Oregon Black Pioneers: “Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years” Exhibit Reception

obp-reception-003This evening, the OMA was delighted to attend the reception for the Oregon Black Pioneers’ new exhibit “Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years” at the Oregon Historical Society. Check out the pics below!

About the Oregon Black Pioneers

“Our vision is to be the premier resource for Oregon’s African American culture and heritage information. We aspire to preserve this largely unknown and rich heritage and culture through collections and programs that promote scholarly research and public use. We envision becoming a center for study of Oregon’s African American life, heritage and culture.” OBP Website

About the Exhibit and Public Programming  

Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years is a groundbreaking exhibit with associated public programs about the courage, struggle, and progress of Oregon’s black residents during the civil rights movement in Oregon in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The exhibit will be hosted by the Oregon Historical Society January 15-June 24, 2018.

The interactive exhibit will engage visitors of all ages and backgrounds as it traces how housing and employment discrimination practices affected Oregon’s black populations and spurred the civil rights movement in Oregon. Through personal photos and artifacts, text, and interactive experiences, the exhibit will illuminate Oregon’s vibrant black community during the civil rights era, amongst a larger cultural and legal context of discrimination and displacement.


Photos of the Exhibit Reception

Over 300 people attended…

obp-reception-001Including Governor Kate Brown; she is pictured below with Oregon Black Pioneer leaders Gwen Carr, Willie Richardson, and Kim Moreland

obp-reception-002Prior to the reception’s start, OBP President Willie Richardson spoke with OBP Board Members

obp-reception-004Photos of the Exhibit 


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Stories of Being First – OSU Faculty, Staff, and Admin Oral Histories


First Generation OSU Faculty, Staff, and Administrators

During this academic year, the OMA is collaborating on a special project with two other OSU Library departments to showcase existing oral histories as well as gather more stories of OSU’s first generation students, faculty, staff, and administrators.

About First Generation Students

“I think we bring about a unique perspective, and this goes back to what I was saying in terms of the challenge, right, if our challenge is how do we balance all these competing expectations, between family, between school, between your own work, and your own goals — I think that first generation students bring a very different perspective of life, of experience. I also think that they bring a sense of value for education that other people might take for granted…I think because of our struggle, because we had to really figure things out differently, we bring an appreciation, we bring an appreciation for the sense of sacrifice that it actually takes to be here and to make it through to graduation.” ~ Susana  Rivera-Mills

“…when I think about first generation students and them having to find a way when a way appears not to be possible, that requires sort of this creative approach to the world of being able to figure, find a door, when it seems to be this sort of blank space. And so, when first generation students are in situations with others, they can help them to see possibilities that might not otherwise be there…I think with first generation students one of the things that they can bring to an institution that wouldn’t be there otherwise is hope. Because it takes a huge leap to believe that something that you’ve not seen is possible, you know, sort of this faith in the unseen. And so, oftentimes first generation students will come from an environment where, at least when I think about my own, where at least my life was a life of sort of social isolation, where you feel like sort of your community isn’t cared for or who you are isn’t valued, but you believe that you do have value, you do believe that a better world for yourself and others is possible. And I think that there is something incredible and something really powerful about having that element be present in an institution.” ~ Larry Roper

First Generation Stories in the Archives

In May 2016, the OMA recorded and made accessible a panel presentation “Celebrating FIRST! Students Sharing their Stories” featuring six OSU students who identify as first generation college students.

In 2015 and 2016, the OSU U-Engage course “What am I Doing Here?! Being First in the Family at College” included an assignment for students to interview first generation OSU faculty, staff, and administrators, which they then dontated to the archives to include as part of the Voices of Oregon State University Oral History Collection. Although the interviews are not available online, they are accessible if you come to the SCARC reading room, and below is information about the interviewees.

Interviewees Featured as Part of the Project

Natchee Barnd (00:39:37) is an Ethnic Studies assistant professor at Oregon State University. He is a comparative and critical ethnic studies scholar, interested in the intersections between ethnic studies, cultural geography, and indigenous studies. His research focuses on issues of race, space, and indigenous geographies.

