First Executive Director to Guide Further Research and Online Museum for Black Oregon Pioneers

“Although our population is small, the stories are really rich, fascinating and inspiring. People made their lives in a place where they were not welcome and black Oregonians are now receiving the benefit of their sacrifice, ”said Zachary Stocks, new director of Oregon Black Pioneers.

Zachary Stocks, the first executive director of Oregon Black Pioneers (Courtesy / Oregon Black Pioneers)

For more than 20 years, a small group of volunteers worked to find historical records of Black Oregon scattered across the state.

They have documented hundreds of lawyers, long-distance runners, miners and foresters in almost every county in the state. But those files are mostly confined to filing cabinets in the Salem office of the Oregon Black Pioneers.

“At the moment, the only way to know anything about them is to contact us,” said Zachary Stocks, executive director of the group.

Stocks is working to change that.

He is the first executive director and first paid staff member of the nonprofit, which seeks to tell a more comprehensive story of Oregon history.

Founded in 1993 by several residents of Black Salem, including the late Senator Jackie Winters, Oregon Black Pioneers has been a labor of love for board members, who have worked tirelessly to gather and verify information and organize events. exhibits on chapters in Oregon history.

“We’ve kind of been to the maximum of what you can accomplish with a volunteer-only board,” said Willie Richardson, group president.

The group received a $ 21,600 grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust last year to hire a part-time director for two years. Stocks has worked in museums and historic nonprofits in the Pacific Northwest for about a decade and has advocated for equity in the museum field. He said the job was tailor-made for him.

“I had a personal responsibility to make sure this could be successful,” he said of the Black Pioneers. His career goal was to take a leadership role, and he has long had an interest in black history and the history of the Pacific Northwest.

Originally from Virginia, Stocks earned a master’s degree in museology from the University of Washington and was director of visitor services at the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle. He now lives in Astoria, where he plans to stay, with occasional trips to Salem.

Richardson said the board was delighted to find a director with experience in both nonprofit management and black history.

“He comes with that passion and that interest and that makes us lucky,” she said.

Stocks said it had two priorities for black Oregon pioneers: researching the names of black Oregonians who came to the organization’s attention to learn more about their lives, and digitizing the records so that anyone can access their information online.

“We have tons of references to various African American historical figures who have contributed to the history and culture of the state,” he said. “Some of these things are as brief as the names included in a copy of the census record, but others are more detailed descriptions of their work or the names of their spouses, places they lived, types of industries of which they are part. “

Richardson said the group has applied for a grant for an online museum and hopes it will be up and running by early 2022.

“We have a lot of people who are interested in the African American history of Oregon, but it’s not in one central location that we can find it,” said Richardson. In recent years, Black Pioneers have spent much of their time organizing information for museum exhibits, she said. Now, with Stocks on board, the group’s management wants to focus once again on gathering more in-depth information on black Oregon people they know exist.

Stocks said he discovered several intriguing stories from the Black Oregonians during his first few weeks with the Black Pioneers. They include Toby Cotton Jr., a man raised in Portland and Gilliam County before his blacksmith father moved the family to Los Angeles. When Cotton’s father was injured on the job, the young man set off on a run across the United States in hopes of raising money for the family. Although he didn’t win, at 15, Cotton remains the youngest person known to have raced across the country, Stocks said.

Stocks said Oregon’s racist history of black exclusion laws had gained more public recognition in recent years, and especially now that the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police had sparked news. discussion of racism in all facets of American life.

These laws, enshrined in the state’s original constitution, explain why Oregon remains a very white state to this day, he said. About 2% of Oregonians identified as black according to 2019 census data.

But Stocks said the community has always been geographically diverse, with black Oregonians living in logging camps in Wallowa County, pushing for integrated schools in Coos Bay, and settling in the Salem area.

“Although our population is small, the stories are really rich, fascinating and inspiring. People made their lives in a place where they were not welcome and black people in Oregon today benefit from their sacrifice, ”he said.

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Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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