Timeline of Racism in Oregon

(this page is updated periodically)

Targeted groups: AfricanLatinx NativeAsian All POC

Note: Where policies and practices impact all People of Color, those with darker skin tone are often affected most.

7300 BCE (before common era)

7300 BCE
A 9,300 year old nearly complete skeleton found on the banks of the Columbia River on the Washington-Oregon border in 1996 was dubbed the Kennewick Man. Battles between Indian tribes and scientists for jurisdiction over the skeleton spawned lengthy court battles between dominant culture scientists & Indian tribes’ beliefs/religion.

1492-1700

1492-1700

European Impact on Native Population

  • The Smithsonian Institute at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. estimates that 9 out of 10 indigenous people perished during the first two centuries after first contact between Europeans and the inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere due to disease and violence.
  • Conservative estimates of the native population of North American (north of the Rio Grande) are seven to ten million, with some estimating as many as 19 million. There were roughly six hundred tribes and they spoke diverse dialects. Citation
  • By 1900 there were fewer than 300,000 Native Americans still living in the area now considered to be the United States.
1543

Arrival of Spanish Colonializers

Spanish explorers sight the Oregon Coast north of the forty-second parallel near the Rogue River.

1792-1800’s

1792

Captain Gray Lays Claim to Oregon Territory

Captain Gray and crew enter the Columbia River and name it, laying claim to the Oregon Territory for the United States. Marcus Lopez, cabin boy of Captain Robert Gray, becomes the first person of African descent known to have set foot on Oregon soil. He is killed by Indians near Tillamook.

1805

York Travels with Lewis & Clark

York (William Clark’s body servant—slavery’s version of a valet) comes west with Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. The group is aided by a Shoshone woman, Sacajawea, in their travel to explore and document the Pacific Northwest. Their mission is part of U.S. expansion plans for the Louisiana Purchase and beyond. The southern and western boundaries of this land deal are undefined at the time. The journey supports the country’s sense of Manifest Destiny – the belief that the U.S. is justified and in fact ought to occupy and rule land from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

1811

First Permanent White Residents

Fur traders employed by New York merchant, John Jacob Astor, build a trading post named Astoria. They trade mostly for beaver pelts and become the first permanent white residents of Oregon.

1830's

Methodist Missionaries Bring Disease

Methodist missionaries come to Oregon led by Jason Lee. Unfortunately they and the natives suffer from a horrendous epidemic killing 70% of the Kalapuyans the missionaries had come to “save”.

1832

First School in Oregon

At Fort Vancouver, the first school in the Oregon Territory is established to teach the métis (children of white fathers and Indian mothers) boys at the fort.

1833

First School for Whites

First school for white students opens in what is to become Marion County in the state of Oregon.

1836-1850

Measles and the Cayuse War

The Whitmans and Spaldings travel to Oregon to open a mission. A measles outbreak in 1847 kills many Indians because they lack immunity, while most Whites survive. A group of Cayuse Indians attack the mission, killing 14 Whites and taking hostage 47 women and children. Five Cayuse men are convicted and hanged in Oregon City. The “massacre” draws national attention and directly leads to the Cayuse War which lasts until 1850.

1820-1860

Big Industry in Need of Docile Workforce

The percentage of people working in agriculture plummeted as family farms were gobbled up by larger agricultural businesses. Many people were forced to look for work in towns and cities. Cities grew tremendously, fueled by new manufacturing industries, the influx of people from rural areas and many immigrants from Europe. From 1846 to 1856, 3.1 million immigrants arrived: a number equal to 1/8th of the entire U.S. population. Owners of industry needed a docile, obedient workforce & looked to public schools to provide it.

1836

“Remember the Alamo!”

Slave trader James “Jim” Bowie and Indian-killer Davy Crockett become national heroes when they are among those killed in the Battle of the Alamo in Texas, in their attempt to take Texas by force from Mexico. “Remember the Alamo” becomes a national justification for violent U.S. expansion into Mexican and Indian lands.

1843

Blacks “Freed” but Required to Leave Oregon

Champoeg territorial government adopts a measure “prohibiting slavery”. Slave holders are required to free their slaves with the added requirement that all Blacks must leave the territory within three years.

