An old photograph of an elderly, balding Black man—Louis Southworth—seated before a painted backdrop depicting a fireplace. He is looking at the camera, smiling, and holding a violin.

A Place for Us with Zachary Stocks and Kellen Akiyama

In this episode, the third in our series on belonging, we talk with two people who do a lot of work to help us see a fuller, more accurate, and more racially diverse picture of Oregon: Zachary Stocks runs Oregon Black Pioneers, and Kellen Akiyama teaches African American Studies and other subjects at a small high school in Southern Oregon. We also hear from two of Kellen’s students, Monique and Jasmyne.

Show Notes

Zachary Stocks is a public historian and the executive director of Oregon Black Pioneers. Zachary previously served as program director of Historical Seaport and visitor services manager of the Northwest African American Museum. He is a former intern of Colonial Williamsburg and Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and a former seasonal park ranger at Lewis & Clark National Historical Park.

Kellen Akiyama has been an educator for twenty-three years and has spent the last ten years at Gladiola High, an alternative education school in the small Southern Oregon city of Grants Pass. 

The photo accompanying this episode is of Louis Southworth, who came to Oregon in 1853 as an enslaved person. (Slavery was not legal in Oregon at the time, and neither was it legal for Black people to reside in the state.) He purchased his freedom in 1858 with money he earned playing his violin, and later settled in the Alsea Valley near Waldport, where he operated a sawmill and a ferry. A statue of Southworth will be installed at a new park bearing his name in Waldport sometime this year. The photo is courtesy of Benton County Historical Society.

Zachary Stocks mentions several historic people, events, and places:

  • Holmes v. Ford is the only slavery case adjudicated in an Oregon court. Robin and Polly Holmes and three of their children were brought to Oregon from Missouri as slaves by Nathaniel Ford in 1844. Ford settled in present-day Rickreall and promised to free his slaves if they helped him develop his farm. In 1850, he freed Robin and Polly but kept all but one of their children. Robin Holmes sued Ford for custody of the children in 1852, and in 1853 the Territorial Supreme Court ruled that Ford must return the children. The Holmes family later settles in Marion County.
  • Leticia Carson was a formerly enslaved Black woman from Kentucky who migrated to Oregon in May 1845 along with a White man named David Carson and settled in Benton County. When David died without a will in 1852, a neighbor was appointed administrator of the estate who refused to recognize Letitia or her children as David’s rightful heirs. She later sued the neighbor, but she never recovered the land. Oregon Black Pioneers is currently working to memorialize Carson on the land where she lived.
  • The 1857 Oregon Constitution was adopted with provisions banning slavery and prohibiting Black people from residing, owning land, entering contracts, or filing lawsuits in the state. The latter clause was not repealed until 1926, though it was rendered moot by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866.
  • John Brown Canyon is the spot where Campbell Creek flows into the Deschutes River, northeast of Madras. It was the site of the homestead of John A. Brown, who settled there in 1888. “An Oregon Canyon” is an essay and video about Brown and the canyon that came to bear his name. 

Zachary and Kellen also mention some organizations in Oregon

  • Oregon Black Pioneers is Oregon’s only historical society dedicated to preserving and presenting the experiences of African Americans statewide through exhibits, public programs, publications, and historical research.
  • The Oregon Remembrance Project was founded in 2018 by Taylor Stewart to memorialize Alonzo Tucker, Oregon’s most widely documented African American victim of lynching, and now works to connect historical racism to its present-day legacies in order to inspire contemporary racial justice.
  • BASE Southern Oregon is a nonprofit community organization that provides events, community information-sharing, connection, support, and resources that work towards the well-being and advancement of Black residents living in Southern Oregon


Adam Davis: Welcome to The Detour, where we connect ideas and personal experiences without looking for easy solutions. Here, we find the path to understanding often takes unexpected turns. If, thirty years ago, you'd asked a few people from the US, or a dozen, or maybe even a few hundred, what they thought of when they heard the word Oregon, they almost certainly wouldn't have said, " Black people."

They might have said mountains, or logging, or the Oregon Trail. More recently, people might have said Pinot Noir, or Portlandia, or Dame Time. And more recently than that, getting closer today, they might say Fentanyl, or homelessness, or maybe protests, or Black Lives Matter. But even people who might associate Black Lives Matter with Oregon, still probably wouldn't immediately associate Black people with Oregon.

But there are Black people in Oregon, and there have been for a long time. And not only in North and Northeast Portland or Vanport, but all over the state.From loggers in the Wallowas out East, to homesteaders, ranchers, and midwives in Central Oregon, to a boxer in Coos Bay on the South Coast.The national and even statewide myth that Oregon is a White state, or that Portland is a White city, It's just that: a myth,and one that's neither accurate nor helpful. On today's episode of The Detour, as part of our series on belonging, we talk with two people who do a lot of work to help us see a fuller, more accurate, and more racially diverse picture of Oregon. Zachary Stocks runs Oregon Black Pioneers, and Kellan Akiyama teaches African American Studies and other subjects at a small high school in Southern Oregon. And when we hear from Kellan, we'll also hear from two of his students, Monique and Jasmyne. 

Zachary and Kellan are lit up by the idea and the fact that there is much more to Oregon's past, present, and future than many people sometimes seem to think. Zachary and Kellan's delight in unearthing and telling a fuller story of Oregon also seems to sustain them in doing what can be pretty difficult work, whether in the classroom or in public, and whether in Oregon's smaller towns or bigger cities.

As I listen to Zachary and Kellan and Monique and Jasmyne talk about the Oregon that they know and live in, I wondered, and maybe you will too, about how perceptions of a place change, and especially how perception can widen to include more people, more complexity, and a fuller, more capacious set of stories and storytellers.

