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Oregon History Time Line

Timeline of Oregon’s History of White Supremacy

Kristin Teigen

Pre-1800’s – All of Oregon is claimed by any one of dozens of tribes. Estimates are that 200,000 Native people lived here at the turn of the 19th century. Contact with white fur traders in the early 1800’s introduces devastating diseases, leads to Native economic dependency on traders and encourages traders to map and publicize Oregon as a land of bounty.

1844 – Among the people who see these maps are Missourians who are chafing against the new presence of enslaved African Americans following the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Emboldened to leave Missouri and create a white utopia, over 1,000 white Missourians arrive in Oregon, led by Peter Burnett. Among the first order of business was to pass Burnett’s Lash Law, mandating that all African Americans in the territory were to be lashed publicly every six months.

1844 – Six months after the Lash Law was passed, it was changed to a penalty of a fine of $5 every six months. 

1846 – Oregon becomes a territory and rescinds the $5 penalty.

1849 – Oregon reinstates an exclusion act, this time simply saying that being in Oregon while African American was an illegal act.

1840 – 50’s – The arrival of additional white people is devastating on Native Americans. Their arrival threatens food security, begins armed conflict and brings additional disease. By the end of the century, the combination of the three leaves 9 out of 10 Native people dead.

1850 – The Oregon-specific Donation Land Act promised 320 acres for free to every white male settling in Oregon. These lands had been claimed by Native Americans and were frequently taken by force.

1851 – The only African American prosecuted under the exclusion acts, Jacob Vanderpool, is forced from the state. The acts instead served as an inhibitor to squelch any African American migration to the state. A provision in the law mandated that it be published throughout East Coast and Southern newspapers.

1854 – The territorial legislature passes a law making it illegal to sell guns or ammunition to Native Americans.

1859 – Oregon becomes a state. It becomes the only state to enter the Union with an exclusion act against African Americans written into its Constitution. It also included a provision that no Chinese person could own land or hold a mining claim.

1860’s – Chinese migration begins to Oregon. Chinese migrants worked on railroads, in mines and in agriculture. They’re subjected to dangerous working conditions and pay that is lower than that of whites, even for the same job. 

1862 – Oregon passes a law mandating an annual $5 fine for Asians and African-American people in the state.

1840’s-70 – Mexican immigrants operate the Mule Pack System, which transports goods to markets all throughout the Pacific Northwest. 

1868 – The Fourteenth Amendment is ratified. Oregon briefly approves of it, but then rescinds its approval until 1973. Nonetheless, Oregon has to abide by it, meaning that they could not deny African Americans citizens from living in Oregon. Despite this, Oregon’s population remains low, .07% of the total statewide population.

1870’s – The backlash against Chinese people continues, and grassroots pressure from Oregon to Washington, DC grows to exclude them from entering the United States.

1880 – The Chemewa School is founded, becoming a Native American boarding school. Children were forcibly taken from their homes and were severely punished if they spoke their language or practiced their traditions. 

1882 – The Chinese Exclusion Act, a federal law, is passed. It forbade further Chinese migration. It was the first race-based immigration law to be passed. While current residents could stay, they couldn’t bring over their families. Out of the entire population who left the United States as a result, 20% were from Oregon.

1887 – The federal government passes the Dawes Act, which reduces by ¾ the land held by Native Americans in reservations. It mandates an individual, male model of property ownership and created today’s problem among tribes of fractionalized land ownership.

1887- Massacre at Deep Creek – Thirty-Six Chinese miners are killed by three white men. Even though they confess, a jury returns a verdict of not guilty on grounds of self-defense.

1880’s – The railroad arrives in Portland, bringing African American employees with it. They settle next to two train stations, the Albina railyard and Union Station.  While few places would accommodate African Americans, the Golden West Hotel opens to provide almost everything rail employees needed.

1860’s – 1900’s – To replace Chinese migrants who went home following the Chinese Exclusion Act, Oregon begins to recruit Japanese migrants. They bring with them their families and reach almost immediate success.

Early 1900’s – In response to the growing African American population, Oregon begins segregation in Portland. Two lawsuits, Taylor v. Star Theater (1902) and Allen v. People’s Amusement Park (1919) affirm the right of public facilities to segregate. Many other Oregon towns become Sundown towns, where people of color weren’t welcome after dusk. While some were not enforced legally, vigilante groups like the KKK threatened violence for anyone who stayed.

