I happened on the wondrous work above at the Oregon Convention Center the end of January 2022. It inspired me to publish a post for Black History month, though I wasn't sure I had enough content. Over the years my travels have touched on black lives and experiences a bit, and at last I thought I might have enough for a short post.
Next to the panel above was a labeled explanation of who and what is depicted:
1. the 25th Infantry Brigade Black Bicycle Corps
2. Beatrice Cannady, 1st black woman to practice law in OR
3. Golden West Hotel, one of the first black-owned hotels in OR
4. Richard Bogle, one of the first successful black businessmen in the NW
5. America Waldo Bogle, wife of Richard Bogle, civic leader
6. escape from slavery to the west
7. Buffalo Soldiers
8. freed slaves headed west
9-10. George Washington, founder of Centralia WA
11. Sacajawea, Lewis & Clark Expedition
12-13. Lewis & Clark
14. York, member Lewis & Clark Expedition
15. Mary Fields, Pony Express rider, stagecoach driver
16. James Becksourth, mountain man, scout, war chief of the Crow
17. slavery & plantation life
18. pioneer caravans of black settlers 1840s-1850s
19. Moses "Black" Harris, mountain man, trapper, trader, guide
20. cattle drive up the Chisholm trail (at one point 2/5 of cowboys were black)
21. Bill Picket, international rodeo star, mentor to Will Rogers
22. "Peerless" Jesse Stahl, once the best wild horse rider in the west
23. black homesteaders had to do so illegally in OR until 1926 (not allowed to own land)
I have been gathering photos and info for a "Sacajawea Trail" post for a couple years or so. Since York was on that same journey, I thought I'd use some of those to show something of what that expedition might have been like for him. A couple of interesting points were that both York and Sacajawea were invited to participate in giving their input about where to spend the winter on the Pacific Coast, and neither of them received any compensation at the end of their journey (as all the others did). No doubt the assumption was that paying Sacajawea's husband recompensed her as well, but that doesn't do for York. Here is an interesting, and I think even-handed treatment of York, a 2010 half-hour documentary by Oregon Public Broadcasting, and my 2 part post on the Sacajawea Trail:
From an End of the Oregon Trail museum exhibit about black pioneers in the PNW pictured above:
“George Washington traveled to Oregon in 1850 with James Cochran, who freed him before making the journey. After spending time in Oregon City, Cochran and Washington eventually settled near present-day Centralia [WA]. Washington cleared and fenced twelve acres, kept two dairy cows, made his own clothing, and maintained a good relation ship with his Native American neighbors. He nearly became a victim of claim jumping—two white settlers wanted his land and as Washington was African American, he had no legal claim. The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 expressly prohibited African Americans from homesteading in Oregon—he was technically a squatter. The Cochrans had not yet claimed land of their own, so they rushed to Oregon City to file a claim of 640 acres, including Washington’s farm. Cochran later sold all or a large portion to Washington for $3400. The land was at the Skookumchuck and Chehalis River juncture in Lewis Count. He built a one-room cabin and started a pole ferry on the Skookumchuck River. He Farmed, traveling twice annually to Olympia to sell his grain and saved enough to expand his land holdings. In 1872 the railroad laid tracks nearby and Washington saw his opportunity. With the help of his wife and stepson, he filed a plat for the town of Centerville, later to become Centralia in 1875. Washington turned away speculators and sold $10 lots to anyone who would live on the land. He built houses to rent to poor emigrants and refused to sell property to saloons or other disreputable businesses. Over the years he aided many families by loaning them money and seeing that they were fed. He died following a buggy accident at the age of 87 in 1905.”