Angela Batista (00:35:03) joined Oregon State University as the Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Student Life in June 2015 and was named as Interim Chief Diversity Officer in February of 2016. Prior to joining Oregon State, she served as Dean of Students at the University of Southern Indiana. In the autumn of 2017, she was named special adviser to the president for diversity and inclusion at Champlain College.

Ed Ray (00:49:48) became the 14th president of Oregon State University on July 31, 2003. During his 15 years as president, Oregon State has become an internationally recognized public research university and has continued to expand the excellence, scope and impact of its academic, research and outreach services.

Susana Rivera-Mills (00:22:30) serves as the Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Studies. She previously served as Executive Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Professor of Spanish Linguistics and Diversity Advancement. She arrived at OSU fall of 2007 and, since then, has been involved in developing mentoring and leadership programs for faculty and students, community partnerships, student engagement and success strategies, advancing diversity at OSU and in higher education, internationalization, engaged research, and promoting equity and inclusion.

Larry Roper (00:23:26) is a Professor within the Sociology Program in the School of Language, Culture and Society and is the Coordinator of the College Student Services Administration program as well as the undergraduate Social Justice Minor at Oregon State University. Previously, he served as Vice Provost for Student Affairs from 1995-2014.

Allison Hurst (00:54:17) is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at OSU. Her research interests focus on issues around class inequality, higher education and social mobility, school to work transitions of college graduates, social welfare policy, and higher education policy.

Daniel Newhart (00:34:56) is Oregon State University’s Assistant Vice Provost, Student Affairs and Director, Student Affairs Research, Evaluation and Planning. One of his research interests is to better understand higher education, be it evaluation, assessment or research, as well as the larger political contexts of these spaces of inquiry. He is also interested in novel approaches to the measurement of student learning inside and outside of the classroom in the university context.

Dwaine Plaza (00:23:44) is the Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University. He is also a professor and coordinator of the Sociology Program for the School of Public Policy. His research interests focus on Caribbean studies, migration and settlement, as well as race and ethnic relations.

Marilyn Stewart (00:19:47) works as an Academic Advisor for the College of Liberal Arts at Oregon State University. Having liberal arts experience at OSU, she seeks to make a difference in students’ lives through considerate guidance and support. The core of her approach as an academic advisor is assisting students to make informed decisions in becoming even more academically successful as they move toward their goal of earning a College of Liberal Arts degree.

Willie Elfering (00:16:21) is a Military Veteran Resources Advisor within the Office of Student Life. Through his position, he provides support to military service members, veterans, and their families studying at Oregon State University.

Rican Vue (00:38:27) is an assistant professor for the School of Public Policy. Her research interests focus on diversity and equity in higher education, success of underrepresented students, Asian American students, as well as race and ethnic relations.

We are excited to gather and make accessible more stories!

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I Love My Librarian 2017


Today, on November 30, 2017, 10 librarians were honored with the 2017 I Love My Librarian Award for their outstanding public service contributions, and the OMA and OSQA curator and archivist Natalia Fernández was one of them!

Selected from more than 1,100 nominations submitted by library users nationwide, including educators and members of the public, the winning librarians were recognized for their leadership in transforming lives and communities through education and lifelong learning.

The 2017 award winners include amazing librarians such as a public librarian who helps economically disadvantaged families connect with social services; a school librarian who inspires a love of reading in students who are new to the country or speak English as a second language; and a public librarian who helps underserved teens explore their passions and prepare for college.

More information is available on the I Love My Librarian website, 2017 Winners

“This year’s I Love My Librarian Award recipients are true leaders who are inspiring and implementing strategies to better their communities,” said Jim Neal, president of the American Library Association. “Whether it’s fostering inclusion and diversity or mentoring youth, these librarians are expanding beyond their traditional roles and providing more opportunities to meet the changing needs of the patrons they serve.”

The ceremony is hosted by the philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York, which co-sponsors the award along with The New York Public Library and The New York Times. The American Library Association administers the award through its Public Awareness Office, which promotes the value of libraries and librarians.


Natalia Fernández, Associate Professor, Curator and Archivist of the Oregon Multicultural Archives and OSU Queer Archives

“It is such a joy to collaborate with Oregon State University’s and the state of Oregon’s LGBTQIA and communities of color to create opportunities that empower them to preserve and celebrate their stories. I am so grateful to work with such wonderful community members who are so open to sharing their histories, as well as to work in an environment that supports the initiatives I direct.