1844

Oregon Exclusion and Lash Laws

Acts to prohibit slavery and to exclude Blacks and Mulattoes from Oregon are passed. The infamous “Lash Law,” requires that Blacks in Oregon – “be they free or slave – be whipped twice a year until he or she shall quit the territory.” It is soon deemed too harsh and its provisions for punishment are reduced to forced labor.

1848

Joseph Lane Appointed Governor of New Oregon Territory

President Polk appoints Joseph Lane as Governor of the new Oregon Territory. Lane was raised in North Carolina and holds traditionally southern pro-slavery beliefs. He had fought and supported the Mexican American War to expand U.S. control of the North American continent. He arrives at Oregon City in 1849 to begin his duties with include traveling to Walla Walla to secure the surrender of five Cayuse Indians accused of participating in the “Whitman Massacre.”

1848-1879

Reservations and Homesteading Expanded in Violation of Previous Treaties

Three decades of continuous conflict between Whites and Indian tribes start with the Cayuse War and continue until the region’s Indian tribes are forced onto and confined to reservations. Anson Dart, Oregon Territory’s first Superintendent of Indian Affairs organizes reservations on remote, semi-arid land east of the Cascades. Tribes of the coast and Willamette Valley balk at the move. Efforts to obtain reservation land west of the Cascades runs afoul of the Oregon Donation Land Claim Act. It sanctions homesteading without regard for the legal obligations to Indian titles to the land. Only a few remote parcels of land not yet encumbered by white claims are procured for reservations.

1850

Oregon Donation Land Grant

The Oregon Donation Land Act is enacted by the U.S. Congress to promote homestead settlement in the Oregon Territory; swelling the ranks of emigrants on the Oregon Trail. It grants free land to “Whites and half-breed Indians” in the Oregon Territory. (The language of the act prevented non-Whites from claiming land in Oregon even if they had already settled here – whether they had previous deeds to the land or not.)

1851

Exclusion Law Used on Jacob Vanderpool

Jacob Vanderpool, an owner of a saloon, restaurant and boarding house in Salem, is the only person known to have been kicked out of the Oregon Territory because of his skin color based on the Exclusion Laws. Other incidents may not have been officially recorded.

1854

Exclusion Law Repealed and Replaced With Other Racist Language

Oregon’s Exclusion Law is repealed, but is replaced three years later by amending the Oregon Constitution with similar exclusionary language to keep Blacks out of Oregon. (Much of this racist language is not removed from the official Constitution until 2000.)

1855

Pro-Slavery Forces Advocate for New State

After the gold strikes in southern Oregon, pro-slavery forces advocate forming a new state in southern Oregon and northern California. It fails when Californians reject the idea of reducing the size of their state.

1856

Siletz and Grande Ronde Reservations Opened

Rogue River Indian Wars end with the surviving Native Americans being sent to two newly created reservations: the Siletz and the Grand Ronde.

1857

Oregonians Vote to Exclude Free Negroes

Oregon residents vote against slavery but in favor of excluding “free Negroes” from the state. The state’s African American population faces either leaving the state or suffering southern-style segregation well into the 20th century. Meanwhile, a new exclusion law is added by popular vote to Oregon Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

1858

Oregonians Elect Pro-slavery Officials

Just prior to statehood, Oregon elects its first state officials. Governor “Honest John” Whiteaker, as well as many lesser officials, were well known for their pro-slavery views.

1859

Oregon’s Exclusionary Heritage

On February 14, 1859, Oregon becomes the only state admitted to the Union with an exclusion law written into its state constitution.

Article 1, Section 35 of the Oregon State Constitution:

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, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein; and the Legislative Assembly shall provide by penal laws, for the removal, by public officers, of all such 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.

1859

The Knights of the Golden Circle

The Knights of the Golden Circle, an anti-Union and pro-slavery group, open chapters in many Oregon communities. Their ultimate goal in the Northwest is to secede from the U.S. and create a Pacific Coast Republic.

