Exhibit Introduction

A line drawing of the settlement of Jacksonville. Approximately 2 dozen buildings in a tree and farm landscape.
Jacksonville (shown here circa 1855) was at the heart of southern Oregon's pro-slavery movement. (Hutchings panoramic image courtesy Online Archive of California)
This exhibit highlights the lives of early black pioneers who came to Oregon between 1840 and 1870. This early settlement period is of particular interest because of Oregon’s laws regarding the immigration of blacks to Oregon. At various times, the Provisional and Territorial governments passed laws excluding blacks from residing in the area, and Oregon’s Constitution, adopted in 1857, included specific language forbidding either free or enslaved blacks who did not already reside in the new state.

Despite the discriminatory laws, there were a number of blacks who settled in Oregon during these years. In this exhibit, we shine a light on their experiences through surviving, documentary evidence. The stories illustrated here relate to people brought to Oregon as slaves and those of free blacks who made the perilous journey west, possibly motivated by new opportunities and the chance for a better life.