Zachary Stocks is a public historian, interpreter, and the executive director of Oregon Black Pioneers. Zachary's worked at the intersection of history and place for a long time. He previously served as program director of Historical Seaport and visitor services manager of Northwest African American Museum. He's a former intern of Colonial Williamsburg and Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and a former seasonal park ranger at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. You'll hear shortly from Zachary about how Oregon Black Pioneers came about and what they do. And it's worth paying attention to Zachary's passion for history and uncovering lesser known stories of Black pioneers in Oregon.

Maybe, hopefully, after hearing this conversation, you too will linger at that country store. That library, that school in the middle of Oregon, looking for clues to someone's story yet to be told. So, Zachary, thanks for joining us here at XRAY FM with The Detour. I actually want to start not with a formal introduction, but I was looking at Oregon Black Pioneer's website this morning, and there was some language around an upcoming event, and I just want to read two sentences to you, and maybe that's where we can start.

Here's, here's what I'm going to read. I'm quoting. "History may not be everyone's cup of tea. But we're here to celebrate those who are down to drink it, and whatever we find, we're excited to spill it." 

Zachary Stocks: Yeah. So that's that's some fun marketing copy we came up with for our virtual history program, Black History Quest. I could tell you more about it if you're interested.

Adam Davis: Yeah, I am. I'm interested both in like, well, who do you hope comes to these programs? And what do you hope they feel like?

Zachary Stocks: We hope that the audience for Black History Quest will be anyone and everyone who's interested in learning more about Oregon's Black history. And the way that we aim to share that with people is by inviting in people who've done newresearch into Oregon's Black history and then presenting their findings live. So when the people tuning in are learning these stories of lesser told individuals or events that happened that maybe they had never heard of before, that's new to Oregon Black Pioneers too.

We're learning it at the same time. So it's sort of, we all get to be part of the experience of having our mind blown a little bit by some of the things that these history investigators, as we call them, are able to turn up. 

Adam Davis: And you said anyone who's interested. 

Zachary Stocks: Yeah. The topics-- we don't really know, you know, where their research is going to go. We just provide people with leads based on stubs of information that we have in our research files. So if we have a newspaper clipping that seems like maybe there's a bigger story. Behind this. And we haven't had the ability to look into it ourselves. We find people who we know are talented researchers, whether they're professional historians or not. And they investigate those stories to figure out what, what are these actually telling us? And then they present that live at Black History Quest for, for all of us to learn together.

Adam Davis: Interesting. I like how sort of fresh that sounds like here, follow this lead. See what you come up with. We'll all kind of experience that in a moment together.

 Can I ask you, like, how did you get interested in Oregon's Black history specifically? 

Zachary Stocks: Well, I moved to the Pacific Northwest and realized that I knew nothing about its history, specifically its Black history. That was all totally a new thing to me. But I got a job at the Northwest African American Museum up in Seattle when I moved to Seattle for grad school, and I started to learn about some of the history of Black explorers who first came to the Pacific Northwest and then Black mariners. And I got really into that and even ended up working in a maritime related job afterwards. I learned about all the different traditional industries of this region. And then it was really exciting to see that people of African descent have actually been a part of all of those industries too. So that really just encouraged me to continue to do more reading, watching a lot of videos, talking to people who have done this work professionally. I've just been really absorbed in the peoples and moments that make up Oregon's Black history specifically, and how those in some ways reflect what we know about the nation's Black history, but also are very different in some ways as well.

Adam Davis: Yeah. You said at the start of that comment that you, you didn't know much about Oregon's Black history, about sort of African American history in the Pacific Northwest. And I think that might be true of a lot of the country and maybe even a lot of Oregonians. Do you remember, like, what surprised you early on as you started to learn?

Did anything stand out and you went, well, I, I didn't realize that was the situation out here. 

Zachary Stocks: Yeah. I think the most surprising thing has been realizing how long Oregon's Black history is my assumption, which is probably shared by many other people, was that Oregon's Black history begins probably around the railroad times or maybe World War II. And certainly those were moments that brought thousands of Black people from the East into the West. But there's already a history of people of African descent coming to the Pacific Northwest and to Oregon specifically that predates those movements, in some cases by centuries. And that was a revelation.

Adam Davis: Is it possible to generalize about what was bringing people of African descent out here in 1800, before that? 

Zachary Stocks: Work, work, work. Same as today, really. And that is characterized by both free and enslaved labor. Slavery does have a place in Oregon's history. There were enslaved Black people here, which is another thing that is surprising to a lot of people to learn. But we can point out individuals by name who were held as slaves in Oregon, and it's probably innumerable numbers of Black men and women who had been enslaved at some point in their lives, who then eventually made their way to Oregon either enslaved on the Oregon trail or received their freedom and then made their way West afterwards. So it is very much a part of the family histories of the first generation of Black people in the Pacific Northwest. 

Adam Davis: That is either enslaved while coming here. Or recently freed? 

Zachary Stocks: Right, as well as people who were held as slaves in Oregon. 

Adam Davis: That's interesting because that too is not part of the story in some way.

I feel likethe top line story of Oregon and slavery is, not a slave state, but also not legal to be Black in Oregon. 

Zachary Stocks: That's very true also. But honestly, Oregon has been throughout its history so removed from other parts of the US politically and physically that it allowed for people who wanted to keep enslaved Black people here the ability to do so clandestinely, right? Or even out in the open, but knowing that there wouldn't be a lot of repercussions for that. And so if you, if you take a look at a case like Holmes v. Ford, when that case was decided, the Chief Justice of the Oregon Territory Supreme Court said that slavery has no place in Oregon because there's been no legislation to enable it to exist here.

But we then, we then know of several individuals who were held here as slaves even after that. And the 1857 Oregon Constitution, people voted in 1857 to make Oregon a free state. It was ratified federally in 1859. So you would think, okay, from that point on, all people of African descent in Oregon must be free, right?