1914 – The first Bracero program is started in Oregon, through which Latinx migrants are welcomed. While they aren’t given a path toward citizenship, they can stay legally in Oregon during the war.

1919 – The Oregon Realty Board passes a “statement of ethics” saying that it was unethical for their members to represent an African American buyer who wishes to buy a home anywhere but Albina. Individual banks follow suit by adopting the practice of redlining.

1920’s – Oregon becomes home to the largest chapter of the KKK on the West Coast. 

1924 – Native people are made citizens of the United States, despite considering themselves members of other nations.

1910 – 30’s – Oregon attempts, at times successfully, to limit the participation of Japanese and Japanese Americans. Unions prohibit them from becoming members, and perhaps most notably, in 1923, they are forbidden from owning a home or business. They were only able to do so when they put property in the names of their US born children. The vigilante Anti-Alien Association springs up in Hood River to threaten and intimidate Japanese and Japanese Americans. 

1930’s – Bearing the brunt of the blame for unemployment during the Great Depression, over a million Latinx people are deported through a broad-based government operation called the Repatriation Program.

1930’s – The federal government codifies redlining with the New Deal Federal Housing Authority. It establishes a color-coding rank with diverse neighborhoods listed as having “subversive racial elements” and being unworthy of a FHA loan. It further encourages neighborhood covenants that mandated that those living in whiter neighborhoods were not to sell their homes to people of color. 

1930’s – A New Deal policy toward Native Americans is implemented that affords federal recognition to tribes. Under this federal recognition, land grabs end, some lands are returned, federal aid programs are implemented, and tribes have jurisdictional rights over their own reservations.

1941 – The Japanese government bombs Pearl Harbor. This provides an opportunity for those who had been attempting to limit Japanese American participation in Oregon to push for exclusion of them from the Pacific Northwest. 

1942 – President Roosevelt signs EO 9066 in February allowing the military to prepare for internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans. In May, the order goes forth, and 120,000 people of Japanese descent are ordered to report to Assembly Centers. Portland’s was the Expo Center. After 4 months in the Center, they were then sent to internment camps where they were held against their will for 4 years. The vast majority of Oregonians were interned at Minidoka in Idaho. 

1942 – Frustrated that his shipyard employees, namely African American employees, were unable to find stable housing in Portland, Henry J. Kaiser built Vanport. At its peak, it housed 40,000, with around 6,000 being African American. Despite an EO 8802, which stated that there was to be no segregation in war-time industries, housing at Vanport is segregated. Also, while employment was not explicitly segregated, the shipyard was a union shop, and many unions either did not welcome African Americans or put them in lesser auxiliary unions that afforded them very few of the benefits of union membership. This meant that African Americans had the lowest level of jobs and were subject to being fired without union protection. 

1940’s – With so many white farm boys leaving for WWII, the United States starts another Bracero Program. The population of Latinx people grows from 1,500 to over 15,000.

1943 – The United States rescinds the Chinese Exclusion Act and welcomes middle-class and wealthy Chinese people.

1945 – With the end of the War, ½ of the African American population leaves Oregon.

1946 – After 4 years of internment, Japanese and Japanese Americans are released from camps. The United States subsequently apologized twice and offered reparations, minimal as they were.

1948 – Vanport floods, leaving over 6,000 African Americans homeless. Given housing restrictions, they are forced into the small neighborhood of Albina.

1947 – 1973 – A series of displacements begin, starting with I-5, which displaced 1,100 homes. Then, it continued on with Memorial Coliseum, which displaced the vibrant entertainment district of known as Jumptown, as well as 476 homes. After this, in 1960, Emanuel Hospital breaks ground and expands in 1973, displacing 171 homes. With Emanuel, people were displaced under questionable conditions of blight, such as having a clawfoot bathtub, a dropped ceiling, an unfinished basement, or a garage at street level with a house above.

1949 – Oregon passes the Fair Employment Practices Act, after strong and effective pressure from people of color communities.

1953 – Oregon passes the Public Accommodations Act, outlawing segregation in public spaces.

1954 – The United States begins to once again conduct mass deportations of Latinx people. This time, it’s called Operation W*tback, and the military rounds up and deports roughly 1,000,000, one half of whom were citizens.

