Sundown Towns in Oregon, Spring 2019

It’s been about 5 years, and the OMA was delighted to collaborate once again with Professor Jean Moule on her course Sundown Towns in Oregon, based on the book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James W. Loewen. In 2012 and 2013, our partnership resulted in two small exhibits featuring the students’ research and research process. This year the students focused solely on their research papers – all of which will be added to the Jean Moule Papers (box 2 has past years’ student research on Sundown Towns in Oregon). As part of the class, the students engaged with archival materials from the OMA and visited the Benton County Historical Society. Additionally, a few times throughout the term, the OMA provided research guidance and engaged in discussions pertaining to the students’ research.

So, what is a Sundown Town?

A Sundown Town is “any organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African Americans or other groups from living in it and thus “all-white” on purpose…from about 1890 – 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States” (Sundown Towns, 4)

And, why is knowing about and understanding Sundown Towns important?

“Recovering the memory of the increasing oppression of African Americans during the first half of the twentieth century can deepen our understanding of the role racism has played in our society and continued to play today” (Sundown Towns, 16)

Where can you learn more about Sundown Towns?

Check out the Sundown Towns website

What did the students research and write about this year?

The 5 students in the spring 2019 course each selected a different town or topic pertaining to the history of Sundown Towns and racism in Oregon. Some students selected the towns where they grew up, learning a new facet of their hometowns’ history they never knew, and others selected to dive deeper into an issue that is particularly meaningful to them.

  • Albany, Oregon
  • North Plains, Oregon
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Philomath High School mascot controversy
  • Maternal Mortality and Racism in the US

The Research Papers…

Albany, Oregon

The author of this paper lived in Albany for the majority of their life prior to attending OSU. Their research – using census data, the Albany Regional Museum, and secondary sources – led them to write about the town’s demographics, specifically the treatment of the Black and Chinese communities during the late 1800s / early 1900s; the creation of two separate high schools due Unionist and Segregationist views within the town’s population; and the presence of the KKK in the town.

North Plains, Oregon

The author researching North Plains also grew up in the town they selected. Their report included a discussion of the challenges of this type of research – lack of sources and lack of response from potential sources. They did, however, use census data and were able to connect with a local journalist, to find some information.

Portland, Oregon

The student who researched Portland expressed their lack of knowledge regarding the history of displacement of the African American community, despite living in the city for two decades. They conducted research in the Oregon Historical Society research library and archives to explore the displacement history with Vanport, Albina, and Alameda as case studies. They interviewed their godmother who shared that the deed to her home included a clause prohibiting an African American to own the house. Additionally, they included various first person accounts from survivors of the Vanport flood in 1948.

Philomath High School mascot controversy

One of two topic (instead of town) based reports was about the Philomath High School mascot, the Warriors, and the controversy surrounding the school’s refusal to change the name. The student places the controversy in both state and local contexts, and includes images from Philomath High School yearbook pages from the 1940s and 1950s with descriptions and depictions of the mascot.

Maternal Mortality and Racism in the US

The other topic based report focused on a comparison between Oregon and Indiana’s maternal mortality rates, specifically those of Black women. Her research led her to better understanding the structural racism and implicit bias within the medical industry; the impacts of state laws and policies on women’s access to healthcare; and an interview with a Black female physician who used to work at Salem Hospital who shared various incidents of both microaggressions and outright racism while working for the hospital.


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