The 1860 census still counted slaves in the census. And so you have to wonder, well, how is it that this could be out in the open when Congress has created a new state that is a free state? And this is at the time when the fight over free versus slave states was leading to bloody conflicts in, in many parts of the US and escalations.

leading right into the US civil War. The fact that this happened in Oregon and it was able to take place without any sort of nationwide repercussions is really strange, but also maybe says something about the people who were here. 

Adam Davis: Feels to me like there's There's two directions we could go from, well there's many, but there's two that are occurring to me now. One is to go deeper into the end to slavery in Oregon. I'm also curious, and maybe we can go to the second one first, like what's it like to share stories like that, history like that in Oregon? 

Zachary Stocks: Well for me it's complicated because I tend to get really excited about sharing history information, and it's easy for me to get distracted and say, "Oh, by the way, and then there was this one guy and he lived over here in Oregon city. He did these cool things." 

So sometimes I find it difficult to even stay on topic, but I have to be really careful when sharing these, these harder stories because we, one, we don't want anyone to feel like the story of Black people in Oregon is one of only pain. It's not. There's a lot of stories of triumph here and of incredible people who've created remarkable things and helped to create the communities that we call home today.

So I try to be really responsible about sharing harder stories in and try to balance that by sharing all the good things that have come from the Black Oregonian experience as well. 

Adam Davis: Who are you most hoping is learning this stuff? 

Zachary Stocks: Mostly students, but I really feel likeit's critical for everyone to know this history.

Honestly, I also wish that we had an ability to share these stories more broadly with Black people across the nation, because I get frustrated sometimes when I hear people sharing facts about Black history, but in a way to sort of discourage their friends and family members from coming here. I'll see online people will comment and say things like, did you know that Oregon had a really serious Klan movement in the 1920s? Did you know that Oregon had legislation that barred Black people from settling there? That's true. But if they're using that to then say, Because of those things, Oregon is not a place where black people should be today.

I find that strange because if I were to flip that same idea, I could say, did you know there was a place where there were lynchings that happened all the time? And did you know that there was, there are states out there where the governors were mandating that students not learn about Black history, right?

But no one would say, "Oh, well, I guess I better not move to Atlanta," right? "I guess I better not move to Florida because of that." But somehow in Oregon, that's the impression that people get. 

Adam Davis: Can I ask why you think that is? Like, why is it that for Atlanta, for example, that's not how people respond, but here they might go, "Okay, yeah" then. 

Zachary Stocks: The difference is because there is large Black communities already in those other places, right? If we had a Black population in Oregon that was comparable to the Black populations in other states, particularly in the South and in the East. Then I think people would be able to give context to the historical harm that's been done to Black people, but recognize that there are still local people there today who are doing things to build artistic communities and political support and empathetic community based organizations, right?

That's happening here right now in Portland and across Oregon, but people don't really know about that unless they're here.

Adam Davis: Yeah. So partially a scale question. Do you find particular challenges or for that matter, particular opportunities about helping a populace that is not as diverse as say, Georgia's or Florida's, or I'm from Chicago so parts of Illinois, to learn more about this history that is less well known? Like, what does it feel like to do that here, given the population breakup today? 

Zachary Stocks: I think it's an opportunity. Yeah, I think that, you know, it's a challenge, but it's a good challenge. It's an opportunity for us to highlight the powerful stories of the Black people who have called Oregon home over the past 400 years and advocate that their stories are important to understanding the African American experience in this country, that Oregon has a place when we, when we look at African American history nationwide and say that that is a place that has contributed to what it is to be Black in America today.

Adam Davis: Yeah, it's interesting. This conversation will be paired with a conversation with a teacher who's been teaching Black history in Southern Oregon and also with two students who have been taking some of those courses, and talk to them a good bit about what does it mean to be thinking about Black history and Oregon's Black history here in rural Oregon, where there's some tough history and some not very well known history and some very current feelings also about education. And different kinds of history. How are you running into those sorts of challenges? 

Zachary Stocks: Well, the rural piece is really important to us. And Oregon Black Pioneers has always been a statewide organization. You know, we don't just interpret the stories that come out of Portland or Salem or Eugene. We're really interested in highlighting the things that have come out of every community in the States that Black people have been a part of. 

And so for us, that's part of the fun. We get to find stories of impactful Black men and women in every county. And then we share those resources with their local museums or heritage organizations so that they know that, hey, you know, we actually have a really important Black figure in our town too. And then that can be something that people can take pride in. Because I think that when they cannot latch when-- I say they, as in just community members anywhere, right?-- when we can latch on to specific individuals who are a part of the story of our towns, can we feel like we have a sense of pride or a relational understanding to them, right? Like there's someone that we know because we have some shared experience with them, even if they lived there 150 years ago. 

Adam Davis: Yeah. They're in our place.You know, as you were talking about doing this work statewide and thinking about both urban and rural communities, I was thinking about the word pioneers and how that word has, I think, acquired, for lots of good reasons, a more complicated set of meanings than it used to have. But I also noticed in myself that it feels different when it's prefaced by the adjective Black. How does pioneers sit in the name of your organization and more generally for you? 

Zachary Stocks: Yeah, you know, we take really seriously the double meaning of the word pioneers, right? In some cases, we're, we are literally talking about Black people who traveled on the Oregon trail and live that settler colonialism story, right? So we don't, we don't use the word pioneers flippantly, you know, sometimes we really are talking about those kinds of people and they represent the very first generation of you know, Black community members in a lot of the state's history. So, you know, we, we do take it seriously in that way, but we also want to recognize that even if we're talking about people who made a difference in the 1960s, 1970s, right, they're pioneers in their own way because they they were able to create something new for themselves and for their communities. They took risks, which I think is an important part of the pioneer spirit, if you want to think of that word and what it could represent in a noncolonialist context. 