1954 – The federal government, under the direction of former Oregon Governor Douglas McKay and current Secretary of the Interior, moves to terminate the federal status of Native Americans. Seeking to make Oregon the test case for this policy, tribes here lose over 1.2 million acres of prime timber land over the next twenty years. This prompts the rapid urbanization of Oregon’s Native American population, leading to skyrocketing poverty rates.

1960’s – With the majority of the state’s African-American clustered in the Albina neighborhood, the city begins a process of disinvestment. Schools resources fall, streets are not repaired, garbage service is intermittent, the police approach the community with hostility instead of a spirit of cooperation, public transit is limited and environmental justice issues are not addressed.

1973 – President Nixon reinstates federal recognition for tribes, although lands are not restored. Only 9 out of 60 tribes are restored in Oregon.

1960’s and 70’s – As part of the national civil rights movements, organizations are founded here, including PCUN, a farmworkers union and the Black United Front, an organization advocating for equity in schools and employment.

 1981 – Four dead possums are thrown on the steps of the Burger Barn, which was a popular hang-out for the African American community. Two police officers are fired by the police commissioner, African-American Charles Jordan. Jordan was the first person of color to serve on the Portland city council. Mayor Frank Ivancie removes Jordan as police commissioner and reinstates the officers.  

1985 –Lloyd D. Stevenson, a father of five and a Marine Corps veteran is killed via the chokehold by the police after trying to intervene in a robbery at a convenience store. At his funeral, two police officers sold t-shirts with the slogan, “Don’t Choke Em Smoke Em” with a smoking gun on the front.  The two officers involved in Stevenson’s death were not fired.

1985 – Oregon makes permanent a temporary ban on rent control.

1987 – Mulugeta Seraw is killed by white supremacists from Eastside White Pride. His murderers are found guilty, but the Southern Poverty Law Center wanted more. They sued the Aryan Nation and its leader, Tom Metzger in civil court. They were successful, winning a $12.5 million verdict on behalf of Seraw’s family.

1990’s – The Albina neighborhood begins to experience gentrification and displacement. In addition to the ban on rent control, the legislature passes a ban on inclusionary zoning in 1999. Portland thus doesn’t have two of the key tools that can be used to prevent displacement.

2003 – Police kill African American Kendra James after a routine traffic stop. 

2010 – Police kill unarmed African American Aaron Campbell after receiving a welfare check call from his family.

2000-10 – In a ten-year period of time, 10,000 African Americans are displaced from Albina. Housing prices rise and the traditionally African American neighborhood in the city becomes an entirely different neighborhood.

2013 – Organizations like Causa win historic victories in the legislature, securing tuition equity and the right to a driver’s card. The same year, Oregon’s governor Kitzhaber signs a statewide version of DACA

2010’s – The Latinx population grows dramatically, spurring a backlash from white Oregonians.

2014 – Measure 88 is placed on the ballot by Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR) which would reverse the right of residents without citizenship documents to legally drive a car. Despite strong support from police, business and every major organization of color, it is defeated by over 60%. 

2014 – After pressure from the Portland African American Leadership Forum, Trader Joe’s pulls out of a deal to build a grocery store in a vacant lot in NE Portland. Mayor Charlie Hales had offered Trader Joe’s a huge discount for the land, despite not approving similar proposals from the African American business association.

2015 – OFIR attempts to place three more measures on the ballot, to require voter ID, an extra layer of employment verification and also one to make Oregon an English only state. They do not get enough signatures. 

2016 – In the months following the election of Donald Trump as President, Documenting Hate reports that Oregon had the highest incidences of hate crimes. 

2016 – A 19 year old African American man, Larnell Bruce, is killed by two white supremacists.

2017 – A violent white supremacist harasses two Muslim women of color on a Max train, killing two men and injuring another who come to their defense. 

2017 – The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reports a 200% increase in hate crimes in Portland, significantly more than any other major US city. Following Portland is Phoenix, with a 44%. 

2018 – Oregonians for Immigration Reform is categorized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Their efforts to gather signatures to overturn a 30-year-old law that ensures that local and state law enforcement do not comply with federal immigration officials, succeeds and Measure 105 qualifies for the ballot. It is this law that allows jurisdictions to effectively declare themselves sanctuaries. The measure fails, and the sanctuary law stands.