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By The Skanner News | The Skanner News
Published: 27 February 2008

Marcus Lopez, cabin boy of Captain Robert Gray, becomes the first person of African descent known to have set foot on Oregon soil.

York, William Clark's slave, comes west with Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery.

Slavery is declared illegal in the Oregon Country. The infamous "Lash Law," requiring that Blacks in Oregon — be they free or slave — be whipped twice a year "until he or she shall quit the territory," is passed in June. It is soon deemed too harsh and its provisions for punishment are reduced to forced labor in December.

Oregon's Provisional Government passes the first Exclusion Law in the Oregon Country.

Federally-appointed Governor Joseph Lane proclaims Oregon a Territory of the United States.

The Oregon Donation Land Act grants free land to "whites and half-breed Indians" in the Oregon Territory. Note that the language of the act prevents Blacks from claiming land in Oregon.

Jacob Vanderpool, a saloonkeeper living in Salem, becomes the only person known to have been kicked out of the Oregon Territory because of his skin color.

Washington Territory is formed.

Oregon's Exclusion Law is repealed. Following the gold strikes in southern Oregon, pro-slavery forces advocate forming a new state in southern Oregon and northern California, but the movement fails when Californians reject the idea of reducing the size of their state.

The pro-slavery separatists in southern Oregon bring an amendment to vote but again fail to carve a new federal Territory out of the southwestern region of the Oregon Territory. Although slavery is illegal in the Territory, a bill to protect slave property in Oregon is proposed in the Territorial Legislature. It is voted down on the grounds that it would grant special rights to slave owners. Meanwhile, a new exclusion law is added by popular vote to the constitution's Bill of Rights.

Just prior to statehood, Oregon elects its first state officials. Governor "Honest John" Whiteaker, as well as many lesser officials, were well known for their pro-slavery views. In California, an exclusion law again threatens to pass the state legislature. Despite its failure, pervasive racism along America's West Coast inspires many Black settlers to head north to British Columbia.

On February 14, 1859, Oregon becomes the first state admitted to the Union with an exclusion law written into the state constitution.

The Civil War begins in the East. The Knights of the Golden Circle, an anti-Union, pro-slavery group, opens chapters in many Oregon communities. Their ultimate goal in the Northwest is to secede from the US and found their own Pacific Coast Republic.

Oregon adopts a law requiring all blacks, Chinese, Hawaiians, and Mulattos (people of mixed ethnic heritage) residing in Oregon to pay an annual tax of $5. If they could not pay this tax, the law empowered the state to press them into service maintaining state roads for 50 cents a day. Interracial marriages are banned in Oregon; it is against the law for Whites to marry anyone 1/4 or more Black.

The Knights of the Golden Circle become openly militant, but the group falls apart when it becomes apparent that the Union will win the Civil War.


The Civil War ends. The 13th Amendment, banning slavery in the United States, passes by referendum in Oregon.

Oregon's citizens do not pass the 14th Amendment, granting citizenship to Blacks. The state's ban on interracial marriages is extended to prevent Whites from marrying anyone who is 1/4 or more Chinese or Hawaiian, and 1/2 or more Native American.

The 15th Amendment, granting Black men the right to vote, is added to the U.S. Constitution despite failing to pass in both Oregon and California. This federal law supersedes a clause in the Oregon State Constitution banning black suffrage.

An attempt is made to amend the Oregon Constitution to remove its ban on Black suffrage. The effort fails despite passage of the 15th Amendment. Further attempts to remove the language prohibiting Blacks from voting were made in 1895, 1916, and 1927.

A ban on interracial marriages in the Washington Territory is lifted.

Washington gains statehood. The state constitution includes a ban on racial discrimination in schools.

The Portland chapter of the NAACP, the oldest continually chartered chapter west of the Mississippi River, is founded.

Oregon repeals its exclusion law, amending the state constitution to remove it from the Bill of Rights.

The Oregon State Constitution is finally amended to remove a clause denying Blacks the right to vote.

The state Supreme Court declares California's law banning interracial marriages to be unconstitutional.

Oregon repeals its law prohibiting interracial marriages.

Oregon voters ratify the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Excerpted from information from the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretative Center.

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