African Americans in Oregon

African Americans in Oregon
The family of America Waldo Bogle, one of the first African Americans to settle in Oregon.
Total population
137,000 including partially Black people (3.2% of Oregon's population); 81,000 alone (1.9%)
Regions with significant populations
North and Northeast PortlandGresham
Related ethnic groups
African Americans

African Americans in Oregon or Black Oregonians are residents of the state of Oregon who are of African American ancestry. In 2017, there were an estimated 91,000 African Americans in Oregon.[1]


Politicians from Portland meet with the Ku Klux Klan.

Blacks likely began arriving in Oregon in the 1500s as free and enslaved passengers of English and Spanish ships.[2] The first confirmed presence of a person of African descent in Oregon is Marcus Lopius, a crew member from Cabo Verde aboard the American ship Lady Washington that reached Oregon in 1788. An enslaved man known as York came to Oregon in 1803 as part of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Other early Black explorers came overland to Oregon as free trappers or as laborers for John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company and the British Hudson Bay Company.[3]

Both enslaved and free Black people settled in Oregon in the 1840s and 50s. Although slavery had been outlawed in Oregon since the 1843 Organic Laws of Oregon, at least 40 enslaved Black people were brought to the Oregon Country. Some remained enslaved for years after their arrival.[4]

In 1844, George Washington Bush traveled west on the Oregon Trail. After hearing about Oregon's exclusion law he decided not to settle in the Oregon Territory, and settled in what would become Washington Territory instead.

African-Americans, like Blacks in other states, were historically discriminated against, but much more strongly contrasted to the rest of the US. When Oregon became a state in 1859, it was the only US state restricting people of certain ethnic backgrounds from owning land.

According to Perseverance, “By 1860, African Americans were present in fourteen of the nineteen Oregon counties.”[5]

The Oregon black exclusion laws were attempts to prevent black people from settling within the borders of the settlement and eventual U.S. state of Oregon. The first such law took effect in 1844, when the Provisional Government of Oregon voted to exclude black settlers from Oregon's borders. The law authorized a punishment for any black settler remaining in the territory to be whipped with "not less than twenty nor more than thirty-nine stripes" for every six months they remained.[6] Additional laws aimed at African Americans entering Oregon were ratified in 1849 and 1857. The last of these laws was repealed in 1926. The laws, born of anti-slavery and anti-black beliefs, were often justified as a reaction to fears of black people instigating Native American uprisings.[7] The restrictions and laws prohibiting people of African descent from residing in the state caused socio economic issues that still exist today.[8]

In the early 20th century, the African American population became heavily represented in the timber industry, transforming it into one of Oregon's most diverse trades.[9][10]

Vanport, Portland[edit]

The establishment of Vanport coincided with an unprecedented influx of African-Americans into Oregon, attracted to work in newly federally-desegregated wartime defence industries. Due to exclusionary racial laws, the state had a population of fewer than 1,800 Black people in 1940; by 1946 more than 15,000 lived in the Portland area, mostly in Vanport and other segregated housing districts.[11] One prewar observer, Portland Urban League secretary Edwin C. Berry, described Portland as a " 'northern' city with a 'southern' exposure", arguing that the city shared with southern cities "traditions, attitudes, and things interracial in character." Berry argued that prior to the war the city exhibited remarkably unprogressive racial attitudes.[12]

The hastily constructed wartime development's social and cultural mores had little in common with Portland as a whole. Vanport's immigrants imported their particular brands of racism from throughout the country. White migrants from the South were the most vocal in opposing the degree of integration that HAP dictated for schools, buses and work sites. The Authority was largely unsympathetic to these complaints and at no time was de jure segregation imposed on any of Vanport's facilities. When police were called because Black men were dancing with white women at a local event, only the white women were detained and warned that their conduct might lead to a race riot.[13]

HAP never had any explicit policy advocating segregation; nonetheless, for various reasons de facto segregation was the norm. Whites complained when placed near "Black" areas, and segregation of Vanport by neighborhood might as well have been enforced legally.[14] Only in 1944 were complaints raised about the segregation situation in the city. Reacting to the criticism—and pressure from Eleanor Roosevelt—by April 1944, HAP began placing incoming Blacks into the "white" areas of the settlement. However, word quickly spread and 63 white residents quickly signed a petition demanding a reversal of the policy. Entire buildings were free in the "Black" areas of town, they argued, and after opponents of the integration plan appeared at a HAP meeting the authority decided to resume its previous policies.[15]

