The Pacific Northwest is often seen as a region where racial tolerance might be expected and that opportunities for all Americans might be available. However, Black residents of the “Beaver State” say Oregon is hiding a racist past and that examples of said racism exists even today.
In 1859, Oregon became a state and issued a statewide law that no Black person, not even a mixed person, could live there. It was the only free state in the Union that had such a law forbidding Blacks from living there. Naturally, this law was defied and an example of this occurred in the progressive and Eco-friendly city of Portland.
Black businessmen W.D. Allen and George Moore opened the Golden West Hotel in 1906, and it became the center of Black prominence and movement in the state. The hotel was successful, but buckled under the weight of The Great Depression and shuttered its doors in 1931. It has since been reopened as a historic reminder of Portland’s rich Black past.
Also telling was that the Ku Klux Klan opened a chapter in the state in 1921, and the state law barring Blacks was still in effect. The law was removed from the books in 1926 but the roots of racism ran far too deeply.
The late U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield was a college student in the state’s capital city of Salem, which had a whites-only policy in its hotels. Hatfield drove famous vocalists Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson to Portland to rest overnight as Salem wouldn’t have them.
Current residents say that Oregon’s racism persists today although it’s a lot more covert. Some say that housing discrimination, a dearth of Black people being hired for work, and racial profiling are hallmarks of the actions those residents have endured over the years. There are even records of Black Oregon homeowners being forced from their homes and not given new opportunities to own again.
A 2015 documentary, “Lift Ev’ry Voice,” focuses heavily on Portland’s Black history and some of the barriers faced by those within the community.
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