There are some things you simply aren’t aware of when you’re immersed in an environment — and that’s the case when I was living in Oregon. I don’t recall Dunn Hall, which was one of the campus dorms, but then I didn’t live in the dorms, and was only vaguely aware of the undergraduate students. I never heard any discussion of Frederick Dunn, the guy it was named for, and who was a classics professor in the 1920s. I especially never heard that he was an Exalted Cyclops of the KKK.
But now people are talking about it, and the university is stripping his name from the roster of buildings, prompted by an act of vicious racism.
Student body president Quinn Haaga urged the trustees to act in the wake of the death of 19-year-old Larnell Bruce in Gresham. The black teenager was purposefully run over by a white supremacist, according to police reports.
“The state of Oregon has a very ugly racist history that was deeply ingrained in our policies and laws,” Haaga told the trustees. “Unfortunately, as this horrible tragedy illustrates, these sentiments are still very alive and well in many parts of the state.”
I know what argument some will use against this: there go the SJWs again, erasing history to signal their virtue, and maybe even comparing it to the erasure from official photos of Communists who lost favor with Stalin. But how can you erase history if you never knew it in the first place? This is an act that acknowledges horrible attitudes that were simply taken for granted. It made me conscious of a founding bigotry that I would otherwise have not known. Eugene is a lovely place to live, but you’re really swimming in a sea of whiteness while you are there (I live there for 8 years), and it’s easy to oblivious to Oregon’s history of sundown towns and anti-black laws.
But here’s one person who defended Dunn.
UO alumnus David Igl made an unsuccessful plea to retain Dunn’s name, saying the professor was involved with civic organizations — such as the YMCA and the Methodist Episcopal Church — that would be antithetical to the KKK’s views. He said Dunn was “a victim of some swindlers called the KKK.”
Hucksters from the South, Igl said, recruited KKK members in Eugene in the 1920s, using fear and bigotry as motivators to part townspeople from their money, but the townspeople soon were disillusioned.
Dunn didn’t repudiate his membership, as far as historians can tell, but Igl contends that few Klansmen did out of fear of the so-called invisible empire of the organization.
Oh, right. No racism in Oregon, just high-minded civic responsibility. The white founders of Oregon weren’t racist, no sir, it was all imported by sneaky bad people from Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi who crept across our border like reverse carpetbaggers, tainting the virtuous liberal egalitarianism of the pioneers. Except…
When Oregon was granted statehood in 1859, it was the only state in the Union admitted with a constitution that forbade black people from living, working, or owning property there. It was illegal for black people even to move to the state until 1926. Oregon’s founding is part of the forgotten history of racism in the American west.
The South is a convenient scapegoat for racism, and yes, it has a history of racism too…but I’ve lived in Northern states, Washington and Oregon and Pennsylvania and now, Minnesota, and the racism is thick and strong here, too. We just don’t see it in action when we’re only hanging out with our white friends, and when we avoid confronting it. I only learned yesterday that there’s a house flying a confederate flag here in Morris, Minnesota — we’re all pretty good at closing our eyes.
I also learned that the University of Oregon is now planning to rename Deady Hall. I didn’t know Dunn, but I certainly knew Deady Hall — it’s the oldest building on campus, very prettily antique, but now I find out that Matthew Deady, one of the founders of the UO (although I knew he was actually opposed to the university system, and didn’t want a university, although he was happy to grab control when it was founded) was pro-slavery.
See? We don’t talk about these uncomfortable facts, until someone waves them in our face, and then we’re all embarrassed and decide that maybe we shouldn’t be naming prominent racists as heroes of our institution.