I am very honored and humbled that my incredible colleagues and community partners nominated me for this award. If there were an award titled “I Love My Community”, they would definitely win it.

Librarians and archivists are in a unique position to positively impact the communities we serve as we create a more socially just and inclusive society, and I am so proud to be a part of this profession.”

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“Sense of Place” The Latino/a Community in Hood River

2017-11-08-SenseOfPlaceOn November 8th, the OMA participated in a panel discussion as part of the Hood River “Sense of Place” series. The event “Talking History/Talking Spanish” about the history of the Latino/a community in Hood River was organized by Dr. Lynn Orr, Director of the Hood River History Museum. The event featured three panelists: Ubaldo Hernández, Lisa Muñoz, and Eduardo Bello, who all spoke about their experiences as members of the Latino/a community in Hood River – a community that makes up 30% of the area’s population. And, the OMA’s Latinos en Oregón oral history project was also featured.

Ubaldo Hernández is a Gorge resident since the 1990s and a co-founder of Radio Tierra; he recently joined Columbia Riverkeeper as Community Organizer. He offers a novel take on the Latino experience in the realm of community involvement and social activism.

Lisa Muñoz was born and raised in Hood River and received her BA degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Lewis & Clark College in 2012. Having returned to Hood River to assess and chart her future, Lisa is manager at Dog River. Lisa is also Oral History Coordinator for The History Museum’s Latino outreach program.

Eduardo Bello has been in the US since the mid-1980s and moved to Hood River shortly after arriving in L.A. He has been involved in a variety of businesses, including the establishment of La Clinica, Hood Ricer’s first Latino/a focused health clinic.

Title: “Sense of Place: Talking History/Talking Spanish”
Date: November 8, 2017
Location: Hood River, Oregon
Length: 01:21:22

Link to video recording of “Sense of Place: Talking History/Talking Spanish”

Also, as part of the event, we promoted the Hood River History Museum’s current exhibit “Sharing History/Building Community” on view September 30 — December 30, 2017. Below are photos of the exhibition:

20171109_HR-Exhibit-00120171109_HR-Exhibit-00220171109_HR-Exhibit-00320171109_HR-Exhibit-00420171109_HR-Exhibit-00520171109_HR-Exhibit-00620171109_HR-Exhibit-00720171109_HR-Exhibit-00820171109_HR-Exhibit-00920171109_HR-Exhibit-01020171109_HR-Exhibit-01120171109_HR-Exhibit-012Lynn Orr giving a tour to a group of high school students.


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Glitter in the Archives! Year 2


Today, OSQA hosted its second annual Glitter in the Archives crafting event! We supplied attendees with copies of archival materials to use as part of their collage creations. Just as it was last year, one of the main goals of this event was to use archival materials as a way to imagine queer futures, particularly as they pertain to OSU and the surrounding community.

And, a note from Sam, graduate student at the Oregon State Queer Archives: “This year’s Glitter in the Archives event was a wonderful moment in the queer history of OSU. Using copies of archival materials and popular images connected with queer politics and queer lives today, participants created some truly fantastic collages that blur the boundaries between past, present, and future. Having participated in the event last, it amazing to see things from the other side: I witnessed the excitement in participants’ eyes as they cut things apart and reassembled them in interesting ways that sent entirely new messages about the role of queer histories and possibilities for queer futures at Oregon State University and beyond. Thank you to everyone who attended the event – I hope you got as much out of it as I did!”

Check out Glitter in the Archives 2016 and see this year’s event photos below!

Glitter Event Attendees

Glitter Event Attendees

Donations to OSQA!

Donations to OSQA!

Button Making:

Button Makers

Button Makers



Beautiful Collages:

glitter2-collage1 glitter2-collage3glitter2-collage4glitter2-collage5collage_2

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The Black Woman Series (Panel)


The Race in America series began last year and continues on this year with a focus on honoring black women. “Race in America: The Black Woman” will include three events during the 2017-2018 academic year. This fall term event featured four OSU faculty and administrators who shared their stories of empowerment as black women within higher education.

