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

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

Transcript

Transcript for A Place for Us coming soon.

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