Does Liberal Portland, Oregon Have A History Of White Supremacy?

Even though the eastern side of Oregon might not be the hipster café and vegan eatery-laden paradise that you see on Portlandia, Portland does make up a vital chunk of the state’s total population — and that helps give it some of the most liberal policies in the country on topics like marijuana legalization and assisted suicide.

Many moving to Portland, Oregon, to get away from less progressive areas of the country may, however, be unaware that the state is not without its own history of racial discrimination. A recent article from Matt Novak at Gizmodo points out that Oregon was the only state in the union to explicitly forbid “black people from living, working, or owning property there” when its Constitution was ratified in 1859. That didn’t change until 1926.

Novak argues that the histories of racism outside of the South — especially in places considered liberal havens like Portland, Oregon — are often washed over in favor a continuing narrative that formerly Confederate states are the major centers of xenophobia.

“America’s history of racial discrimination is most commonly taught as a southern issue… White people outside of the South seem to learn about the Civil War and civil rights movements from an incredibly safe (and often judgmental) distance… Racism was generally framed as something that happened in the past and almost always ‘down there.’ We learned about the struggles for racial equality in cities like Birmingham and Selma and Montgomery. But what about the racism of Portland, Oregon, a city that is still overwhelmingly white? The struggles there were just as intense — though they are rarely identified in the history books.”

Oregon’s history of racial discrimination doesn’t just extends to blacks. Although Portland’s third largest racial group after whites and Hispanics are Asians, according to city census data, the state also violently threw out some Chinese residents.

“Though Asian people were not specifically called out in Oregon’s constitutional exclusion laws, the white people of many towns large and small did their best to drive out non-white people any time they got the chance… As just one example, the white people of La Grande burned that city’s Chinatown to the ground in 1893. The Chinese residents fled, with some people getting on the first train out. But some Chinese residents weren’t about to be intimidated and set up camp nearby. This wasn’t enough for the hateful mobs of La Grande, who broke up the camp and forced anyone remaining to get on trains out of town.”

To learn more about what else in Portland and the rest of Oregon’s racial discrimination history, you can read the full long-read article at Gizmodo.

[Image via Ian Sane, Flickr]