It has been a breathtakingly exciting week at ROP! As I write this, our tour of Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?: A Hidden History has traveled to four of its six stops to standing room-only crowds. From Grants Pass to Redmond to Astoria to Albany, crowds from 60 people up to a whopping 257 last night in Albany showed up to learn more about Oregon’s hidden history, and to dig into ways we can organize to address the legacy of white supremacy that remains present in our communities today.
Check out the photos and some snippets from tour stop organizers from across the state below! And, if you live on the coast, you can see Walidah Imarisha present Monday in Newport and Tuesday in Bay City — details below.
The first tour stop in Grants Pass! Over 75 people came out, most of whom stayed longer to have a conversation rooted in next steps in the Rogue Valley. Questions included: how do you relate to this history? How do you see the legacy of this history today in Josephine County? What can we do locally to build communities where everyone can live fully with safety and dignity? A follow-up organizing potluck is scheduled for September 17th at 6:30PM at 737 NW Kinney St., Grants Pass.
Over 60 folks showed up to the Redmond tour stop, where they ran out of chairs! Local Latin@ human dignity group leaders connected the dots between what they are experiencing and organizing around in central Oregon and the black history presented by Walidah.
Over 75 folks showed up in Astoria!
Wow! Over 257 people came out last night in Albany! Leadership from the Albany Human Relations Commission, the Hispanic Advisory Council, the Corvallis City Council and more were in attendance and participated in the organizing conversation following the presentation. A follow-up organizing meeting is scheduled for Sunday, September 28th at 4pm in the Albany Public Library meeting room.
Alex Budd, one of the Grants Pass organizers, wrote:
What a great night! Some 70 people came out for Walidah Imarisha’s conversation project ‘Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon?’ last night in Grants Pass. Like much of rural Oregon, neither Grants Pass nor the Rogue Valley have a reputation for racial justice or diversity. That question, ‘why aren’t there more people of color here?’ isn’t a rhetorical one, but something that many in our communities have struggled to understand. Walking through a timeline going back to Oregon’s founding was an eye-opening and ‘mind-bending’ experience–whether through laws that prevented Blacks from owning businesses or ‘Sundown Town’ customs that prohibited non-whites after dark, Walidah brought to light the ways that people of color have been systematically deterred or driven away from Oregon and our communities and engaged community members in this hidden history few knew existed.
The room was full of energy. Most of the crowd stayed after Walidah’s talk to discuss how the living legacy of racism and Black exclusion persists in our community today. Going even further, small groups brainstormed ways to address those injustices and make Josephine County a place that is inclusive and just for all; some discussed the need for further education and awareness efforts, while others talked about building community networks to respond to specific injustices when they occur, as well as the need to connect the living legacy of racism here with the struggles of other communities against injustice, such as in Ferugson, Missouri. Phone numbers and email addresses were exchanged, and there are already plans to meet again in two weeks to begin moving forward on some of these ideas and creating a community we can all be part of.
Bruce Morris, one of the Redmond organizers, wrote:
On a Friday evening, Central Oregonians gathered from Madras, Terrebonne, Prineville, Redmond and Bend to experience “Why Wren’t There More Black People in Oregon: A Hidden History” by Professor Walidah Imarisha. Our community is so thirsty for knowledge and solutions to healing oppressive structures and building welcoming communities that we ran out of chairs in the Redmond Library meeting room and had people sitting on the floor and standing in corners.
Professor Imarisha has created a brilliant and deep history of black people in Oregon and the way in which white people in Oregon excluded and punished black people throughout our state’s history continuing even today. She presents this often unsettling story at a human level with incredible poise, eloquence and humor. And, she tells stories of hope in the ways oppressed and isolated populations can build supportive communities. The audience response include shock and grief, and also determination to heal Oregon’s racist structures and create the welcoming state they want to see.
In a follow-up discussion, our community members pondered the ways racism shows up in Central Oregon, from a young Latina server being met with surprise by white customers because she has a typically English name, to discussions of taking away driver cards and disproportionate arrest and punishment for non-white people in Central Oregon. We also discussed a range of potential solutions from bringing more education about racism and oppression to our young people in schools to working in the driver card campaign to holding political to account for their positions on racial justice and working to elect those who believe in justice.
As a first step in building on this moving presentation, a large number of Central Oregon community, interfaith, and labor groups are co-sponsoring an anti-racist training called ‘Racism 101: the Real Story’, facilitated by Ahjamu Umi, a human rights activist with a lifetime of experience working for liberation for African people all over the world. The training will take place September 27 from 9-2 at First Presbyterian Church in Bend. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or cosjc.org.
We are THRILLED that the tour is resulting in such impactful and meaningful conversation that is already taking root in community organizing strategy. Stay tuned for the compiled notes from all of our conversations! AND, check out the last two stops below!
Have you ever wondered why the Black population in Oregon is so small? Oregon has a history not only of Black exclusion and discrimination, but also of a vibrant Black culture that helped sustain many communities throughout the state — a history that is not taught in schools.
With the recent murder of Mike Brown and the police backlash to the collective community outrage in Ferugson, attacks on Gazans, and refugee children traumatized at the border by racist mobs and inhumane detention centers fresh on our minds, several communities will dig in deep and explore what racial justice can look like in Oregon. For example, the Grants Pass stop will learn about and digest how several Southern Oregon communities were once “Sundown Towns” and had active local chapters of the KKK, then they will discuss ways that folks can begin to break down some of the obstacles they face when advancing work that seeks to the build the community local leaders want to live in — a community where everyone is able to live their lives fully with safety and dignity.
Monday, September 8th at 7:00PM
Newport, Lincoln County
Oregon Coast Community College, Community Room, 400 SE College Way
Sponsored by Immigration Information Response Team
Tuesday, September 9th at 6:00PM
Bay City, Tillamook County
Bay City Arts Center, 5680 A St.
Sponsored by the Tillamook County Women’s Resource Center