And so we have to sort of live with that balance. You know, we're not ignorant of the fact that it's a loaded term and it relates a lot of negative connotations, particularly to Oregon's indigenous communities. But we also aren't going to pretend that Oregon's African Americans are not a part of that settler colonialism story because they are, they are. But we also recognize that there's a difference. 

One of the things that a colleague of mine likes to say is that Oregon's African Americans, particularly during the pioneer era, they are stolen people on stolen land. Right? So we understand that this is not a place that anyone was invited to come to, but for that generation of Black Oregonians they never had a choice to come here at all. 

Adam Davis: Yeah, it is like layers of complexity. Do you have big hopes that sometimes you might not even name on a daily basis about what that organizational work and the unearthing of stories and the sharing of stories, what do you hope that moves us toward?

Zachary Stocks: I hope it gives people a greater sense of perspective. That when we think about the diversity of Oregon, that it's actually impressive in some ways, you know, we hear "Oregon's so White, Portland's so White," and it is, it is, especially compared to other places, but that doesn't mean that people of color haven't lived here. They've always lived here, right? Before there was such a thing as Oregon. And remarkable things have happened here. 

I just think that if we can share those stories, that people will be really surprised at the frequency of them, right? Seeing just how many stories there are. And hopefully that will change people's impression of what this place is and whether or not they want to make it their forever home.

Because I hear from people all the time, Black folks will come here for work for school. And they have a bad time, you know, a lot of people that I meet will say, well, you know, I'm not really liking it that much and they plan to leave. I don't want them to leave, you know, I want folks to feel really good here and to stick around and help make this a more vibrant cultural and heritage community for everybody.

And you know, to me, an important part of that is understanding that, that there is a place for us here and that we have roots here. 

Adam Davis: Yeah. And those two things, it sounded like in your comment, are quite related: one, that we have a place here; two, that we have roots here. But self understanding is hard, and it's maybe especially hard to change self understanding.

Have you seen-- maybe this is an impossible question to answer, but I'm curious-- have you seen what you think of as any shift in how Oregonians understand this place, especially with African American experience in mind? 

Zachary Stocks: Well, within the seven years that I've lived in Oregon, I definitely have noticed that more people are aware of Oregon's Black history, but only within the context of its most negative moments. A lot of people know about Oregon's black exclusion laws now, right? Or they've heard about this. They've heard about the KKK in Oregon. I think that's important that people are talking about these things with one another. Even White Oregonians are talking about these things with one another, right? I think that's a sign of progress. 

Now I Want to parlay that into sharing more positive stories as well, right? Because we can talk about the negative things anytime, but that is not going to encourage, like I said, Black people in other parts of the country to say, "You know what? I think Oregon is a place that is good for me."

But I think that when we can create opportunities to say, "Hey, did you know that there are people who've come and made a big difference in civil rights or have helped to start really prominent businesses in local communities or were big landowners out in Central Oregon or in Southern Oregon?" Those are cool stories. And I think that it lets people know like, you know, maybe I, maybe I didn't give Oregon enough thought, or maybe I maybe I underestimated this place.

Adam Davis: Are there a couple of specific stories that for you are like, yeah, this is a sign of the opportunity, this is some of the good stuff going on here that you'd be game to share?

Zachary Stocks: Yeah. We're learning all about a Central Oregon Black miner right now by the name of John Brown. This is an ongoing work that we're doing. It's going to be part of the next episode of Black History Quest. And we were already familiar with the story of John Brown because there's a canyon. 

So what we're learning now is that after John Brown left Crook County, where he was living in what is today known as John Brown Canyon, he went to Deschutes County. And that was kind of new information to us. We'd seen references to it, but we didn't really have any sources that we could point out. But a lot of new information has been uncovered by community members who live in Deschutes County who just decided that they were going to start digging into this story.

And the things that we found have been unreal. We've learned so much more about his life, about his family, about the way that he worked and his his generosity. And to me, what that does is it lets people know like, wow, you know, I, if you live in central Oregon, if you live in Bend or Madras, to know that in the 1860s, 1870s, there was a Black homesteader who owned land, who knew all the people whose names dot the streets and, you know, the buildings and the geographic landmarks, right? That they had a Black contemporary who they knew and respected. That opens up new opportunities to say, well, can we create new commemorations for this person? Like, can we name anything after them? Or can we find out who else might we be missing?

All that information is out there, and sometimes it just takes a little lead, you know, a hunch, and that is the first shovel full of dirt that leads down the rabbit hole to something much bigger. 

Let's see. Oh, here's one. So we just learned recently In Clatsop County, there was a man who worked as a dining car steward on the Seattle, Portland, and Spokane line. So he worked back and forth between Portland and Seaside. Okay. Well, it turns out he saw an opportunity to create beach tent rentals for Black vacationers who wanted to head out to the Oregon coast. This was in the 1920s. And so he purchased a lot and he strung up these massive tents that people could rent. 

And it's one of those things where it makes perfect sense. Like, okay, well, you know, JW Curry's tents. But when you see it on a street map, cause we started looking into this and we found like property maps that show the tent sites. Now it seems like, wow, this is. This is a real thing, you know, it's not just information that gets passed from person to person. It's part of the physical landscape of Seaside now. I can't go to Seaside and not think about that now. There's a bagel shop on top of the spot where, you know, the tent site used to be. And so every time I pass that place now, I'm like, Oh, you know, that's where, that's where JW Curry's tents were.

Adam Davis: And is it a hope that Seaside will know that? 

Zachary Stocks: Well, yeah. I mean, they probably don't know anything about it now. This is just me geeking out with the director or the curator of the Clatsop County Historical Society, right? But it opens up so many new questions in your mind when you have that little bit of information.