1862

Discriminatory Pay Legalized

Oregon adopts a law requiring all Blacks, Chinese, Hawaiians (Kanakas), and Mulattos (an archaic term referring to people of mixed ethnic heritage) residing in Oregon to pay an annual tax of $5. If they cannot pay this tax, the law empowers the state to press them into service maintaining state roads for 50 cents a day. Also, interracial marriages are banned in Oregon. It is against the law for whites to marry anyone 1⁄4 or more Black.

1866

Oregonians Vote Down Fourteenth Amendment

Oregon’s citizens did not pass the Fourteenth Amendment, granting citizenship to Blacks. Exclusion Laws remain intact, in effect making it illegal for Blacks to live in Oregon.

1866b

Oregon Ban on Interracial Marriages Extended

Oregon upholds bans on all interracial marriages. The state’s ban is extended to prevent Whites from marrying anyone who is 1⁄4 or more Chinese or Hawaiian, and 1⁄2 or more Native American. It was previously illegal for Whites and Blacks to marry.

1867

Portland Assigns Segregated School

Even though the total black population in Oregon in the 1860’s numbers only 128, Portland assigns black and mulatto children to a segregated school.

1870

Fifteenth Amendment

The Fifteenth Amendment, granting black men the right to vote, is added to the U.S. Constitution despite failing to pass in both Oregon and California. This federal law banning voting qualifications based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude” supersedes a clause in the Oregon State Constitution banning black suffrage.

1877

Chief Joseph Chased by U.S. Army

The Nez Perce Tribe clash with the U.S. Army in their Wallowa homeland in northeast Oregon. Chief Joseph and his people refuse to go to a reservation. Instead, Chief Joseph tries to lead 800 of his people to Canada and freedom. Fighting the U.S. Army all along their 1100 mile journey, they are trapped just 40 miles from Canada. After a five-day fight, with only 431 remaining Nez Perce, Chief Joseph makes his speech of surrender stating: “From here to where the sun sets, I will fight no more forever.”

1879

Chemawa Indian Boarding School Opens

Chemawa Indian Boarding School opens in Salem, Oregon as the third such boarding school in the nation. These schools were designed to assimilate Indian children into white culture and teach them vocational skills. Students are prohibited from speaking their tribal languages or practicing any of their traditional customs or culture. (This Indian School still operates in Salem, but without the extreme notions of assimilation.)

1880

Northwest Indians on Reservations

By this date, the U.S. government has forced most Indians of the Northwest onto reservations.

1880's

Chinese Immigrants Driven Out

Chinese immigrants are driven by mobs out of Oregon City, Mount Tabor and Albina.

1883

Attempt to Remove Ban on Black Suffrage Fails

An attempt to amend the Oregon Constitution to remove its ban on black suffrage does not pass. The effort fails despite the fact that the clause in question was rendered moot following the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1870. (Further attempts to remove this language prohibiting Blacks from voting are unsuccessful in 1895, 1916 and 1927. Many racist and discriminatory sections in the Oregon Constitution are not ultimately changed until 2000).

1884

Oregon’s Railroad System Dependent on Chinese Labor

The Oregon statewide railroad system is completed, connecting all regions of the state. The Central Pacific’s Chinese immigrant workers received $26-$35 a month for a 12-hour day, 6-day work week and had to provide their own food and tents. White workers received about $35 a month and were furnished with food and shelter. Chinese immigrant workers saved as much as $20 a month which many eventually used to buy land. They earned a reputation as tireless and extraordinarily reliable workers. 12,000 of the Central Pacific railroad’s 13,500 employees were Chinese immigrants.

1888

34 Chinese Miners Massacred

In a trial in Enterprise, Oregon, three men are acquitted of murder for the massacre of at least 34 Chinese gold miners. The ring-leaders flee the area and are never tried. Unknown is how much gold the gang might have plundered. Rumors put the figure from $3,000 to more than $50,000. The trial attracts little attention from the press, and Wallowa County folks sweep the sordid saga under the carpet for more than a century. In 1995, a county clerk opens an old safe in the Wallowa County Courthouse and finds a long-secreted cache of documents relating to the massacre.

1890's

Increase in Japanese Immigrants

Reduction in Chinese immigration contributes to a dramatic increase in Japanese immigrants to Oregon: typically young males arriving without families. They come to work on railroads, in lumber and canning industries and as farm workers. Many restaurants and businesses post signs reassuring customers that they employ no Asian help.

