Oregon Black Pioneers

Black History Month is getting extended to every month of the year because of the lynchings outweighing the justice served. The complicity to white supremacy is glorified-while the ignorance to the accomplishments that Black people have made despite the racism continues to be the tradition. I went to school here in the Rogue Valley, and all of the information that I learned about Black excellence regarded historic events in other states. I had no idea what contributions Black pioneers have made here and the bigotry they had to face as they made history. The only historical society dedicated to bringing the African American experience to light in this state is the Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers 501c3. Their website has books and virtual exhibits of melanated magic that’s been omitted from Oregon public schools. This organization is Black excellence because of the extensive research that it took in uncovering the klan dominion that Oregon officials have tried to suppress. The non-profit was founded in 1993 and has achieved so many awards in the process such as the American Heritage Award in 2011, the OABA Award in 2010, and the David Duniway Award in 2009!

One of the books that I bought from their website titled, Perseverance: A History of African Americans on Oregon’s Marion and Polk Counties, had some horrific accounts of klan activity as well as the sheer determination of people of color to make a better life for themselves. Let's start with the first known African-American to graduate from Oregon Agricultural College (now called Oregon State University), Carrie Woodson Beatrice Halsell. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in commerce in 1926 while living off campus thanks to racial discrimination. Carrie's struggle didn't end there because after she got her credentials, she was only able to find a position as a housekeeper in Portland. As early as 1927 she moved to Virginia and was employed at Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute (now Virginia State University), a historically Black college, and worked as an assistant to the registrar. Halsell worked her way up and then started her career as a teacher in the subject of Business Education. In 1929 she helped establish the Alpha Eta chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, which is one of the historical "divine nine" Black sororities in America.

The next beautiful example of Black excellence is William Teabeau who was the first African-American man to graduate from Oregon State College (now known as Oregon State University). He grew up in Baker City, Oregon and all he wanted to do was become an engineer. A recurring theme that I hope my readers understand is that after "slavery ended", share cropping and janitorial positions were all that the white majority deemed appropriate for Black people. Teabeau’s father was a janitor who also took multiple side jobs while his mother was a housewife when they lived in Baker City. His grandparents were former slaves that escaped the “heritage of states’ rights” in the south and settled in Baker County in 1885. They originally wanted to settle in Mountain Home Idaho, but thanks to white mob violence by its citizens, they were forced out and the railroad town of Huntington Oregon was the second choice. Despite the racial hatred that Oregon had to offer, William wasn’t without his white allies that helped him boycott a local business for refusing service to him because he was Black. The owner had a “change of heart” and apologized to William and his family for the racism and the caucasity. Just like Carrie Halsell, William found out the hard way that he couldn’t get a job in the field he specialized in, chemical engineering, so he decided to study to become a licensed civil engineer and was then hired by the highway department. Of all the things that I read about William Teabeau from his family life to his hobbies, I’d have to say that I admire how humble he remained through his journey despite the presence of the klan and racist job disparities. He didn’t boast to his own family that he was the first African American man to graduate from OSU and not being concerned with history. In the moment, I think he means that he was just being more resilient in the face of adversity instead of concerning himself with the racial track record of this state. I think it speaks volumes that for Black people, it isn’t about being the first but accomplishing our life goals no matter the resistance.

21 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity
1314 Center Drive, Ste B-990, Medford, OR 97501

Mail Only

© 2023 by Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity. Proudly created with