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Black History Month: Re-Counting the Whole Story

February 28, 2018

As Black History Month 2018 comes to a close, the OSU Press wants to commemorate the exceptional contributions African Americans have made within our nation, and specifically the Pacific Northwest. These inspirational individuals have left an indelible mark on the history of the Pacific Northwest despite experiencing personal and cultural discrimination and persecution. By telling the stories of these individuals, the OSU Press and our authors are striving to acknowledge and account for previously marginalized narratives that define the history of this territory and shape our present region. Please help us celebrate their lasting impact by checking out some of the books below.

Dangerous Subjects by Kenneth R. ColemanDangerous Subjects: James D. Saules and the Rise of Black Exclusion in Oregon
By: Kenneth R. Coleman

Dangerous Subjects describes the life and times of James D. Saules, a black sailor who was shipwrecked off the coast of Oregon and settled there in 1841. In Oregon, Saules encountered a multiethnic population already transformed by colonialism – in particular, the fur industry and Protestant missionaries. After the Oregon Trail emigrants began arriving in large numbers in 1843, Saules had to adapt to a new reality in which Anglo-American settlers persistently sought to marginalize and exclude black residents from the region. This account of Saules’ life sheds light on a neglected chapter in Oregon’s history.

Breaking Chains by R. Gregory NokesBreaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory
By: R. Gregory Nokes

When they were brought to Oregon in 1844, Missouri slaves Robin and Polly Holmes and their children were promised freedom in exchange for helping develop their owner’s Willamette Valley farm. However, slaveholder Nathaniel Ford, an influential settler and legislator, kept them in bondage until 1850, even then refusing to free their children. Holmes took his former master to court and, in the face of enormous odds, won the case in 1853. Told against the background of the national controversy over slavery, Breaking Chains sheds light on a somber part of Pacific Northwest history, bringing the story of slavery in Oregon to a broader audience.

Remembering the Power of Words by Avel Louise GordlyRemembering the Power of Words: The Life of an Oregon Activist, Legislator, and Community Leader
By: Avel Louise Gordly

Remembering the Power of Words recounts the personal and professional journey of Avel Gordly, the first African-American woman elected to the Oregon State Senate. The book is a brave and honest telling of Gordly’s life. She shares the challenges and struggles she faced growing up black in Portland in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as her determination to attend college, the dedication to activism that took her from Portland to Africa, and her eventual decision to run for a seat in the state legislature. Important as a biographical account of one significant Oregonian’s story, the book also contributes “broader narratives touching on Black history (and Oregon’s place within it), and most particularly the politics associated with being an African American woman,” according to series editor Melody Rose.

A Force for Change by Kimberley MangunA Force for Change: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Oregon, 1912-1936
By: Kimberley Mangun

A Force for Change is the first full-length study of the life and work of one of Oregon’s most dynamic civil rights activists, African American journalist Beatrice Morrow Cannady. Between 1912 and 1936, Cannady tirelessly promoted interracial goodwill and fought segregation and discrimination. She gave hundreds of lectures to high school and college students and shared her message with radio listeners across the Pacific Northwest. She was assistant editor, and later publisher, of The Advocate, Oregon’s largest African American newspaper. Cannady was the first black woman to graduate from law school in Oregon, and the first to run for state representative. She held interracial teas in her home in Northeast Portland and protested repeated showings of the racist film The Birth of a Nation. And when the Ku Klux Klan swept into Oregon, she urged the governor to act quickly to protect black Oregonians’ right to live and work without fear. Despite these accomplishments—and many more during her twenty-five-year career—Beatrice Cannady fell into obscurity when she left Oregon in about 1938.

The Color of Night by Max G. GeierThe Color of Night: Race, Railroaders, and Murder in the Wartime West
By: Max G. Geier

On an unusually cold January night in 1943, Martha James was murdered on a train in rural Oregon, near the Willamette Valley town of Albany. She was white, southern, and newly-married to a Navy pilot. Despite inconsistent and contradictory eyewitness accounts, a young black cook by the name of Robert Folkes, a trainman from South Central Los Angeles, was charged with the crime. The ensuing investigation and sensational murder trial captured national attention during a period of intense wartime fervor and extensive black domestic migration. Folkes’s trial and controversial conviction—resulting in his execution by the state of Oregon—reshaped how Oregonians and others in the West thought about race, class, and privilege.

Jumptown by Robert DietscheJumptown: The Golden Years of Portland Jazz, 1942-1957
By: Robert Dietsche

A fascinating blend of music, politics, and social history, Jumptown sheds light on a time and place overlooked by histories of Portland and jazz. For a golden decade following World War II, a thriving African American neighborhood—that would soon be bulldozed for urban renewal—spawned a jazz heyday rarely rivaled on the West Coast. Such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and Wardell Gray headlined Portland clubs and traded chops with the up-and-coming local talent. Dietsche’s compendium of stories and moments brings life to the citizens of this jazz village – the musicians and dancers, the disc jockeys and promoters, the critics and music teachers, the club owners and patrons. Jumptown celebrates and preserves this rich cultural past and showcases its continuing influence.

Oregon's Promise by David Peterson del MarOregon’s Promise: An Interpretive History
By: David Peterson del Mar

A concise and compelling general history, Oregon's Promise explores familiar and neglected people and movements in the state's history, while challenging readers to view Oregon's past, present, and future in a new way. The words "Oregon history" conjure up images of Lewis and Clark and rugged pioneers. In Oregon's Promise, David Peterson del Mar shows that the explorers' impact was both different from and less significant than commonly assumed, and that the state's settlers were much more varied, contentious, complicated, and interesting than conventional heroic stereotypes would suggest. The book's many themes revolve around Peterson del Mar's consideration of how Oregonians have attempted to build a prosperous and just society. He examines both the traditional center of Oregon history and its often overlooked margins – the people who have struggled to be included in Oregon's promise.

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