1898

Founding of Oregon Historical Society

Oregon Historical Society forms from an association of early settlers. It is a “cult” of pioneer ancestors. This organization becomes no less elitist and biased than the Daughters of the American Revolution, with an emphasis on proving & preserving pioneer genealogy rather than focusing on research/documentation of a diverse history of Oregon.

1900’s

1903

Founding of The Advocate

The Advocate starts as a weekly newspaper for the “intelligent discussion and authentic diffusion of matters appertaining to the colored people, especially of Portland and the State of Oregon.” It featurs birth and death announcements, society news, and general good news about African Americans. Articles and editorials about segregation, lynching, employment opportunities and other issues help keep the realities of “Jim Crow” laws and the pressing need for civil rights on the local, state, and national agenda. The newspaper challenges attempts to deprive black people of their rights, to deny Blacks their humanness, and to degrade their African cultural heritage.

1906

Golden West Hotel Opens

Golden West Hotel opens, authorities continually try to shut down the establishment with charges of prostitution, gambling and not having a proper license.  The Oregon supreme court decides in case Taylor v Cohn that black people can be legally segregated from whites in public spaces.  This ruling isn’t struck down in the state until 1953. Even then limits on segregation in the state are loosely enforced. Cite

1919

Redlining

The Portland Real Estate Board’s Code of Ethica mandates real estate agents not to sell to individuals whose race would be determined to lower property values in that neighborhood. This is later changed to specifically reference Black and Asian people. 

1921

Ku Klux Klan

Oregon has the largest Ku Klux Klan membership per capita of any state. 

1923

Alien Land Bill

The Alien Land Bill prohibits aliens ineligible for citizenship from owning, or ever leasing land in Oregon.  Asian immigrants and other immigrants of color are legally barred from becoming US citizens.  In Portland, this means immigrants of color are banned from operating pool halls, dance halls, pawnshops, or soft drink establishments. This bill specifically targets a thriving Japan town and Chinatown located in Downtown Portland.

1930-1960

Jazz Clubs Proliferate

Jazz was popular in Portland and flourished after World War II.  Because of the influx of blacks to Portland for wartime industries, North Williams Ave becomes the heart of Portland Jazz and the black community. Clubs line Williams Ave.

1942

Japanese Internment Camps

All business licenses for Japanese American residents are rescinded. President Roosevelt issues an order for all Japanese Americans to report to internment camps.  Portland Japanese Americans are rounded up and shipped to desert internment camps.  Most spend almost three years in camps and soldiers are ordered to shoot anyone who crosses boundaries.

1942b

Unfair Treatment of Migrant Workers

During WWII, the US increases its need for wartime agricultural production which leads to the unfair treatment of Mexicans (4 million) coming to the US to work (15,000) in Oregon. Unsafe working conditions, inadequate housing, racial discrimination and violence via law enforcement protect the interest of growers. Workers are on call 7 days a week or face deportation. Due to these concerns there is labor unrest and stoppages in Klamath Falls.

1943

Vanport Built

Vanport was a hastily constructed city of public housing between Portland and the Columbia river, created to house workers at wartime Kaiser Shipyards. At its height, Vanport housed 10,000 people, 40% of them black, and was Oregon’s second largest city and the largest US public housing project. Blacks from all over the country, but especially the south are heavily recruited to work in the shipyards, but barred from joining the shipyard unions. Blacks in Portland are not allowed to join unions until the 1960’s.

1948

Vanport Floods

The Columbia River is flooded and the dike protecting Vanport breaks. Vanport is especially vulnerable to flooding, since it is built on reclaimed lowlands along the Columbia River. Hasty construction also leads to vulnerabilities. 15 are killed, the entire city is underwater and nearly 17,000 people, disproportionately black are left homeless.

1950's

Treaty Relationships Terminated

US government terminates treaty relationships with native American tribes through Termination Act. The stated goal is to assimilate Native peoples into mainstream white America. It gives millions of acres of tribal prime old-growth to the timber industry. Of the 109 tribes terminated by the US, 62 are from Oregon. Only 6 have been restored to Federal status.