“George Washington Bush, a free-born African American from Pennsylvania, was deterred by Oregon’s first exclusion law. He emigrated from Western Missouri in 1844 in the same party as John Minto. In his diary Minto noted conversations he had with Bush, who expressed concerns for how he would be treated in the Oregon country. After wintering in The Dalles, Bush headed north of the Columbia River, becoming one of the first Americans and very likely the first African American settler. He homesteaded near Olympia, which placed him out of the reach of the provisional government, as it was under the nominal control of the British. He was a successful farmer and fostered respect within his community due to his generosity towards others. Bush’s widespread support in the community became apparent when he was threatened with the loss of his land. After the state of Washington was organized as a territory in 1853, Bush’s homestead was in jeopardy—the Donation Land Act of 1850 excluded blacks from obtaining free land. Michael Simmons, his old friend from Missouri who had journeyed the Trail with him, campaigned to have Bush’s claim recognized. Fifty-five citizens signed a petition urging exemption. The appeal was endorsed by the Washington Territorial Legislature and forwarded to Congress. [The] US Congress approved a special waiver in 1855 which allowed Bush to legally claim his land. During the severe winter of 1852 grain was in very short supply. Instead of opting to sell at inflated prices, Bush said: ‘I’ll keep my grain to let my neighbors . . . have enough to live on and for seeding their fields in the spring. They have no money to pay your fancy prices and I don’t intend to see them want for anything in my power to provide them with.’”
“Louis Southworth was born in Tennessee in 1830 and was brought to Oregon from Missouri in . . . 1851 by his owner James Southworth. After settling for some time in Marysville (now Corvallis [OR]), Southworth mined gold in the Jacksonville [OR] area. He earned additional money by playing the fiddle at dancing schools. Southworth discovered that he could make just as much money performing at mining camps and saloons as he could working in the gold mines. In 1858 he purchased his freedom from his owner. As a free man Southworth worked as a blacksmith in Polk County. He became literate and operated a livery stable. After marrying, Southworth moved to Tidewater, near Waldport, where he made a homestead and later donated land for a school. He served on the school board. Southworth operated a ferry for passengers and freight along the Alsea River. He was a well-dressed man who drove ‘a fine team of black horses’. He was well-respected and treated almost as an equal. In 1915 he recalled that the one thing he couldn’t do was attend church. He had been expelled from the local Baptist congregation when members complained about his fiddle playing. ‘So I told them to keep me in the church with my fiddle if they could, but to turn me out if they must, for I could not think of parting with the fiddle. But somehow I hope it’s written in the big book up yonder where they aren’t so particular about fiddles.’—Louis Southworth”
“Abner Hunt Francis . . . was targeted with an expulsion order. He and his brother O.B. were free African Americans who had opened a mercantile store in downtown Portland in 1851 on the corner of Front and Stark streets. Abner was a well-known abolitionist, having been an anti-slavery activist in Buffalo, New York before moving to Portland. He was friend to Frederick Douglass, and his background caused concern among Portland’s anti-black community members. It is likely his new store caused unwanted competition. A justice of the peace ordered Francis, who had been charged with violating the Exclusion Law, to leave Oregon within six months. The order was upheld by Oregon’s Territorial Supreme Court and the time limit was reduced to four months. In spite of a petition signed by 211 sympathetic Portland residents to allow an exemption, the legislature tabled the request and never revisited it. The Francis’ continued to reside in Portland until they voluntarily immigrated to Victoria BC in 1860 where Abner was later elected the city’s first black city councilman.”
“Moses ‘Black’ Harris was thought to have come West in 1823. As a skilled trapper and explorer, he gained a reputation of being an expert at winter travel. As the fur trade began to decline, he used his skills to act as a guide for missionaries and wagon trains. In 1836 Harris helped guide the Whitmans and Reverned Henry Spalding to the Oregon Country. In 1844 he led a wagon train of around 500 people over the Oregon Trail, including George Washingtn Bush and the Holmes family. In 1845 Harris rode to the rescue of the Stephen Hall Meek wagon train. Meek [led] his party through ynmapped parts of the Oregon’s high desert. He rode ahead when he stumbled on familiar terrain and rode ahead to The Dalles for help. Harris was the only man willing to lend a hand andundertook the rescue effort himself. He secured supplies from local native tribes and brought them by pack horses. Harris met Meek some thirty miles south of The Dalles. He also later saved a group on the Applegate Trail and helped explore the Cascade Mountains in search of an alternative to the Barlow Road. Harris continued acting as a guide until dying of cholera in 1849.”
Fort Nisqually gift shop & museum, Tacoma WA
Following are fabulous finds from a trip to Fort Nisqually mid August 2022.