The four panelists Iyunolu Osagie, Charlene Alexander, Allison Davis White-Eyes, and Jennifer Brown all speak about their personal and professional journeys within higher education and academia (note: Dr. Brown requested to not be recorded). They share their experiences as black women in the locations in which they were raised, were they studied, and their time at Oregon State University. The event also features various short videos featuring inspirational black women speaking about their identities; they include Maya Angelou performing her poem “Still I Rise” as well as the actresses Tracee Ellis Ross, Taraji P. Henson, and Uzo Aduba. The recording also includes a short question and answer session.

Iyunolu Osagie, Professor of English, School of Writing, Literature and Film within the College of Liberal Arts
Charlene Alexander, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer in the Office of Institutional Diversity
Allison Davis White-Eyes, Director of Community Diversity Relations in the Office of Institutional Diversity, previously the Assistant Vice Provost and Director, Diversity & Cultural Engagement

Panel Information
Panelists: Iyunolu Osagie, Charlene Alexander, and Allison Davis White-Eyes
Format: The speakers for this event were spread out within triangle form of chairs and attendees to represent the triad of Africa, The Caribbean, and the U.S.
Moderators: Terrance Harris, Marisa Chappell, Marilyn Stewart
Date: October 18, 2017
Location: Lonnie B Harris Black Cultural Center

Watch the recording of The Black Woman Series panel

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Herstory and Culture of Drag (Panel)


As part of Queer History month, the event “Herstory and Culture of Drag” featured a panel discussion and presentation on the history of drag culture and contemporary issues facing drag performers. And OSQA was there to record the event!

Panelists: Dharma Mirza, Brandi Douglas, and PJ Harris
Moderator: PJ Harris
Date: October 18, 2017
Location: OSU Memorial Union

Watch the full recording of “Herstory and Culture of Drag” available online

Starting with a presentation about the growth of drag culture and terminology, the panelists offer a useful introduction to the topic from the perspective of performers with varying levels and types of engagement with drag. Following their presentation, the panelists responded to a series of questions, mostly relating to the history of drag, the many complexities of drag performance, and the ongoing violence and risk affecting drag performers and their allies. The event is geared towards a general audience, but the panelists often spoke directly to people considering the possibilities of drag in their own lives.

PJ Harris: Currently under the performance name King Julian G-String, PJ has been doing drag since 2014 and was OSU Beaver Royalty in 2015. PJ is also a Student Success Peer Facilitator at the OSU Pride Center.

Miss Dharma Prada MacPherson: Mother of the Haus of Dharma and the recipient of numerous awards for her many years of drag performance, Miss Dharma is a self-identified legend within the drag community of Oregon and beyond and a member of “Queens of the Valley,” a group three well-known drag queens from Corvallis and the surrounding areas.

Brandi Douglas: Brandi is currently the Assistant Director of Outreach in the Office of Institutional Diversity. Their drag name is Petty Washington, and they are a member of the Haus of Petty. Their drag performances frequently raise money for causes important to them.


PJ Harris, Miss Dharma Prada MacPherson, and Brandi Douglas

This event was a part of OSU’s 2017 Queer History Month


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“Uprooted” exhibit at the OMA!

uprooted-01It’s finally here! Three years ago, the Oregon Multicultural Archives (OMA) booked the traveling exhibit “Uprooted: Japanese American Farm Labor Camps during World War II” to come to OSU, and the exhibit is now here and open to the public!

The exhibit showcases the history of the Japanese American farm labor camp near Nyssa, Oregon, through the stories of the people who lived and worked in the camp. The labor camp was the first of its kind organized during World War II. It became operational in May of 1942 and at its peak it held 350 people. Through the exhibit you learn about the camp, Oregon’s plan for the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during the war, and the national need for agricultural laborers, specifically in the sugar beet industry. For more information about the exhibit, photos, and links to more resources, be sure to view the exhibit website: Uprooted Exhibit

Exhibit Information


Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University
5th Floor of the Valley Library
201 SW Waldo Place
Corvallis, OR

October 9, 2017 – January 5, 2018
Monday – Friday 9am-5pm

Also, to learn about OSU’s story in relation to the forced removal and relocation of the Japanese Americans, check out the blog post OSU’s Japanese American Students During WWII

And lastly, here are some photos of the exhibit:





The last image is of a bonus exhibit on the main floor of the library, in the lobby area.