And for me, it says, you know, I've never stopped to think about what were Black vacationers doing? In Portland during the great depression and earlier, like, where did they go when they had leisure time? Did they have leisure time? Who would have been the Black families, presumably, that had the leisure time to not be at work and to board a train and then to make their way all the way out to the Oregon coast? How long did they stay? Where did they go to eat? All those sorts of questions spiral. One after the other, after the other, and it all starts just with the reference that we saw in a newspaper clipping about this in The Advocate

Adam Davis: It's beautiful. It's a beautiful chain, sort of pearls to follow, and it makes me want to ask, like, for people listening, wherever they are in Oregon, how do they go from, I'm curious about Black history in our time, how do they go from that impulse to finding what becomes the first step toward learning that about JW Curry's tents? 

Zachary Stocks: Yeah, I'll let you in on a little secret. There's not a lot of people or organizations that have looked into this over the years. You know, we're one organization that has been doing this and there's been a few others, but there's still so much that we don't know. And even if there are individuals whose names we might be familiar with and we might know where they lived, chances are there hasn't been thorough research done into their stories. 

If there are people listening to this who have heard of some of the, you know, people like Letitia Carson, Louis Southworth, these big names, a lot of research has been done about them, right? But if you go into your local history museum and you see a picture of a group of men and there's one Black man in the back and it just has a first name, I guarantee you, we don't know who that person is. We might have seen the same photo as you, but I doubt that we've had the time to look into it. Anyone can look into it! And what our program, Black History Quest, demonstrates is that you don't even have to be a professional historian to do this work. 

And so we're really excited to share, not just stories of Oregon's Black history, but share how does historical research happen. And usually, Everything that we need is available to us between our library and our laptop, and anyone has the potential to uncover something amazing. 

Adam Davis: It's good, it's good for so many reasons. I'm thinking about our brief exchange before we started recording that you're living in Astoria. Your organization's office is now here in North Portland. When you walk around both of those places, like how many layers of history are you seeing when you walk out to go get a cup of coffee or walk to your office or something like that? 

Zachary Stocks: So many, so many. And that's, it's really exciting for me. And like I said before, sometimes I get a little distracted because if I'm walking around with other people, I might say, Hey, you know what happened here like thrity-five years ago, not just around Black history too. But, you know, I'm sort of, I have this issue for all sorts of things, whether it's maritime or architecture or, oh, who knows, sports. All of it, all of it. 

But I mean, there's so many places out here that I think of as really historic towns, where cool things have happened. So many cool things have happened in Oregon that we have forgotten about most of them. And when you sit down and you start doing newspaper research, you uncover the most baffling stories. The strangest things ever. Sometimes they're hilarious. Sometimes they're really frightening. And sometimes they're really inspiring. 

So I don't want to be one of those people that says like, "Oh, this town is really boring and nothing has ever happened there." I don't believe that. I think every town is really historic and has had really cool things happen there. 

Adam Davis: How do you think, shy of getting to go for a walk with you, like, how do you get more people to have that recognition and even maybe that excitement about the layers and the life that's there in all these different places?

Zachary Stocks: It comes naturally to me. So I'm always sort of surprised when some people aren't into history. Like, "What? That's not interesting to you? You like math or something? What is that?" Science. I don't know. I don't know how to make those things, you know, more interesting to people. I can only hope to make them more relevant to people.

 So I try whenever I'm doing interpretive work, trying to share these stories with people on a one on one capacity, I try really hard to figure out what are they interested in and then reveal to them the things that I know that match those interests. And usually that will connect to something that means more to them than not, but I really think it's not for everyone, but I wish it was. Because I think when we know our history and when we know other people's history, we feel more grounded in place. We feel more assured of who we are and where we come from. And I think that there's a lot that we can be proud of. 

So I get really inspired learning about asian American history and Native American history and Jewish American history. I think all of that stuff is great. And, you know, I would encourage other people to go outside of maybe the things that they think that they're interested in already and seek out new information because they might be surprised. 

Adam Davis: Okay, I want to ask one more question about your history. When did you realize that history was the thing that lit you up? How did that come to be your own self understanding?

Zachary Stocks: You know, it's been a part of of me as long as I can remember. I grew up in Virginia and we used to go to Museums, presidential libraries. That was just our weekend activity. And so I've been doing that my whole life. My dad bought and sold the antiques forever. So I was around a lot of old furniture in old places and getting to be around the objects themselves really has a lot of power. I think that there's something in the physical objects that can convey stories and meaning. And so that is just an always been an important part of my life. 

Adam Davis: And you get to do it for your profession. 

Zachary Stocks: It's the best. 

Adam Davis: Maybe the last thing I want to ask is, if you have, as you do your work, a kind of ongoing question, or recently something that you've been wondering about in your work that feels kind of open, that you just notice, it's there as a question.

Zachary Stocks: It's probably the question of, " What am I missing?" You know, there's, I know that there's more big stories out there like the stories of Letitia Carson, you know, these figures who did transformative things to for justice and for land ownership opportunities. There's no way we've uncovered them all.

Adam Davis: And so I'm always wondering, like, which are the places That we haven't looked at, or, you know, what is, what is going to be that one old country store that I walk in and I find the photograph that's going to start everything, or, you know, what's going to be the email that someone says and says like, "Oh I attached this document I found. Do you know anything about this?" that is going to change everything that we know about Oregon's Black history. Cause I think it's out there. I don't think that we're done. Zachary Stocks is the Executive Director of Oregon Black Pioneers. He lives in Astoria. 

Now we're going to hear from Kellen Akiyama. Kellen has been an educator for twenty-three years and has spent the last ten years at Gladiola High, an alt-ed school in the small Southern Oregon city of Grants Pass. 

A few years ago, Kellen was assigned US history at Gladiola. You'll hear that Kellen wasn't exceptionally excited about this. This class didn't reflect his understanding of American history. Or the stories of students he taught, or even his own story. So he suggested starting a new class, African American Studies. And went about getting it passed. Here's Kellen now, with students Monique and Jasmyne. 

