1991 Documentary: The History of Oregon’s Black Exclusion Laws

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“They did not want slavery here. They didn’t want land taken over by large plantations so they didn’t have to compete with bonded labor. But they also thought blacks were inferior. That is still here. White supremacy is about that: the beliefs that whites were supreme.”

[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]esterday I came across an article in The Washington Post about the history of exclusion laws against Black people in Oregon, which was also written into their constitution in 1857.

These laws were implemented with the purpose of discouraging Black settlement and to ensure that Oregon would develop as an all-white state–by whites and for whites.

I found this intriguing because as a Black woman who has been living in Humboldt County, California for almost 8 years, we are about 5-6 hours from Oregon which is the next state. I often wondered where was the history of African-American’s in Humboldt County. There is little to no trace of African-Americans in the local communities historical archives.

According to The Washington Post, “in 1851, Jacob Vanderpool, the Black owner of a saloon, restaurant and boarding home, was actually expelled from Oregon territory.”

There were free Black people in Oregon before slavery ended. Where did Mr. Vanderpool go, did he travel down south through Humboldt County?

Darrell Millner, a Black Studies Professor at Portland State said that many early Oregon settlers were opposed to slavery “not because of what it did to blacks but because of what it did to them. Slavery represented a competition they did not wish to work against.” 

White Oregon’s also clearly did not want to compete with free-Black people.

“No free negro or mulatto, not residing in this State at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall ever come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make any contract, or maintain any suit therein; and the Legislative Assembly shall provide by penal laws for the removal by public officers of all such free negroes and mulattoes, and for their effectual exclusion from the State, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into the State, or employ or harbor them therein.” (Oregon Constitution 1859)

A conversation with a white-male that I know on Arcata’s Plaza a few months back, keeps coming to me after reading this article. He told me that Oregon and the north coast in general, was a hot bed for white nationalist activity.

“Portland’s reputation as a progressive city is largely a myth. Portland remains the whitest, large city in United States. According to a July 2015 Census report, the city of 612,206  people, was 77.6 percent white; and 5.8 percent black. Grady-Willis called it “a key  site for Klan activity.” (The Washington Post)

“This documentary chronicles the little known history of racism in Oregon. There are moments of highly disturbing racism in a state not known for diversity. But there are also moments of inspiration and courage as people take a stand to bring about important change.”

Read More: When Portland banned blacks: Oregon’s shameful history as an ‘all-white’ state

“This is why living in Humboldt County is like living in Jordan Peele’s Get Out. You are told we are living in a post-racial society but something deep down tells you, don’t trust these smiling white-folks.”

Slauson Girl is a South Central native who has a love for journalism, history and all things Hip-Hop. She holds a B.A in Critical Race & Gender Theory & a Minor in Journalism. Follow Me on IG @Slausongirl

1 Comment

  1. JPR radio had a talk show on this several months ago.History is powerful, knowledge is paramount. Thanks Tina!

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