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The OMA Featured in Memoria


Memoria is The Society of American Archivists (SAA)’s Latin American & Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives Section blog, and the OMA was featured this month!

The OMA Featured in Memoria, October 2017


“LACCHA is a forum for anyone interested in the issues affecting Latin American and Caribbean Archives housed in United States archives, and archives created by the Diaspora’s communities from the Latin American and Caribbean region.

The mission of the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives (LACCHA) section is to create a space to exchange ideas and provide support among US, Caribbean and Latin American archivists about the challenges and opportunities of acquiring, managing, preserving and giving access to those archival materials not only originating from Latin American & the Caribbean and housed in the United States but also archival collections created by groups from different Diasporas coming from these regions and living in the United States.”

~ SAA LACCHA Memoria blog about page

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The OMA Presents at the OSU TRIAD Club


Today, the OMA presented at the first meeting for the 2017-2018 academic year of the TRIAD Club at OSU.  The presentation, “In Their Own Words: The Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection”, gave information about the Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection, shared the collection backstory and details of the 2015-2016 grant project to make the collection accessible, and showcased some of the interview content within the oral history interviews.

The presentation was given by Natalia Fernández, the curator of the Oregon Multicultural Archives and OSU Queer Archives, and associate professor at Oregon State University. Below are the presentation slides and notes:


As the curator of the Oregon Multicultural Archives and OSU Queer Archives, I collaborate with LGBTQIA and communities of color to empower them to preserve, share, and celebrate their stories. My work includes collection development, instruction, exhibit curation, and public programming.


This collection is made up of 29 individual, multi-part, and group oral history interviews between film maker Michael Grice and African American railroad porters employed in the Portland area. Grice is an educator, a co-founder of the World Arts Foundation, Inc. and an advocate for the preservation of African American culture. These recordings form much of the background research used for Grice’s 1985 film, “Black Families and the Railroad in Oregon and the Northwest.”

Although the African American community in Oregon is relatively small (about 2% based on the 2010 Census), their social and economic impact on the state has been substantial and this collection will add to the community’s history. By preserving these oral history interviews and making them accessible online, the stories of these individuals can be used by researchers, students, teachers, and the general public. The information gained through the interviews can be used to deepen the level of understanding of how African Americans played a significant role in the social and economic changes to the Portland area and the state during the 20th century.

In 2015, the OMA received a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust to digitize, transcribe, and make accessible the collection’s oral history interviews. The website includes brief interviewee biographies and interview summaries, access to the interview audio files, and transcripts of all the interviews.


In January 2015 Michael “Chappie” Grice and his colleague, historian, and friend Bob Zybach, reached out to us regarding a collection of reel-to-reel tapes of oral history interviews conducted mostly in the 1980s regarding the experiences of African-American Railroad Porters in Oregon. The Oregon Multicultural Archives was a great match as the repository – the mission of the OMA is to assist in preserving the histories and sharing the stories that document Oregon’s African American, Asian American, Latino/a, and Native American communities. We do not have the in-house capacity to digitize reels – we needed a grant to digitize and transcribe the interviews.


The OSU Special Collections and Archives Research Center was awarded a $5000 grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust for our “Oregon Black Railroad Porters Oral History Preservation Project.” The funds were used to transfer twenty-nine oral history interviews from their current open reel audio format to digital form and to have the interviews professionally transcribed. The stories told in the interviews are showcased through a website featuring the oral histories along with contextual information about Oregon’s black railroad porter community. The collection was further highlighted through two open to the public community events: a book talk with Max Geier and a presentation by Michael Grice.


This project preserves oral histories that recount the work of Portland’s African American railroad porters in the early and mid-20 century, at a time when job opportunities for African American males were largely limited to service related jobs. The interviews feature the experiences of Oregonians and in addition to expanding the state’s historical record, the interviews will also add valuable information to the history of African Americans in the Pacific Northwest, as well as the historical experiences of black railroad porters across the nation.