Kellen Akiyama: After I got done with remote learning, I said, I would really like to teach African American Studies in this district that I'm at right now, because I have experience doing it. The class wasn't approved. I do teach US history, and so that year I was assigned US history, and I really wasn't looking forward to it. And so part of that impetus was that, let's see if I could maybe get African American studies approved by the district. 

And so that was August. And so when August came around and the board meeting met, there were several board meetings across the country that were pretty much on fire with culture wars with divisive politics. And a lot of people that were complaining about masks and protesting masks around the country.And our district was no different. Our district definitely had some divisive politics in it, but like every rural district, I got up in front of our board in August and I just calmly gave my rationale as to why I should, or why our district should have African American studies as a class for US history credit, which every student in the state of Oregon has to take a year of US history. So I said, why not? Why? I have some experience. In teaching African American studies, and so I decided let's see if we can get African American studies passed as a US history credit, and they approved right there on the spot.

Adam Davis: So you're smiling when you say they approved. I did see two students outside a second ago, and it might be Monique and Jasmyne. Is it worth a look? And that's fine. Okay, maybe we could invite them in. Hey, how's it going? We're gonna stand and talk and I'll just put the mic towards you while we talk. Does that sound good?

Can I say thanks? My name's Adam.

Jasmyne: I'm Jasmyne. 

Monique: I'm Monique. 

Adam Davis: Monique, Jasmyne, thank you. What are you called in the classroom? 

Kellen Akiyama: Mr. Akiyama, or most everybody just calls me Aki. 

Adam Davis: Aki. And so, you've both taken classes with Aki, and have you taken specifically African American History class? Can I ask, did you take that voluntarily? How do you end up in that class? 

Jasmyne: I chose it. We were given an option of either US history or African American Studies, and I've already taken a lot of US history classes, so I was really interested by the new option. 

Adam Davis: And, and Monique, right? How did you decide to take that class? 

Monique: I had just switched over to this school from Grants Pass High School, and so I just got put in it. I didn't really know, but I ended up having the class and I loved it. It was fun. 

Adam Davis: And you said you switched over from Grants Pass, which is a much bigger high school. Was there an African American Studies history class at Grants Pass that you know of? 

Monique: There was not any. 

Adam Davis: And will you tell me a little bit about the school, the size and sort of the mission of the school?

Kellen Akiyama: Yeah, Gladiola was originally set up as a smaller, alt-ed high school to remediate or get students that have lost credits as a junior and senior to catch up and basically graduate on time or be a fifth year senior. It was originally a packet school, and when I say that, students were just given packets to do in classrooms. And that was like over ten years ago, but we've really developed into a more social-emotional place, kind of like more supportive school. We have more staff, we have more counselors here. There's a lot of students with traumas in their life. A lot of students that have, you know, issues at home or at risk factors.

So that's where we're at now. Just kind of evolved really into a remedial. Or, like, basically a credit retrieval school into more of a smaller learning environment that's supporting kids. 

Adam Davis: And we're sort of in, or on the outskirts of Grants Pass, would that be right to say? Are we in Grants Pass?

Kellen Akiyama: We're in Grants Pass. We're just on the southeast side. 

Adam Davis: I want to go back to the class for a minute. So, you said you were in it not because you chose it, you got put in it, but you liked it. What did you like about it?

Monique: I liked it because I am half African American and at the high school you don't really get to learn about that type part of history. And so when I came here and I got the opportunity to be in that class, I felt like I was learning more about my culture and it was really nice. 

Adam Davis: We got to keep talking about that as we go. How about you? You said you had already taken plenty of history. You want to take some new history? What did you find new? What did you like most about it? 

Jasmyne: So I really liked the fact that we got to dive into more of the different aspects of history. So it wasn't just the run of the mill like, oh, slavery happened, wars happened. We got to look more into like the musical history, like the different big people, like the bigger people in history.

And it wasn't just a bunch of older White guys that we were learning about. We got to look at a new perspective. And that was really interesting to me. I chose the class because of that, because I wanted to kind of look at history from a different standpoint, and not just the same story that we've been told over and over again.

Adam Davis: You talked about perspectives, and I'm also thinking about the place, and I want to ask both of you for starters, like, what does it feel like to study this, to study Black history in Grants Pass? You smiled first, Monique, so I gotta ask you first.

Monique: I think it's interesting because it's not a very diverse place here in Grants Pass. So when you're learning about African American culture and like the roots and like all the stuff that they went through and how they influenced and impacted, like, how we are now, and then coming from somewhere that's not very diverse and then learning about a very.

Open culture is weird, and when you go out, you can definitely tell that it's really different compared to like other places where it's more diverse, like in Portland or Eugene, where they have lots of mix of everybody, it's more, makes you feel like more people. Open and not like just isolated, but Grants Pass is nice. It's just not, it's just like more isolated. There's not as much people here. 

Adam Davis: And so the word you used was weird and maybe we can stick with that. It's like, I mean, I guess Jasmyne, did it feel weird or how did it feel to you to be studying this, this history specifically in this place? 

Jasmyne: So coming from a predominantly White community, it was definitely really like eye-opening to see how many things that we have that is from other cultures. Like a lot of the music that we studied, I had heard, I just didn't know that it came from African American roots. And so it was really interesting to me being able to like, see that and like, see where that came from because, like in Grants Pass, we have a lot of things that are like from African American cultures that we had no idea were from them.

Adam Davis: So Aki, right before we started, you were saying how you got this class approved, and that it wasn't being taught even at the much bigger high school, at Grants Pass High School. I guess I want to ask two things to you. One is did you run into challenges, have you run into challenges, either with approval or teaching it, related to the political climate here? Let's just start with that. Any challenges around teaching this related to the political climate in this region of Oregon? 

