Did you know the first governor of California ordered Blacks out of Oregon in 1844?

December 04, 2019 at 01:30 pm | History

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

December 04, 2019 at 01:30 pm | History

A Ku Klux Klan March in Ashland, Oregon estimated to be from the 1920s. Photo credit: OREGON HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Although southerners in the U.S. catch a lot of flak for their deeds regarding chattel slavery, the history shows the north have dirt on their hands as well.

A little known fact has to do with Oregon, a northern state where Blacks could not live in the territory as late as the 1920s.

In 1844, all Black people were ordered to get out of Oregon Country, the expansive territory under American rule that stretched from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains.

Those who refused to leave could be severely whipped, the provisional government law declared, by “not less than twenty or more than thirty-nine stripes” to be repeated every six months until they left.

Peter Burnett, a former slave holder and leader of Oregon Country’s provisional government passed the law in 1844 — 15 years before Oregon became a state. The law allowed slave holders to keep their slaves for a maximum of three years. After the grace period, all Black people — those considered freed or enslaved — were required to leave Oregon Country. Black women were given three years to get out; Black men were required to leave in two. Burnett would go on to become the first American governor of California.

The “Peter Burnett Lash Law” or the “Lash Law” was, however, quickly amended and then repealed so no Black people were lashed under the law.

This law including other ‘exclusion laws’ have helped make Oregon and its largest city, Portland, a stronghold for white supremacists. Little wonder Portland is the whitest big city in America, with a population that is 72.2 percent white and only 6.3 percent African American.

Oregon’s history of blatant racism also includes its refusal to ratify the 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution.

Perhaps the demand for Negroid people to leave the territory and the ban on entry might have been done ahead to preclude them from the Oregon Donation Land Act.

In 1850, under the Oregon Donation Land Act, “whites and half breed Indians” were granted 650 acres of land from the government. But any other person of color was excluded from claiming land in Oregon. In 1851, Jacob Vanderpool, the Black owner of a saloon, restaurant and boarding home, was actually expelled from Oregon territory.

“The exclusion laws were primarily intended to prevent Blacks from settling in Oregon, not to kick out those who were already here,” according to Salem Public Library records. But Vanderpool’s neighbor “reported him for the crime of being black in Oregon, and Judge Thomas Nelson gave him thirty days to leave the territory.”

In 1857, as Oregon sought to become a state, it wrote the exclusion of blacks into its constitution: “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.”

When Oregon entered the Union in 1859 — it did so as a “whites-only” state. The original state constitution banned slavery, but also excluded nonwhites from living there.

“Oregon is the only state in the United States that actually began as literally whites-only,” said Winston Grady-Willis, Director of Portland State University’s School of Gender, Race and Nations. “Even though there was subsequent legislation that challenged those statutes, the statutes were not removed from the books until 1922.”

Grady-Willis added: “It’s really important for folks to understand this notion of Oregon as this lily-white state sets the tone and is important structurally for the remainder of history of not only the state, but cities like Portland as well.”

Oregon also has a defiant history of resisting federal laws that gave Black people rights.

Karen Gibson, Associate Professor in Portland State’s Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, said Oregon rescinded its initial ratification of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including former slaves.

Oregon was one of just six states that refused to ratify the 15th Amendment, which gave Black men the right to vote.

Oregon did not ratify the 15th amendment until 1959 — one hundred years after the state joined the Union. It was a symbolic adoption as part of its centennial celebration. It did not re-ratify the 14th amendment until 1973.

Gibson also submitted that Oregon didn’t approve slavery because they didn’t want to compete with bonded labor but they also thought Blacks were inferior.

Darrell Millner, Professor Emeritus in Portland State’s Black Studies Department noted “Oregon became a place where “many practices we associate with the Jim Crow South were legal here.” In the 1920s, Oregon had the largest Ku Klux Klan organization west of the Mississippi River. In 1922, Walter Pierce, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, was elected governor of Oregon. Pierce served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1932 to 1942.”

Millner added that in the 1980s and 1990s, “in Oregon and especially in Portland, it was very dangerous to be a person of color.”

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