

    I grew up in Salem (and now live in the Portland area), and it wasn’t until a couple years ago when I was undergoing training at OMSI as a volunteer for an exhibit on race that I learned about this. We covered some of the atrocities committed against Native Americans (though that focused more on the Great Plains and East Coast) and Asian immigrants, but we never touched our treatment of African Americans.

  32. LicoriceAllsort says

    Another prejudice that’s palpable in my part of rural Oregon (again, family south of Eugene and down into Roseburg and Grants Pass; father’s side has been there since the late 1800s) is religiously based—primarily anti-Catholic but, in later years, I’ve also noticed it against Jewish and Muslim faiths. Per various sources (examples [not great but] here and here), the KKK had already won the race war in OR and so focused many of their attentions on Catholics.

    What is disturbing to me is that, because this history is not known or discussed, people don’t recognize the roots of it. Without historical context, Oregonians think of themselves more as equal-opportunity xenophobes than out-and-out racists and religious bigots.

  33. LicoriceAllsort says

    microraptor, I grew up in Douglas County. My grandparents remember one “colored” family that lived in our town—ever. “They were nice folks.”*

    * unsaid but not unintended: “…not like most coloreds you hear about.”

  34. Artor says

    I’ve been living in or near lily-white Eugene since ’93. It’s true, Eugeniuses don’t see color, since you can go days without seeing anyone non-white. There are a few Koreans in town, and a very few black people, mostly on campus. I was unaware of the Flogging Law, but I knew there were a lot of Civil War refugees that fled the South & settled here. In Noti, west of Eugene, just 5 miles away from the annual hippy-Mecca of the Oregon Country Fair, there was a pub with a “No Ni**ers” sign outside as recently as 2000 or so.

  35. says

    The KKK was active in a lot of places in the North. Dad said he was shown a membership card by a classmate. This would have been in Northern Indiana. Mom had a lot of trouble with whites in the 1960s in southwestern Michigan. I’ve heard the region where I grew up there as the most racist place outside of the Old South.
    Look up sundowner towns in Minnesota. One result listed 20 possible sundowner towns in Minnesota.
    Oregon may have been just more open about their racism.

  36. Hatchetfish says

    I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s in The Dalles, east of Portland 80 miles on the Columbia River. I knew of perhaps two black families in town, and that holds to this day. Aside from many hispanic families (it’s a major orchard region, so there are many migrant families and many that have settled down there as well) the town was and is pure white. It was known to have been a sundown town well into the 60’s, and is sometimes rumored to still be one effectively.

    As to the history, I actually did learn it in school as part of Oregon history, but this was at a liberal (at the time, and in spite of the church) Catholic elementary school. It was never mentioned again once I was in the public schools for the higher grades.

  37. brushmonkey says

    I live in Drain in Douglas county. Never learned a thing about this in the seventies and eighties in public school, which is not the least bit surprising. In fact, state history never even came up in my experience. Seems to be the same now, and in this part of the state more people are concerned with having enough to eat than getting a decent, honest, truthful education.

  38. microraptor says


    There was precisely one non-Caucasian in my high school in southern Douglas County (I attended there for two years before transferring to a private school in Portland). She was a Brazilian exchange student.


    Drain? I’m sorry.

  39. Erp says

    The post gave me an excuse to dive into the local university’s student newspaper archives (Stanford Daily, went online only a few months ago and going back to 1892). There was an attempt to start a KKK chapter at Stanford by a civil engineering grad student from Texas, Robert Burnett, in 1923/24. He doesn’t seem to have received much encouragement from the university administration or from the student newspaper though he does seem to have succeeded in founding chapters in Palo Alto and at Stanford (even if the latter wasn’t permitted to meet in university buildings). However even those who opposed the Klan might still be pro segregation and pro enforced eugenics. Though I’ll note in this part of California in the 1920s much of the racism was directed at people of Chinese or Japanese descent since African Americans were relatively rare.

  40. Lacy Williams says

    Elinor Langer’s A Hundred Little Hitlers is an interesting book on white supremacy in Portland. It examines the murder of an Ethiopian immigrant by skinhead gang members and it also gets into some of the racist history of the area.

  41. astro says

    i’ve never lived in or been to oregon, but i do know from personal experience that liberal racism can be surprising and tenacious.

    it was a big issue that confronted the environmental movement in the early 1990s (probably earlier too, but that’s when i got involved). it’s painful to confront these issues, in yourself and in your organization. but it is essential to acknowledge they exist, confront them, and combat them. it makes you both a better person and a better advocate to your cause, to know your failings and to seek to address them.

  42. caseloweraz says

    This is one edifying thread. I never would have guessed Oregon had such a history.

    PZ: In a fit of post-war ebullience, they ratified the 14th amendment in 1866, giving black people citizenship, but they rescinded their vote in 1868, after more soberly racist heads came to power, and only re-ratified it in 1973.

    Wow — that’s five years after MLK, Jr was assassinated. I wonder what year Oregon created its Martin Luther King Jr Holiday. (Kudos to Elaine Rector, creator of the OHS timeline linked in #51. But the timeline doesn’t give this information.)

    Wikipedia’s article on the holiday doesn’t either, but it’s worth reading. Note the action of the late Senator Moynihan.

    Also interesting is this timeline, but it doesn’t show adoption years by state.

    From the OHS article about Portland: …and real estate practices, written into the real estate industry’s Code of Ethics, restricted African Americans to a tiny patch of the city called Albina, an area far too small for the thousands arriving.

    What’s in a name? This one seems aimed at adding insult to injury.