Kellen Akiyama: No, and I'll just first say that I got a lot of support from my principal, Dr. Michael Shunk, and from my curriculum director, Trish Evans. They really liked the idea and they really wanted and helped support me to get in front of the board with a proposal, with a scope and sequence, with a textbook. And what happened. Is Trish actually went in front of a parent board, a parent committee, and to get this approved because a parent committee has to approve this class. So they approved it. For now, it's just, it's been great to hear what students go home with. So one of those things is. Students actually go home and they talk about it at the dinner table and then they actually come back and tell me what was said at the dinner table.

Adam Davis: So let me ask, what do you talk about at the dinner table if you are among the students that go home and talk about it and what's the response? 

Jasmyne: So I was talking a lot about like what we were learning in class. So like I was talking about like Malcolm X's life and like all the different things that the Black Panthers were doing. And I know that my parents, specifically, were really concerned that about me taking the class my dad specifically was worried that it would be mostly just politics and was worried that I would be not necessarily swayed but like influenced to see a certain standpoint. And so luckily we were able to talk him into letting me take the class cause we all just signed permission slips.

Adam Davis: Can I ask how did you talk him into letting you take the class? 

Jasmyne: I mostly just told him that I wanted, despite the fact that it could end up being a lot of politics, I wanted to immerse myself in another culture, and I wanted to get that other standpoint, and that I was, I felt like I was old enough to make my own decisions based off of what I was going to be learning, and make my own decision on if I wanted to pursue that or not. And my mom backed me on it. And I'm really glad that I took the class. 

Adam Davis: That's where's your dad on it now? If you know what he thinks of it now. 

Jasmyne: I think overall he's glad that I took the class because I was able to bring some interesting points to the political conversations that we have.

We are a family of strong minded people and so we all have slightly different views on things. But I was able to back it up with the different researches that we did and like I was able to prove to him some things That he wasn't sure about and so that was really cool for me. 

Adam Davis: Do you remember what one or two of those things are?

Jasmyne: We talked a lot about, like, when we did a project on our musical artists that were African American from before the '90s or before the 2000s. I did my presentation on Michael Jackson, and so I was able to talk to him about Michael Jackson's life and, like, that he didn't necessarily do skin bleaching. Is he had a medical condition that then he used creams to even out. 

Adam Davis: That's actually a really helpful example. Michael Jackson from Gary, Indiana. I'm from Chicago. So I just felt a little kinship with-- how about, do you remember conversations both before you took the class and then once it started at home?

Monique: So before I took the class, my mom's concern was that it was gonna be really harsh stuff to learn about and she I was scared that I was just going to only, that the class was only going to go over the negative sides of the class. And I was like, well, I would never know if we don't take the class. And I was like, this could be really informational stuff, like new things that I could learn. And so, it took her like twenty minutes, but it was good after that. My dad supported it, he thought it was cool, but my mom was just worried that it was going to be Negative. 

Adam Davis: And negative and difficult. Is that part of what you mean? 

Monique: And so after I took the class as soon as we got to the music unit, I was like, this is for me. This is my favorite class. I love music with my whole entire life. And anybody in my family could tell you that I am always listening to music. I did my presentation on Lauren Hill. I love Lauren Hill. But yeah. Just everything about the class is so it's like calm and then when I go home and talk about it my parents are like I'm so glad that you got into this class and I was like, I know it's so fun and then like, I like school, but I love that class because all the other stuff is kind of boring. You do it every, every day, every year, but it's just like, that was something new that I got to learn about. And so when I came home and I was talking to my parents about school, I never talked about school, but I would talk about that class. 

Adam Davis: That is super interesting. Can I just ask, why did you talk about this class when you went home, given that you weren't talking about your other stuff at school?

Monique: I think it's just the fact that it was something new and something that I was interested in. And because it's part of my culture, I was excited to learn more things about it. English and math are not that great. Yeah, but it is useful, but it's just not exciting to learn about. And that class is really, like, you get to learn about so many different things. You get to learn about people's lives, you get to learn about the challenges they went through. And they could be similar to, like, think that you're going through. So to see it from their point of view and how they handled the situations is nice. 

Adam Davis: And so, Monique, you just talked about, in a way, seeing yourself in this. And I want to ask for you, Aki, I don't know how you identify culturally or racially, but I want to ask the question about that. Like, did you both how you identify and then how does that have you thinking about you teaching this class? 

Kellen Akiyama: Well, I am very complicated person because I am adopted. I grew up identifying as being what we would call like a hapa, which is half Japanese or definitely like a very assimilated Japanese from a third-- I'm third generation Japanese.

So my father was assimilated really, really intensely in this country because he lived through World War II and post World War II. So he actually gave me my foundation about how race affects everybody in this country. He was an interned himself. He was Japanese. American, but I will say that I have some Chinese and I'm also Hispanic and I'm also White, so Irish basically. So I sometimes don't really identify with people that had come over on the Mayflower and that traditional like origin myth of our country.

Adam Davis: I want to ask about Grants Pass. And I want to ask about, like, what do you think about Grants Pass when you think about what you've been studying in this class? That feels like a general question, but I'm curious what comes to mind as you think about. And that's good, we're in school, we're hearing some things outside, that's good. Like, what do you think about Grants Pass and maybe race? Or what you're thinking about in this class, if that's not too vague a question.

Monique: Grants Pass is a very small town, and majority is White. Even at the high school, there's probably like twelve Black students when I was going there last year out of all of the grades, and I was like, that is insane. So switching over here, there's definitely less, but it's cool to have. Just even a small amount of people that you can connect with on that type of level that you can't connect with everybody on.

So it's nice to have them here, even if you're not really close, you get close because this is such a small place. And When you travel you find more of that and sometimes people you meet them and then like, oh my gosh. We need to hang out and visit, because it's just there's not as much culture here So then once you venture out a little bit like if you go to Eugene, that's not that far or like Roseburg or even Medford 

Kellen Akiyama: So, Monique, have you ever experienced any type of racial slurs or discrimination or people, you know, like we call them microaggressions. But any microaggressions towards you in this town? 

