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 In a fit of post-war ebullience, they ratified the 14th amendment in 1866, giving black people citizenship, but they rescinded their vote in 1868, after more soberly racist heads came to power, and only re-ratified it in 1973.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