Weird Scenes Inside The Gold Mind #048: History Gets Into Your Lunch

Klan Rally, Portland Oregon, circa 1920s

Yesterday afternoon, my pal The Professor told me all she’s been seeing a bunch of Trump 2020 bumper stickers on cars driving about her community of a sudden, which, by the way, is about a 50-minute drive from Baltimore. If I sussed that one out correctly, she was a bit surprised. This emotion was somewhat buried in her obvious disgust.

I, of course, replied in my typical witty, charming and ironic fashion. “Well, good for them. That’s exactly what I would do in the event I was on the Trump campaign payroll.” The Professor’s response was quite logical.

“What? Really? Why?” she asked.

“Because I would want to show the local electorate that there were a lot of folks who lived near Baltimore that agreed with his racist blithering. What better way to rally the troops in this time of need than to show them they are not alone in their bigoted paranoia?”

Being a professor, The Professor got it. I think she was a bit annoyed about my cavalier attitude, which would be understandable. Political junkies like myself tend to view all this as some sort of sporting event. And it is, in the way the Roman Coliseum ran sporting events, except that I have more respect for hungry lions than I do for Trump supporters.

I immediately thought of a story from the yellowing pages of history, one that was discussed in the Washington Post some two years ago under the headline “When Portland Banned Blacks: Oregon’s Shameful History as an ‘All-White’ State.”

We tend to think of Portland, Oregon as a liberal place, and, comparatively speaking, it is. But I’m comparing the place to the Oregon of 1844, when all black people were ordered to leave the territory. “Those who refused to leave could be severely whipped, the provisional government law declared, by ‘not less than twenty or more than thirty-nine stripes’ to be repeated every six months until they left,” according to reporter DeNeen L. Brown.

This was 15 years before Oregon entered the Union and it was still a slave territory. Black men were given two years to leave, black women had an additional year. It did not matter if the humans in question were free or were property. As Big Bill Broonzy later sang, “If you’re black, go back.” A few decades later, President Orange Man added “To where you came from.”

Unless that place was Oregon. The provisional governor was a man named Peter Burnett; previously, he was a slaver from Missouri who subsequently became the first American governor of California. His attitude towards those of Asian descent was the same.

What goes around sticks around. Blacks and mulattoes were banned from Oregon in 1848, and two years later whites and half-breed Indians (their term, not mine) were granted 650 acres of land. When Oregon achieved statehood in 1859, the state constitution banned slavery but did not allow non-whites to live there. Its white star on the American flag was, indeed, whiter than all the others.

Oregon became the west coast mecca for the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. At the time, Indiana was the east coast mecca, a fact that my own family knows first-hand. My paternal grandparents were burned out of Indianapolis by the Klan and they moved back to the amazingly less racist Chicago Illinois, where my father met my mother and, eventually, they had themselves a noisy little rabble-rouser.

Oregon initially supported the 14th Amendment but rescinded that support shortly thereafter. More significant, it did not ratify the 15th Amendment for another 100 years, as something of an afterthought in their centennial celebration.

So, once again we pay tribute to the “what goes around comes around” law of social gravity. As Tony Hendra wrote almost a half-century ago, “let not the sands of time get in your lunch.”

And, while you’re at it, keep the Orange Man off your rear bumper. Unless it’s a covered wagon, and you’re headed to Oregon.