Monique: I have couple times we go to the store with my parents and people are like, what the heck? But it's not like we did anything, we're just grocery shopping, but people are just not used to seeing so many people, like, in one place, where it's just like, that's Black people over there. So, it's kind of common because people do like to stare, but people stare regardless of They stare at everything. People are nosy. 

When I used to work my freshman year, I had worked at a restaurant, and a guy had came in, and he was really upset because he got his order wrong. And so, I was not a server. I was a host, so I don't make the orders. But he was upset with me, and I was like, I can get somebody to fix that for you, but that is not my job. But because I worked there, he was already upset, and he had said some nasty things to me. But I'm not gonna react, because he just wants a reaction out of me. So, I took the night off after that, and I was just like, I'm not going to work the next day, because That was a handful. He was a lot. But other than that, I haven't had anything like crazy. 

Adam Davis: Jasmyne, can I ask you a version of the question that Aki just asked? Like, growing up here, what's your sense of maybe the people around you, most attitudes toward race, if it's possible to generalize?

Jasmyne: I think that Grants Pass is a very much predominantly White community. We don't have a lot of diversity, which I think is really unfortunate. I think this community could benefit a lot from having a more diverse community. I think the surrounding areas, just around me at least, I find a lot of racism and, like, not necessarily, like, discrimination, but I think a lot of people have this idea built up in their brains, whether that's from generational stuff or just not being exposed to other cultures or anything, that they don't necessarily understand other cultures.

I've definitely experienced a lot of the little underhanded andlike vague racism. I've heard a lot of it, unfortunately. And even coming from a White background, I've experienced a lot of like, when I'm with friends of color or just other cultures, whether that's Chinese, Mexican, whatever. They are treated differently than I am. And it makes me really upset. And like, I try to stand up for them, because I'm like, that's not okay. But it happens a lot, unfortunately, especially because, like I said, I don't think people understand and they're not necessarily given certain resources, like Aki's class, to learn more about other cultures, which I think, like I said, people could really benefit from. 

Adam Davis: And Aki, you were nodding while both Jasmyne and Monique were talking. Are you feeling that attitudes and grants pass around race? Have shifted in any noticeable way over the last few or several years? 

Kellen Akiyama: Maybe. We have Josephine County equity project working in Josephine County. We have the GP Remembrance P roject that's run by Taylor Stewart, comes down, and we do Martin Luther King, like there was a Martin Luther King celebration last year at Art at the high school in in the PAC. 

And so Monique is actually our new Black student union president. And so and we're just getting that off the ground. Monique's just getting that off the ground right now. And we're going to try to, so I think it just takes little steps for a big change. 

But one thing that I think Jasmyne is really so right on about is that there's things that we notice about people that notice differences and they might hold them in private or, like Jasmyne said, they might hold them in private and then maybe be vague out to in public. And that's how it goes. We all know that racism has gone underground since reconstruction, and we know Grants Pass's history. All you have to do is look at the history and know that this was a imagined headquarters for the Neo Nazis in the '90s. There's KKK groups in the outlying areas, and we even have student in our class whose grandmother was a part of that KKK group in north of here. And so she shared with us in class that she had to approach her grandmother. And so there's kind of some personal reconciliation because she took the same class too. And we were all basically concerned about like, well, how are you going to be with your grandmother now?

And so I think like Jasmyne really has got a good point about, you see it. You know, you hear it behind closed doors. You know, it's there. So I think it's just going to take a little bit out of at a time, you know just a little, you know, changing ideas. You know, one person at a time, I think is all we can do for now.

But I do see things shifting, and I definitely see things shifting in Medford and in that valley, which I hope, I mean, I teach up here and I live in Jacksonville, but Monique is also a part of BASE Oregon, which is a youth group in Medford. And so I think Monique actually can see a little bit more changed slowly in Medford, because both Medford and Grants Pass were sundown towns, which excluded Black people from even staying the night in the town.

So, you know, so we, that's where we're coming from. Just like America's coming from a place, Grants Pass is coming from a place of exclusion. We have to, it's going to take some time. I just think it's going to, it's going to take people like Jasmyne and Monique to just kind of do this one at a time, you know.

Adam Davis: I want to ask each of you to Like, think of a word you would most like to be the word that describes your community. How about you Monique, a word or two that you would like your community to be? 

Monique: My word would probably be changing. We're always gonna have challenges and things that we go through as a community, but I feel like we are super good at seeing an issue and going about it really quickly not even just in Grants Pass, but even just the schools, we're really good about if you have a problem, go straight to a person and talk to them about it and people do see things from different point of views, but if they give you a chance to speak and you can listen from both sides it's really nice because you guys can try to get understanding from one another.

Adam Davis: Great. Thank you. What do you think? A word or two that you would. 

Kellen Akiyama: Well, I've been working in Grants Pass for a while, and I live in Jacksonville, or the Medford area. But I really felt a certain way when I first moved here way back in the 2000s. And, and I feel a different way now. I feel like things are evolving.

So I would say, I'm, I would think my word is evolving, in the sense of, like, we, you know, like there's some people who don't have a choice to just say, "Oh, I'm going to leave here and go to New York city" or "I'm going to leave here and go to Portland or San Francisco, because there's no Black people here."

But see, I think what Monique is doing by having this BSU is what we're. What we want to do is, is make Grants Pass and Medford a place that we can live. 

Adam Davis: Kellen Akiyama is a humanities educator in the Grants Pass School District. He lives in Central Point. You can find links to Kellen and Zachary's work in our show notes at

And every other episode of The Detour, online, at the same place, The Detour is produced by Keiren Bond. Kyle Gilmer is our editor. Ben Waterhouse, Karina Briski, and Alexandra Sylvester are our assistant producers. I'm your host, Adam Davis. Thanks for listening. See you next time.


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