To a recent arrival in Southern Oregon, the sight of white-robed Klansmen marching in Ashland Fourth of July parade might seem jarring. As a state, Oregon today is one of the more blue — and Ashland especially has a reputation as a liberal bastion. But it was not always so, and the fact that the state is still overwhelmingly white owes much to Oregon’s shameful history of racism.
The KKK photo was taken in 1922. Yes, that was nearly century ago. But at the time, Oregon was home to the largest Klan organization west of the Mississippi.
Southern Oregon University professor Jeff LaLande related that and other historical facts during a panel discussion in Medford last week celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. When Oregon became a state in 1859, he noted, it did so as the only “whites only” state that was also a free state. And that law stayed on the books until 1927.
That kind of atmosphere was bound to attract new residents who approved of the policy — and to discourage people of color from moving here. The result can be seen — or, rather, not seen — today: Only 1.9 percent of Ashland residents are black.
Thursday’s discussion focused on housing, and the importance of ensuring equal access. The current housing crisis is complex, and discrimination is just one factor among many affecting availability. But solving the housing shortage means not only increasing the supply, but making sure it is there for everyone, regardless of ethnicity.