To highlight the significance of these interview subjects, the following is a brief overview of the work of a selection of interviewees:

  • Otto Rutherford was involved in the Portland chapter of the NAACP and played an important role in the successful passage of the Public Accommodations Bill, also known as the Oregon Civil Rights Bill, in the state legislature in 1953.
  • E. Shelton Hill arrived in Portland in 1941 as a railroad employee, served as president of the Urban League of Portland from 1959 to 1973, and successfully advocated for the rights of Oregon’s African Americans.
  • James Brooks who served as director of the Urban League of Portland from 1974-1978, after heading several of the League’s programs.

Slide9Extra information: “Employment hierarchy and description of duties” i.e. cooks, waiters, porters, etc. vs. the jobs not available to black men such as engineers, conductors, brakemen, bartenders and “Variety of Perspectives” i.e. fond memories vs. very negative experiences working for the railroad.


Sample Experience: Vernon Gaskin

Vernon Gaskin was born in 1908 and raised in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His parents were pioneers in the state, being the only black family in the area for many years. He recalls moving to Portland in 1927 and discusses the racial segregation encountered there. He first visited Portland in 1925 after joining the Union Pacific. He went on a trip around the world as a waiter in 1926, then continued with the railroad. He discusses meeting his wife in church and his habit of going to the closest church in every town he stayed in on the railroad. Gaskin switched to the Southern Pacific in 1933. He describes the many unexpected duties of dining car workers, such as nursing sick passengers and dealing with emergencies, and the long hours and working conditions. Gaskin also talks about segregation on the train, both in physical spaces and in the types of jobs and wages available to black workers.

The transcript of the clip used is at the end of this blog post.


Sample Experience: Otto Rutherford

Otto Rutherford was born in February of 1911. His parents had come to Portland in 1897, his father and uncle coming to Portland as hotel barbers. Rutherford began working for the Union Pacific in 1934 as a summer job between school sessions. He describes the tall and short crews and uniforms on the railroad and relays an incident where a white woman temporarily lost her diamond ring and investigators searched the crew, but not the passengers. He noted that the crew was always seen as guilty, and defending yourself could get you fired. Rutherford was a member of a union of cooks and waiters that met secretly in Holiday’s Barbershop in Portland. He discusses the values of organizing and the fear of being fired for union activities. Rutherford also discusses work hours and income and describes several unpleasant incidents on the railroad, as well as the family-like bond among co-workers. Also in this recording he describes growing up in Portland when there were very few black residents.

The transcript of the clip used is at the end of this blog post.


Public Programming – Event 1 of 2

In February 2016, the OMA and the OSU Press hosted a book reading and talk by author Max G. Geier about his book The Color of Night: Race, Railroaders, and Murder in the Wartime West. The book revolves around the 1943 trial of Robert E. Lee Folkes, a young black man and train cook who Geier argues was wrongly accused and convicted of the murder of Martha James, a young white woman, while both were aboard a train traveling near the Willamette Valley town of Albany, Oregon. Folkes’ trial, controversial conviction, and resulting execution provokes thought about race, class, and privilege in Oregon (more about the book later in the presentation). And I presented about the Oregon African American railroad porter oral history interviews collection grant project details.


Public Programming – Event 2 of 2

“Hear the Stories: Oregon African American Railroad Porters Oral History Collection”, October 12, 2016. The second event featured Michael Grice sharing the stories of Oregon’s African American railroad porters, including his personal experiences. We had the collection materials available to view, along with i-pads that enabled event attendees to peruse the collection website. Notably, this event was recorded and the presentation is available online.


Earlier mention of the book The Color of Night ~ interesting side story…As part of my work is to acquire relevant collections for the archives, I spoke with Professor Geier to see if he would be interested in donating his collection of research files used for writing The Color of Night. He agreed, and after being arranged and described, the collection is now available for researchers. The research files include Geier’s research on the history of African Americans in Oregon and California, as well as the history of the Pullman Company; legal documents and other materials related to the Robert E. Lee Folkes case; and The Color of Night manuscript drafts and publication related documents. It acts as complimentary collection to the railroad porters oral history collection.

Max Geier The Color of Night Research Files, circa 1900s-2016

Slide15Slide16Thank you!

