At the NCORE (the National Conference on Race and ethnicity in American Higher Education) conference in Portland last week, I heard Walidah Imarisha give the opening keynote address, “Why Aren’t There More Black People in Oregon? A Hidden History.” Her presentation was enormously compelling as it brought that hidden history into the open for the 5000 people attending the conference. A few salient facts she presented: the Oregon Territory (which included not only what is now the state of Oregon, but also Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) passed a law in 1844 excluding black people from living in the Oregon Territory. When the state of Oregon was admitted to the United States in 1859, it became the only state admitted to the Union with a racial exclusion law in its constitution. That language, excluding black people from living in Oregon, was not removed from the state constitution until 2002. That’s not a typo. That language was not removed until the 21st century.
I wish everyone from WSU Vancouver could have attended this keynote. Fortunately, Dr. Imarisha has a timeline which she presents on YouTube, from which her keynote address was drawn. I recommend that everyone check it out. It’s good for all of us to know the hidden history of the place we live, so that we can all work toward turning that history around to make the Pacific Northwest a place of racial equity and inclusion, and do it now, not wait until the 22nd century.