Oregon Black Pioneers (organization)

Oregon Black Pioneers, an all-volunteer group founded in Salem in 1993, aims to preserve the rich heritage and culture of Oregon’s African Americans through collections and programs that promote scholarly research and public use. Oregon Black Pioneers partners with academic consultants and history organizations throughout Oregon to conduct research, compile historical information, and present the findings through oral presentations, exhibits, and publications. 

Focusing initially on Marion and Polk Counties, Oregon Black Pioneers collaborated with Friends of the Pioneer Cemetery in Salem in the discovery of more than forty black pioneers who were buried there, in both marked and unmarked graves from the mid to the late nineteenth century. In 2007, the organization presented the City of Salem with a stone marker to honor the memory of those pioneers, with each name etched in the marker. The presentation ceremony launched an exhibit at the Reed Opera House in Salem, Salem’s Black Voices, which told the stories of many of those pioneers. 

The exhibit led to further research and the publication of Perseverance: A History of African Americans in Oregon’s Marion and Polk Counties (2011). This slim collection of biographies, Peter MacMillan Booth of the Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill wrote, provides "a glimpse into the true diversity of Oregon society by giving voice to those who have previously been ignored. Readers will learn about the heritage of the African American community in western Oregon as well as the complexities and challenges they faced." A second book, African Americans of Portland (2013), by Kimberly Stowers Moreland, describes, in words and historic images, the African American community and vibrant culture in Oregon's most populous area from the late 1800s to the Vanport flood of 1949.

These efforts sparked three major exhibits in partnership with the Oregon Historical Society. The first, Perseverance (2011), highlighted early black Oregonians’ lives. The exhibit included the biographies collected in Perseverance and added biographies of other early Oregon African Americans. The second exhibit, All Aboard! (2013), mirrored the book African Americans of Portland and focused on the community that grew up around Portland’s Union Station from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, when black churches, hotels, newspapers, and businesses were established. The third exhibit, A Community on the Move (2015), focused on the 1940s and 1950s, when Portland’s vibrant African American community thrived despite a larger cultural and legal context of discrimination and displacement. A fourth exhibit, Racing to Change: The Civil Rights Years (2018), will continue the story through the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s.

Oregon Black Pioneers also partners with the Salem Multicultural Institute to present exhibits and lectures each year during Black History Month and exhibits at the Heritage Museum, local schools, the Salem Public Library, the Oregon State Capitol, and Mission Mill Museum. 

Because of its work in preserving Oregon’s black history, the organization has received numerous awards, including the David Duniway Award for Historic Preservation in 2009 from the Marion County Historical Society; the Education Award in 2009 from the Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs; and the 2010 Heritage Award from American Legacy magazine. In 2017, Oregon Black Pioneers was awarded the prestigious McMath Historic Preservation Award, which "honors significant contributions to historic preservation in the state of Oregon" for its dedication "to illuminating African Americans’ contributions to Oregon’s history."

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Further Reading

Oregon Black Pioneers website: http://www.oregonblackpioneers.org/blog/books/

Moreland, Kimberly Stowers. African Americans of Portland. Mt. Pleasant, S.C.: Arcadia, 2013.

Oregon Black Pioneers, Sheridan McCarthy, and Stanton Nelson. Perseverance: A History of African Americans in Oregon's Marion and Polk Counties. Salem: Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers, 2011.

 


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This entry was last updated on March 17, 2018