The unprecedented level of integration and lack of any major racial incidents or severe tensions did not mean there were no problems. Black/white tensions were still a part of Vanport life as well as a problem in relating to Portland. A 1943–44 study published in the American Sociological Review indicates that the top five complaints from Vanport residents included "negroes and whites in same neighborhood", "negroes and whites in same school", and "discrimination against Vanport people by Portlanders".[16]

Although some of Portland's Black people lived in 53 of the city's 60 census tracts before the war, about half were concentrated in two tracts east of the Willamette River and north of the east–west centerline of the city.[17] After the war, much of Portland's Black community remained centered in northeastern parts of the city.[18]

Northeast Portland[edit]

Starting in the 1950s and 1960s, Black residents who were former Vanport residents and shipyard/industrial workers settled in the Northeast Portland area. Much of Portland's Black community, which is 6% of Portland's population, is concentrated within the northeast Portland area; Alberta Arts District and King are both rife in African American populations. Zip codes in North and Northeast Portland are mainly at least 15 to 20% Black.

Today, Portland is 5.9% Black, and 7.8% including partially Black people.[19]

African immigrants[edit]

There are some Nigerian, Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somali immigrants in Oregon, primarily in Portland. A killing of an Ethiopian man in the 1980s by white supremacists garnered attention towards the issue of racism towards BLack and African Americans in Portland.

Notable African-American Oregonians[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Blacks in Oregon". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Archived from the original on 2014-08-20. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  2. ^ Darby, Melissa C. (2019). Thunder go north : the hunt for Sir Francis Drake's fair and good bay. Salt Lake City. pp. 51–54, 61–69. ISBN 978-1-60781-726-0. OCLC 1089270180.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  3. ^ Ronda, James P. (April 1992). "Astoria and Empire". The American Historical Review: 97. doi:10.1086/ahr/97.2.623-a. ISSN 1937-5239.
  4. ^ Nokes, R. Gregory (2014-10-06). "Slaves List". Nokes Books. Retrieved 2021-04-13.
  5. ^ Perseverance : a history of African Americans in Oregon's Marion and Polk Counties. Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers. Salem, Or.: Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers. 2011. ISBN 978-1-4507-4878-0. OCLC 747038125.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ Brown, J. Henry (1892). Brown's Political History of Oregon: Provisional Government. Portland: Wiley B. Allen. LCCN rc01000356. OCLC 422191413. Pages 132–135.
  7. ^ Taylor, Quintard (1982). "Slaves and Free Men: Blacks in the Oregon Country, 1840–1860". Oregon Historical Quarterly. 83: 153–169.
  8. ^ "Oregon once legally banned Black people. Has the state reconciled its racist past?". National Geographic. 2021-03-08. Archived from the original on 2021-03-08. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  9. ^ "Discover Oregon's Diverse Timber History". Travel Oregon. 2021-01-28. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  10. ^ "The Faces of Black Oregon". Travel Oregon. 2018-03-02. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
  11. ^ Maben 1987, p. 86.
  12. ^ Berry, Edwin C. (November 1945). "Profiles: Portland". Journal of Educational Sociology. American Sociological Association. 19 (3): 158–165. doi:10.2307/2263420. JSTOR 2263420.
  13. ^ Maben 1987, p. 93.
  14. ^ Maben 1987, p. 91.
  15. ^ Maben 1987, p. 94.
  16. ^ Kilbourn, Charlotte & Lantis, Margaret (February 1946). "Elements of Tenant Instability in a War Housing Project". American Sociological Review. 11 (1): 57–66. doi:10.2307/2085277. JSTOR 2085277. Archived from the original (reprinted by Center for Columbia River History) on June 24, 2016.
  17. ^ Maben 1987, p. 92.
  18. ^ Stroud, Ellen (1999). "Troubled Waters in Ecotopia: Environmental Racism in Portland, Oregon" (PDF). Radical History Review. New York, N.Y.: MARHO. 1999 (74): 65–95. doi:10.1215/01636545-1999-74-65. ISSN 0163-6545. Retrieved June 24, 2014.

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]