  43. favog says

    I was raised in the southern part of the state, and live in Portland now. I had no idea of this stuff. Wow.

  44. Numenaster says

    I’ve been trying to answer caseloweraz’s question of when the holiday was created. The federal recognition is from 1986, with the Day of Service addition coming 8 years later in 1994. I found an interview with former Governor Vic Atiyeh in the oral history archive at Pacific University which indicates the Oregon legislature approved the holiday in 1985, so one day earlier than the feds. Governor Atiyeh, a Republican, vetoed the bill at first on expense concerns. The legislature altered the legislation to combine the two Washington and Lincoln holidays into a single President’s Day, which kept the total number of paid state holidays the same, and Atiyeh then signed. In the interview he explicitly contrasts his opposition with that of the governor of Arizona who just didn’t think King deserved recognition.

    The governor of Arizona–really dumb.
    I mean, he was saying there ought not to be a Martin Luther King
    day. That’s not what I said. I had no problem with that whatsoever,
    because this man really did something that I felt was very
    important. We talked about, you know, the discrimination against
    blacks which even continues today. So I thought he was a great
    person and did a great job in what I thought was a very important
    field. But the governor down there, he just didn’t think there
    should be a Martin Luther King day. Well, that’s a difference of opinion. I certainly don • t agree with him. “

    PDF of transcript for the interview is at

  45. rwgate says

    I was born and raised in Western Washington, grew up in Seattle. During my high school years in West Seattle (during the early 60’s) I can’t remember any black families. We lived in High Point, a small section of West Seattle, in 1952 and it was a mixture of black and white families. I remember that most of the black students went to Roosevelt and Garfield High Schools, which were inner city. I would venture to guess that virtually all of the black families in Washington live west of the Cascades, as well as most of the Asian families. Eastern Washington is like Eastern Oregon, rigidly conservative, lily-white and proud of it.

    Even more interesting is that I studied Washington history as part of my history degree (UW) and wrote columns about it, and yet was unaware of a lot of this. Living in an all white bubble you don’t think of race that much. I think at the time we were more concerned about the treatment of the Indian tribes of Washington.

  46. says

    I’m an Oregonian too – practically embarrassed to write this, but I live in Lake Oswego. You other liberal Oregonians will understand my chagrin at this but at least L.O. voted for Obama in the last two presidential elections! My son (age 22) , who went to Oregon schools K-12 says he was not taught the specifics. I guess at least he had decent sex-ed?? Oh wait, he too the OWL classes at our UU church.

  47. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says


    I used to be a guest speaker at OWL classes regularly at different Oregon UU churches….though not in LO. Actually went as far as the Dalles…or was it Hood River? I think it was the Dalles.

    My ex-partner & still best friend had OWL 30 years ago in Massachusetts. The catholic kids would sometimes get sent to the UU OWL program if parents were a bit cool, but not cool enough to actually talk about sex with their own children. It was the one time in the relentlessly-catholic community in which she lived that being a UU was being seen as cool. (e.g. “You get to talk about WHAT? Cooooool.”)

  48. caseloweraz says

    I still haven’t found any direct statement of when Oregon enacted its King holiday. However, based on the fact that Oregon State University celebrated its 33rd year of the holiday this year, I assume it was 1982. That might be right, it might be wrong; but I’m not going to spend any more time looking.

  49. k9sasha says

    I live in the heart of conservative Southern Oregon. When I moved here, one old-timer told me about sundown laws. All black people were required to be out of town before the sun went down. Things haven’t really changed too much since then I guess because a few years ago someone burned a cross on the front lawn of the house where a black family lived. SMH So much anger, fear, and hatred is hard to understand. It’s a good thing we have the liberal city of Ashland to balance out all the conservative areas.

  50. janeymack says

    Onamission5 @ #20–I suppose it is pedantic of me, but I must point out that Tule Lake internment camp was in California, not Oregon. It is not far from the Oregon border, but it is California. It doesn’t change the fact that Oregon has a ‘hidden’ racist history, but we might as well be accurate about where it is. I remember especially where it is because I remember driving by some of the remnants of it with my father, and I asked what it was, and he explained to me that it was from one of the most shameful periods of U. S. history.

    As for the “Welcome to Oregon” signs, my memory is that they said “Thank You for Visiting” — the associated epilogue “but don’t you even think of moving here” was heavily implied, though not actually spelled out. There was a lot of anti-Californian (especially) sentiment in those days–this would have been during the 70s.

    I was born and grew up in Oregon–my parents, 3 of my grandparents, and an assortment of earlier ancestors were as well. I was educated in Oregon public schools from 1969–1981. I don’t remember the racist history of Oregon being mentioned in any of my classes. In fact, I don’t remember that we spent much time on Oregon history at all. (My children, on the other hand, were all born and attended public schools in Washington state and all had classes on either ‘Washington State History’ or ‘Pacific Northwest History.’) The town I grew up in–Bend, in central Oregon–was a lily-white mill town. I am given to understand that there may have been one or two black families in town; if so, I certainly never saw them.

    Anyway, for all that long family history in Oregon, it wasn’t until sometime in the last ten years (as best as I can remember) that I learned about our shameful “no blacks allowed” laws. I was horrified and embarrassed and ashamed. Quite a few of my ancestors made it to Oregon before statehood; I of course have no idea what any of them thought of that policy. The thought that any of them even *might* have supported it is deeply humiliating to me. It’s not the Oregon I thought I knew, and it does put a bit of a damper on my Oregon pride (which I retained even after my migration north).