“On behalf of the Board of Directors, thank you University of Oregon Historic Preservation Program and the McMath Award Selection Committee for this recognition and great honor. It is accepted with great humility.
The story of our organization and it’s purpose is relived each day: we are humbled by our discoveries of the slaves who crossed the Oregon Trail, the miners in Coos and Jackson Counties, the Loggers of Maxville as told by the Maxville Heritage Interpretative Center, the cowboys of the Pendleton Roundup, the Holmes Family, and on and on.
We now know that African Americans have lived in 32 of Oregon 36 counties since 1788. We are grateful that in gaining freedom, they stayed, created lives by becoming entrepreneurs, land owners, political participants, respected members of the community and left a pathway that made it possible for those of us today. It is our privilege to be a part of telling and sharing this history and about the role African Americans in helping shape Oregon.
As a part of our effort, there are some believers in us that have been stalwarts in their support. With us and we publicly thank them today are: Ms. Mary Oberst, former first lady of Oregon who nominated us for this award in 2013, Dr. Darrell Millner, who is a constant advisor and supporter of our work, and Pioneer Trust Bank and Foundation, represented by Carol Herman, which has provided us financial support on a regular basis, and on more than one occasion, been our support in an emergency. They also supply our office space which is the thing that sometimes legitimizes you as an organization. Pioneer Trust Bank CEO, Mike Compton is a graduate of UofO.
The Oregon Black Pioneers was founded in 1993 by Carole Davis, Sen. Jackie Winters and David Burgess.
We are an all-volunteer Board with each taking a lead in some capacity for the work of the organization. Our mission is to research, recognize and commemorate the culture and heritage of African Americans in the State of Oregon. We envision becoming a central conduit for the study of Oregon’s African American life, heritage and culture.
Our organization makes every effort to work cooperatively and collaboratively with others to make accurate information available. Sometimes with divine intervention as was the case for the Tillamook historical marker blown down in May 2012 with a wind gust. After the storm Oregon Black Pioneers worked with the Oregon Historical Marker Committee to develop the language that included the mention of Markus Lopez, the first Black to set foot in Oregon.
We have managed, with an all-volunteer board, to go from producing booklets to full scale research and publication of two books: Perseverance A History of African Americans in Oregon’s Marion and Polk Counties 2011 and African Americans of Portland 2013.
Our relationship and partnership with the Oregon Historical Society has produced 3 major exhibits which always include public forums: 2011 Perseverance: Blacks Across Oregon in; 2013 All Aboard: Railroading and Portland’s Black Community ,2015 A Community on the Move and a 4th exhibit, Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years scheduled to open in January 2018 at OHS. You are invited to sponsor, contribute to this exhibit or donate to this non-profit in support of this work. Please go see the exhibit when it opens.
Our exhibits offer an opportunity to learn about people who persevered under difficult circumstances and laws. They evoke emotions, a place to contemplate and reassess awareness; and a source of healing because stories are being told. The exhibits and research compilations tell the good, the bad and the ugly as it is all part of history.
As a way to raise funds to do our work,we have had numerous celebration events with great speakers and have provided educational scholarships to students. With a lot of wonderful friends the organization staged two versions of Crowns, Black Women in Church Hats & I Dream A World. All along the way we continue envisioning upcoming plans.
Travel with us down the next phase of fulfilling our mission. Our Oregon African American Museum Project is in its second phase which began with our dream of a Museum but ends, after a lot of chatter, with a reality check and our redefining what museum will be for us in Oregon. And that is a good thing, because we begin to think outside the box.
Let me briefly describe the current aspect we are taking with our museum. We have a committee working on the planning stages of building a Virtual Museum. This concept will offer online access from around the world. Through this venue, we can create presentations that are portals for viewing, and digital capability for all types of options and electronic versions of exhibits. Access to online history information for research and study such as our locations of historic properties will be a changing growing resource.
And we continue collaborating with institutions like the University of Oregon, who want a permanent site on property to tell and interpret the Oregon African American experience and story for their students. And we will continue to work with historical societies around the state, infusing local black history into community histories, telling its inclusive story effortlessly. And we will continue to assist and locate sites that historically connect to the Oregon African American experience.
Currently, we are working with the Salem-Keizer School District on curriculum development: Carter G. Woodson wrote and I quote, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”
The history and contributions of African Americans to Oregon’s development needs to be documented and told so it has its rightful place of relevance in the Oregon story. Our work is not done. The list goes on in the work we have undone. We have a file cabinet full of research to be completed and no staff to do it. Our board that has exceeded its capacity to do the work; but we are not down and out. Dedication and perseverance keeps us moving. Your support, whether is it financial, time, volunteering for research, or assisting in in to expand the scope of our work gives us the means to continue forward.
Again, from the entire Board of Directors: we are honored to receive the 2017 McMath Historic Preservation award and want to Thank you for your past support and that to come. To my Board of Directors, thank you for all of your hard work and yes, we get up tomorrow and do some more.
And, again, to UofO and the McMath Committee. Thank you for this great honor.”
President Willie Richardson on Behalf of Oregon Black Pioneers