Today, I honor the memory of those brave settlers of Oregon, and pay tribute, as well, to the native Americans already inhabiting this land before pioneers like my great-great-grandparents arrived here in the mid-1800’s. Such dreams those pioneers had for this territory. Some instinct drew them here, a fate, a pulling, a desire for deep and lasting change in their lives. They embraced that change. They sought it out. Theirs was a quest for new horizons, for new beginnings. For a new homeland. They rode. They walked. They staved. They forged. And they died. But they kept their eyes westward. They gave us Oregon.
~ Barbara Roberts, 1991 Inaugural Message as Governor of Oregon
Oregon has long acknowledged, portrayed, archived, and celebrated its pioneer heritage. Settlers and explorers of Western European descent have been the focus of most mainstream pioneer narratives. Deeper within state history, we find that Oregon’s social and economic growth was also built, despite exclusion laws and discriminatory practices, through often unrecognized contributions by Black settlers, slaves, immigrants, and emigrants to this state and nation. The all-volunteer organization, Oregon Black Pioneers (OBP), seeks to promote more complex and diverse pioneer stories. OBP is reclaiming these rich stories through exhibitions, historic preservation, and community events that assist to commemorate, interpret, and educate about Black pioneers who were drawn here seeking change, questing for new horizons and new beginnings. Understanding this pioneer precedent is evermore significant as Oregon experiences rapidly changing demographics, gentrification of historically Black neighborhoods, and ways in which decisions are made within, about, and for communities. We are pleased to present the OBP model in this issue of CultureWork as arts and culture workers around the country grapple with similar questions about ways in which to best represent new historical stories within previously established narrative frameworks.