Another fascinating story, that of a black woman pioneer of southern Oregon:
The photo on the left below is from a presentation at Fort Vancouver WA. Naturally, I thought it not appropriate to appropriate all his visuals. I don't have as many photos for the next phase of black history in the Pacific Northwest, but the following links show and tell something about the black experience in the western US during the 1800s.
“I am also entitled to be recognized: The Life and Journey of Moses Williams”
Lecture at Fort Vancouver WA, Feb 29, 2020; see
Oregon State Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205, across from the Portland Art Museum by Kaleena Fraga
"5 Stops on Your Oregon Coast Black History Road Trip” by Zachary Stocks of Oregon Black Pioneers
"Inequity: A Summary of Discrimination in Oregon and the South Coast” Coos History Museum 1st Tues Talk—July 15, 2020 . . . a panel discussion. “Black Americans and Oregon” by Taylor Stewart starts at about 26 min
Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St, Vancouver, WA 98660
April of 2022 we finally made it to the Clark County Historical Museum. I was extremely gratified to find along the front sidewalk a colorful and illustrated timeline of Black History for the county, which made it at the same time more local and personal, and was perhaps to some extent a mirror of the wider story of Blacks in America. Photos follow.
After having donated most of my children's books to a good cause, I haven't resisted starting to collect more. I love kids' books. Through books we can travel along others' life journeys, their lives enrich our own, and through them our aspirations can take wings. Many good movies have been made about black people's experiences and about black heroes. I noticed some interesting titles at the public library, too, as I was pulling things together for my Learning Lab website https://www.learninglab.site/.
US Stamps over the years celebrating Black contributions to our nation
I wanted to learn more about and experience a Kwanzaa celebration. In 2019 I found that there's an annual Kwanzaa celebration at the Multnomah County Library--North Portland on Killingsworth and Commercial Ave, so I betook myself to participate. Not all blacks celebrate Kwanzaa, of course, but I think it speaks to the basic principles and values of the black community. Below are some photos from that. Lots of specialty restaurants and food carts are in the area--some African or Caribbean. The Cascade campus of Portland Community College is across the street, which seems to focus a great deal on black history in the US.
Portland Art Museum--1219 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205
We were so crushed for time that we didn't get to see everything Feb 2022, but hopefully there will be another chance with more time. Youth 17 and under are free. I would figure a half day. Below are some of the works by black artists that were on display when we were there. Following are links to more black artists I didn't get to see in person.
Oregon Historical Society Museum--1200 SW Park Ave, Portland, OR 97205
Across the way from the Portland Art Museum is the Oregon Historical Society, including a museum. You can pay for street parking or nearby pay-to-park lots. Their permanent collection is on the third floor. You can also find online resources at their website:
A search for “black history” on their website produced 1124 items, perhaps some more useful than others.
One incident that caught my attention from Portland's history is the Vanport Flood of 1948. Following are some of many links:
“Vanport Flood: Oregon’s Second Largest City that Vanished in a Day” by Tyler Willford, includes a 1 hr videoArticle by Michael N. McGregorArticle with photos “Vanport Flood begins on Columbia River on May 30, 1948” by Jennifer Ott1.5 page pdf “The Vanport Flood” by Michael McGregor
OMSI Space Science Hall, taken 1 Sept 2022--Portland OR
With our world's interconnected communications & media, the Pacific Northwest shares in the wider US experience.
Washington History Museum, 1911 Pacific Ave, Tacoma WA
I visited the Washington History Museum the end of May 2022, and happened on the exhibit called "The Negro Motorist Greenbook", that ran from Mar 19-June 12 that year. Before I got to that exhibit I saw some pertinent displays in the permanent exhibit "Washington: My Home". Later, as I was exploring the parks along Ruston Way, I saw an interpretive sign in Judge Jack Tanner Park that seemed befitting.
More links about blacks in the Pacific Northwest
A Timeline of Black History in the Pacific Northwest
5/14/2022 07:47:24 pm
Came across this African-American museum in Seattle online. Says it's temporarily closed, but here's their website
1/30/2023 09:36:10 pm
Happened upon this OPB production of African American history in OR
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I've been in a wheelchair for 30+ years. It poses some challenges for traveling. Maybe others can benefit from my experiences.