A Peculiar Paradise
a History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940
Chapter Five - No Farther into the Dark Clouds
with an additional $1,000 fine. This law was not repealed until 1951.
The legislator's reluctance to endorse the Fourteenth Amendment was the subject of debate in the local press as well. In 1867, the Eugene Weekly Democratic Review printed a vicious attack on black people.
. . gaping, bullet pated, thick lipped, wooly headed, animaljawed crowd of niggers, the dregs of broken up plantations, idle and vicious blacks, released from wholesome restraints of task masters and overseers . . . Greasy, dirty, lousy, they drowsily look down upon the assembled wisdom of a dissevered Union. Sleepily listen to legislators who have given them their freedom and now propose to invest them with the highest privileges of American citizenship.
Because of its rabid pro-South rhetoric, this paper had been suppressed during the Civil War.
The editor of the Oregonian, who was called a "Negro Suffrage Pimp," by his counterpart at the Oregon Statesman, accused the Democrats of trading on fears of intermarriage to force defeat of the Fifteenth Amendment."
For that class tell us and have told us for many years that the recognition of any rights to the Negro race would infallibly lead to enforced social equality and to compel white people to marry "niggers.
In 1868, another attempt was made to repeal ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, declared to be ratified nationally only six weeks previously. This time the repeal passed in both chambers by a combined vote of thirty-nine to twenty-seven. This session also recalled Oregon Senators George H. Williams and Henry W. Corbett, criticized for their support of Reconstruction. Williams was also active in a campaign to impeach President Andrew Johnson, who had become the hero of the Democratic party for his opposition to Reconstruction. The legislature was not deluded into thinking that its actions would make any difference; the Oregonian predicted that if copies of the resolutions ever reached Congress they would probably be used to light someone's cigar. The actions of the legislature prompted the Oregonian to remind its readers of the Democrats' notorious sympathy for the South, and the following headlines were printed:
SPECIAL DISPATCH TO THE OREGONIAN: THE ACT CONSUMMATED--PASSAGE OF THE SECESSION ORDINANCE BY THE OREGON SENATEI THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY REPUDIATE THE CONSTITUTION--OREGON OUT OF THE UNION
The Fifteenth Amendment was proposed, ratified and declared in force by Congress between Oregon's 1868 and 1870 legislative sessions. No special session was called to ratify the amendment, and Governor Lafayette Grover said in his inaugural address,
I shall not forbear placing on record my settled conviction that the two propositions last promulgated as amendments to the Constitution of the U.S.--effecting, as they do, such violence to the inherent and reserved rights of the several States--have never been legally sanctioned. And while we yield to superior force, exercised by the will of her people, let our Constitution stand, sustained by the will of her people, as a living landmark to the former dignity of the States of the Union, and as a land-mark to American liberty.
The legislative session of 1870 affirmed the governor's sentiments, declaring that the Fifteenth Amendment was "an infringement on popular rights and a direct falsification of the pledges made to the state of Oregon by the federal government. Grover's "landmark to American liberty" remained for eighty-nine years, until the Fifteenth Amendment was finally ratified by the centennial legislature of 1959.
Although Oregon refused to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment, a state Supreme Court decision rendered in 1870 affirmed the right of black men to vote. The case involved the election of a county commissioner in Wasco County, and C.H. Yates and W.S. Ford, two black men who had voted. The court confirmed the legality of their votes, saying,
We cannot do otherwise than declare it to be a valid amendment to the federal Constitution. To hold otherwise would be to unwarrantably overthrow certain well established principles of law, and give to judicial discussion such a coloring of partisan feeling as would lead to very unfortunate results?
In April, 1870, the Oregon Herald, a short-lived Portland newspaper, reported that three black men were allowed to vote at a local school meeting, and then commented: Can the judges of the election, at the school meeting the other night, show any authority for receiving the votes of negroes? The judges who received said vote . . . exhibited indecent haste in forcing an odious measure down the throats of the people of Oregon.
The same year the Oregonian, which five years earlier had contained editorials opposing the Fifteenth Amendment, ran an editorial which admitted:
There are but a few colored men in Oregon, and their political influence cannot be great. But these here are, as a rule, quiet, industrious and intelligent citizens. We cannot doubt they will exercise intelligently the franchise with which they are newly invested?
The black population of Oregon was small and nearly invisible. With the exception of the ban on intermarriage passed in 1866, the legislature did not pass laws that discriminated against local black people. Resistance to civil rights legislation both national and local was strong; in the five years following the Civil War any measure that promoted civil rights for black people elicited the charge that it would promote racial intermarriage;. In order to kill any legislation, opponents had only to ask the perennial question: "Do you want your daughter to marry a nigger?
In spite of legislation that guaranteed access to public schools for all children, segregation was briefly practiced in the 1860's and 1870's in Portland, Salem, and Pendleton. In 1867 William Brown, a black resident of Portland, attempted to enroll his four children in public school. The director of the school refused to admit the children, and Brown applied to a white man, T.A. Wood, for help. Wood approached the director and was informed that if the black children were admitted the school would lose its funding. The director proposed that the amount of money allocated for each child, amounting to $2.25 per quarter, be set aside to rent a building and hire a teacher to instruct the black children. Wood objected, reasoning that only $35.00 dollars could be raised this way and that the black parents would have to make up the difference out of their own pockets. He filed an appeal in court, which was decided in favor of the school. The school board agreed to allocate $800 for a separate school and in the fall of 1867 a school for black children was opened.
The next year $1,000 was allocated for the black school and for the next three years twenty-five black children were enrolled. In 1870 several black children requested admittance to the regular public school but were sent home. At the annual school board meeting in 1871 it was agreed to continue the separate school, but one year later it was discontinued. In 1874 thirty black children were enrolled in the public schools.
In 1873 J.B. Mitchell, a black barber who lived in Pendieton, sent his two children to public school. The children were refused admittance and the teacher, a strong segregationist, closed the school. White families paid for a private school which was set up over the county jail. A rival barbershop was opened in an attempt to drive the black family out of town, but they persisted and eventually the children were taught in public school.
The black residents of Salem organized an evening school in 1868 and placed an announcement in the local newspaper.
Notice is hereby given that the colored people of Salem expect to pay all the expenses of the Evening School now being held by them, without aid from other citizens--No person is authorized to collect funds in our name.
Salem also had a separate grammer school for black children in 1871. The school was located on the corner of High and Marion and built at a cost of $1,200, but by 1874 it was not in use and the black children were attending public school.
In 1860, in spite of the fact that Oregon had entered the Union with a free state constitution, Oregonians were still electing known pro-slavery leaders to high political office. This love affair with the right wing Democratic party ended only when it became clear that the alternative they proposed, secession from the Union, was untenable. The war forced Oregonians to choose sides, and they did so, reluctantly. The Union party gained a majority in the state legislature, but continued to pass racist legislation. Uncomfortable with the radical solutions embodied in the Civil War amendments to the federal Constitution, their opposition was demonstrated in resolutions that had little more than sentimental value. Resistance to accepting the
black vote and integrated education was overcome not by a change in attitude, but because Oregonians realized that federal civil rights legislation had to be acknowledged, if not endorsed.
By 1870, change was inevitable, so Oregonians acquiesced. Blacks were granted civil rights under the terms imposed by the federal government, without the endorsement of the state legislature. Oregon's black population was small and posed little threat to the established order. The period of enacting racist legislation had ended, but it would be many years before the legislature would begin to take an interest in passing laws that would allow black people to enjoy equal rights as citizens of the state.
The End of Chapter Five
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