*** Transcripts of Interview Clips ***

Vernon Gaskin Interview 

VG: Why, I left the Union Pacific and signed in with the Southern Pacific.
MG: I see.
VG: And that’s — put in the rest of our railroading days there with the Southern Pacific.
MG: In the dining car?
VG: In the dining car, mhmm.
MG: You recall any interesting incidents in working in the dining car?
VG: Oh yes, yeah. Many of them.
MG: What comes to mind?
VG: Well, only thing about the dining car is that men in the Pullman cars would tell you it’s the heart of the train. Don’t care what happens on that train, they going to run right to the dining car with that problem. Yeah, that’s right. A woman’s raped, if she’s robbed, kid gets sick, a woman’s going to have a child, they run right to the dining car. I have assisted in bringing two children into the world.
MG: On a train.
VG: On the train, mhmm. Back in the [00:13:56 unintelligible]. That’s right, mhmm.
MG: It is like a hotel on wheels maybe, so to speak.
VG: Really, mhmm. And that same way with the—well, I’ll let the old men know, but the same way with the Pullman cars. You know, if you became ill, even though you had a coach seat they’d haul you back to the Pullman car because that’s where the bed was, see. Oh yeah, mhmm. And we were everything on the train, yeah. You’re a waiter, you’re a porter, everything. You’re a nurse. And it was rewarding, the job. Hard work.
MG: What would you say the hardest thing about it was?
VG: The hours.
MG: The hours. Long hours?
VG: Long hours. See, a normal day for a waiter was sixteen hours, and you were going that sixteen hours. Sometimes you’d have to eat your meals standing up, see. And even at that, our day was shorter than the Pullman porters, believe it or not. So I’ll let—I won’t go into their department. I’ll stay away from that, but it’s hard after being connected so closely with the Pullman service and the dining cars are all together on the train, and it’s hard to separate, you know —
MG: Sure, it was all one team, more or less.
VG: Friendship. Yeah, that’s it, all on one team, yes. And well, it’s we came a long way as black workers. I might add that when I hired out in 1925, the salary was fifteen dollars a month. That was your monthly wage. And you didn’t work on an hourly basis; you worked on a daily basis. We had no unions; unions were unheard of in those days.
MG: Okay.
VG: So you just had to grin and bear it, whatever they requested. Now I — well I’ll stay, let’s stay in the Dining Car Department.
MG: Alright.
VG: I worked in about every position; a cook, waiter, and the last seven years that I was on the road I was finally elevated to steward, I’m a steward. Of course that took place after the equal opportunity law came effective. They had to promote us. Those of us that worked in —
MG: Do you remember what year that was? Was that in the sixties?
VG: Oh yeah, let’s see, you know, because I retired in ’73. That’s been nineteen what, ’66?
MG: Well, it was ’64 the Civil Rights Act.
VG: Yeah, the law was at about that time but I didn’t get my promotion until about ’66, along in there.
MG: Yeah, because I remember I worked on the road ’66, ’67, ’68, and they didn’t — I never had seen a black steward.
VG: They were few and far between.
MG: Yeah, there were some, but…
VG: Mhmm. And so that was one of the highlights of my railroading career is to make that promotion to become a steward in charge of the dining car.

Otto Rutherford Interview

OR: I’ll tell you one thing that stands out so vividly in my mind, and I curse the Union Pacific till the day I die: one day between Pocatello and Green River, a woman, needless to say she was white, went to the lavatory early in the morning to clean up, and she swore she had left a diamond ring on the edge of the basin.
MG: The night before?
OR: Early in the morning. So when we got to Green River the special agents got on and searched the crew. Never a passenger. I knew, John Miner [spelling?] knew, and my workers, the fellas who worked with me, knew we didn’t see the woman’s ring. And so at lunch time the woman got ready to get ready for lunch, she looked in her purse and doggone it, there was her ring. I still resent it, that we as employees never had a word to say. We were always guilty, always guilty. And I’ll curse the Union Pacific and everybody else till the day I die.
MG: They didn’t give you an opportunity —
OR: But in those days, you see, we didn’t have this civil rights sort of thing, so all you had to lean on was to open your mouth and then get fired. So I — the Union Specific was great for that. They’ll bring on a special agent and search the crew; never search the passenger.
MG: They wanted to absolve the railroad of any responsibility.

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