History Where We Live
Current events have highlighted that we can all benefit from some self-reflection and education during these extraordinary times.
Most archaeologists and historians recognize the need to decolonize our disciplines and promote more accurate interpretations of the past. In addition to making the field more accessible and inclusive (and attractive) for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) scholars, improvements need to be made to the way we communicate and prioritize history. To do this we need to re-evaluate not only the subjects we study, but also the format through which we present the past. It is not enough to showcase historical diversity, we have a responsibility to respect and meaningfully document the actions and impacts of non-white actors in the history of the places we live.
In the words of Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (and guest on our May episode of “Underground History” heard on the Jefferson Exchange), “representation matters.” Researching, preserving, and promoting Black history helps to underscore the ways that African Americans shaped the United States. In a recent statement of solidarity for the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, Oregon Black Pioneers president Willie Richardson wrote that the work of Black Oregonians “has propelled our state to adopt and be accountable to civil rights laws, change injustice policies and practices, and move this state to be a home for all.”
In addition to checking out the many curated anti-racist reading lists circulating the internet (I recommend heading over to the “Talking About Race” portal hosted by the National Museum of African American History and Culture), I wanted to point out some of the great work happening in our region:
The Oregon Black Pioneers is a frequent guest on the Jefferson Exchange, and has been producing high quality educational content for years. Their recent exhibit, Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years ran at the Oregon Historical Society, is now at the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History, and can be viewed online through their website. In addition, they have created educational content for grades 3-5 and 6-12. Publications such as African Americans of Portland by Kimberly Stowers Moreland (Arcadia Publishing, 2013) and Perseverance: A History of African Americans in Oregon’s Marion and Polk Counties by Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers, Sheridan McCarthy, and Stanton Nelson (Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers, 2011) can also be purchased on the site: oregonblackpioneers.org
Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) producer Kami Horton recently directed an Oregon Experience documentary entitled Oregon’s Black Pioneers. This Emmy winning program can be streamed for free on OPB’s website (Oregon Experience Season 13, episode #1301).
The Oregon Historical Quarterly volume on White Supremacy and Resistance (Winter issue 2019) is a special issue investigating Oregon’s relationship to relevant topics such as Whiteness, settler colonialism, racial exclusion and land ownership, abolitionism and anti-slavery politics, violence, labor and organizing, White supremacist organization, and forms of resistance to White supremacy. The volume can be purchased through the Oregon Historical Society. Guest editor Carmen P. Thompson’s powerful introduction to the volume entitled “Expectation and Exclusion: An Introduction to Whiteness, White Supremacy, and Resistance in Oregon” can be accessed on the website in full: https://www.ohs.org/research-and-library/oregon-historical-quarterly/
Maxwell Heritage Interpretive Center in Joseph, Oregon was established in 2008 to commemorate Oregon’s multicultural logging history. The timber town of Maxville was home to both African American and White loggers in its heyday between 1924-1933. The organization has been collecting oral histories and photos from the original families and provides a variety of educational and creative programming inspired by the history of the site. These resources, in addition to videos and other information, can be explored on the website: https://maxville.squarespace.com/
The town of Vanport, Oregon was destroyed when the Columbia River flooded in 1948, displacing thousands of Black and immigrant families (Check out our “Underground History” conversation with Laura Lo Forti and James Harrison archived on the JPR website to hear more). The story of Vanport and its residents is being captured and shared through the Vanport Mosaic: a “memory-activism platform.” The organization hosts an annual festival in the spring and has a variety of fascinating resources curated on their website. This includes oral history videos and links to walking tours that cover the history of Vanport, the Black Panther Party in in NE Portland, and Portland’s history of community displacement. You can also follow links to view historical photographs housed at the Oregon Historical Society. The May 2020 festival schedule included a captivating blend of history/art/politics, and as the program was moved online due to the Pandemic many events can still be viewed on their website: https://www.vanportmosaic.org/
Voices of the Golden Ghosts tells the stories of African American gold miners in northern California’s Siskiyou and Shasta Counties “through the lens of contemporary storytelling, theater, photography, music and video” (check the “Underground History” archives to hear our April conversation with Mark Oliver and Patrick Brunmeier). The group has curated an exhibit at Turtle Bay Museum in Redding and does public events across northern California. Additional information and videos can be found here: https://markoliver.org/golden-ghosts
Finally, I encourage you to spend some time exploring the vast resource on all things interesting in Oregon by visiting the Oregon Encyclopedia. You won’t regret it! This living resource (more is being added all of the time) provides well-written, peer reviewed entries on topics such as “Black Cowboys in Oregon,” a profile of African American activist “Lizzie Weeks,” “Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church,” “Black Exclusion Laws in Oregon,” and much, much more: https://oregonencyclopedia.org/