1953

Public Accommodations Act

The urban league of Portland successfully lobbies the legislature to pass Oregon’s civil rights bill also known as the Public Accommodations Act. Oregon enacts a state fair housing law in 1957.

1956

Memorial Coliseum and Highways Built through Albina Neighborhoods

After Vanport floods, Black people are redlined into the Albina neighborhood. In 1960(?), 4 out of 5 people surviving the flood are living in this thriving close-knit community. In 1956, voters approve construction of the Memorial Coliseum in the Elliot neighborhood, ensuring the deconstruction of more than 450 Albina homes and businesses. Feds also approve highway construction funds that allow construction of I-5 freeway and highway 99 right through hundreds of homes and storefronts, destroying over 1100 housing units in South Albina.

1969

Portland Black Panthers

Portland Chapter of the Black Panther Party is founded by Kent Ford and others, supported by Reed College Students. They run a free children’s breakfast program for five years; feeding 125 children a day. They operate the Fred Hampton Memorial People’s Health clinic with 27 doctors, one of the longest running Panther health clinics in the country. In 1970, they found the Panther dental clinic.

1970

Emmanuel Hospital Expands Through Black Community

The black community protested the expansion of Emmanuel Hospital, which demolishes thousands of homes in Albina’s traditional Black community. Residents are given 90 days to move out. Homeowners are given a maximum of $15,000 payment and renters $4,000. The hospital’s expansion is funded by federal money in an “urban renewal” effort. The expansion takes two decades to complete. Several acres remain empty and undeveloped.

1970b

PSU Black Studies

The Black Studies department is founded at Portland State University by the Black Student Union. This effort grows out of student organizing and activism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, supported by the larger community. PSU is one of the first Black Studies departments in the country.

1980's

Albina Property Values Plummet

Property values in the Albina district fall so low in the 1980’s that homes are assessed at half or less of their original value. Hardest hit are communities of color. Some neighborhoods have 60 to 80 percent unemployment. This ushers in rampant drugs dealing, drug use, and gang involvement activity. The “War on Drugs” crack cocaine epidemic follow.

1988

Mulegeta Seraw Murdered

Mulegeta Seraw, Ethiopian student and father is killed in Portland by three racist skinheads. He is beaten with a bat and left in a puddle of his own blood. Tom Metzger, leader of the White Aryan Resistance who murdered Seraw, calls it his “civic duty”. The community organizes rallies and educational events, and creates community organizations in the wake of this horrific attack. A 1500-person rally takes place on the South Park Blocks in memory of Seraw.

1990's

Albina Area Gentrified

During the 1990’s, the city of Portland puts effort into the revitalization of Albina. In response to complaints of neighborhood activist and the recommendations of a city wide task force report on abandoned housing, the city uses building code enforcement to confront the extreme level of housing abandonment and begins a process of urban renewal. By 1999, Blacks own 36% fewer homes while whites own 43% more than a decade earlier. Whites buy homes, displacing many low income Black families to more affordable far-flung areas (particularly to “the numbers” – deep SE Portland).

1994

Measure 11

Measure 11 establishes mandatory minimum sentencing for a number of crimes. It removes judge’s discretion in sentencing. The measure requires juveniles over 15 charged with these crimes to be tried as adults. 41% of Oregon’s current (2019) prison population growth is due to Measure 11. Black people account for just 4% of the state’s youth population, but 19% of Measure 11 indictments. Black youth have disproportionate contact with the criminal legal system, and are disproportionately arrested for crimes common to all youth.

1997

Nez Perce Return

Nez Perce Tribe purchases 10,000 acres and returns to Wallowa County.

1999

One Day of Acknowledgement

The Oregon state legislature holds a single Day of Acknowledgement to recognize the past discrimination earlier legislatures had sanctioned.

2000’s

2000

Oregonians Vote to Remove Racist Language

Oregonians finally vote to remove all racist language from its constitution which still has a clause that reads:

“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.”

Though this and other discriminatory language is rendered unenforceable by federal laws and amendments to the U.S. Constitution, it is not until this election that several examples of institutional racism and oppression are removed from Oregon law.