Blacks in Oregon II
Bill Long 8/21/05
The Elimination of Reference to Free Blacks
The previous essay laid out the issue of how Oregon voted to eliminate "free Negroes" from the State when they voted on their Constitution in 1857. That provision became Article 1, Sec. 35 of the Oregon Constitution. But here is the irony of that vote, especially as we enter into the Age of the Internet.
After the Oregon voters rescinded Article 1, Sec. 35 in 1926, the wording of which I provided in the previous essay, subsequent editions of the Oregon Constitution simply listed the title for Article I, Sec. 35 (Free Negroes; Mulattos), but dropped the wording that had formerly been in force. Many times states will preserve the original wording but indicate that it was eliminated by a vote of the people. Oregon decided to drop the wording altogether. But then they did something else. In the most recent edition of the Oregon Constitution, put out by the Legislative Counsel's Office, Article I, Sec. 35 is now entitled "Restrictions on rights of certain persons," and, of course, the original language of Article I, Sec. 35 is not present. The language of Article II, Sec. 6, which was also voted out by Oregon voters in the 1920s, (prohibiting "Negro" and "Chinaman" suffrage) has also been dropped, and the Section is now entitled: "Right of suffrage for certain persons," as if suffrage rights were being granted to certain groups, rather than taken away from Negroes, Chinamen and Mulattos.
The result of this is that any reader of the Oregon Constitution would get the notion that Oregon never discriminated against anyone in any way with respect to the franchise or living in the State. But, there was one limb sticking out of Procrustes' bed that still had to be hacked off before Oregon's Black history could be whitewashed. Even though assiduous effort had been made to eliminate the actual provisions from the Bill of Rights or the Suffrage articles and all traces that they had anything to do with discrimination, Article XVIII, the infamous "Schedule," still remained in the Oregon Constitution. It was Article XVIII, as you recall, that gave the choices to the Oregon voters on issues of adopting the Constitution, adopting slavery or adopting Black exclusion. Even though those sections of the original Constitution simply give historical information today, they bear painful witness to the very alert student (and you had to be alert to track down this problem) that Oregon had a big problem with racial discrimination in its past.
But, we can fix that. We can rewrite history. In 2001 the Oregon voters decided to eliminate large sections of Article XVIII from the Oregon Constitution. That is, the offensive Sec. 4, which spoke of the the provision about free Negroes, was elminated from Article XVIII. It simply was abolished. Subsequent editions of the Oregon Constitution don't even list the fact that Oregonians voted on whether to prohibit Blacks from entering and residing in the state.
The greatest irony, however, is how current Article XVIII reads. For when the Oregon Senate decided to refer the issue to the voters in 2001 to eliminate references to Oregon's painful past with Black exclusion, they didn't decide to eliminate all of Article XVIII. As a matter of fact, they only lopped off the question about Black exclusion. Thus, the current Oregon Constitution lists the following for Article XVIII (compare with the historical Article XVIII on the previous essay), first for Sec. 2.
"Do you vote for the Constitution? Yes, or No.
And also this question:
"Do you vote for Slavery in Oregon? Yes, or No.
After detailing how the votes should be recorded, the section ends. Current Sec. 4 reads the same as the original, except that all references to free Negros are eliminated. In other words, the impression is given that Oregon, from the beginning, was an anti-slavery State that probably welcomed Blacks and that the only issue on the agenda in 1857 relating to Blacks was whether there should be slavery in Oregon. In fact, Oregon had the most stringent Black exclusion provision in the country at the time. By rewriting the history of the Oregon Constitution we are encouraged to think that "We Shall Overcome" must have been drafted in the Oregon Constitutional Convention of 1857.
The deed has been done. History has been rewritten in Oregon. Oregon's racist past has been interred. Almost all traces of this have been removed from the Internet. But, there is only one problem. The Original Oregon Constitution still is on the Net. Oh, you have to strain your eyes to read it, but it is there. And, of course, you cannot look at Article 1 of the Constitution to find the Black exclusion provision because the original document was drawn up before the election where the voters would express their preference on Black exclusion. Thus, the original Oregon constitution simply has "unnumbered" sections at the end of Article I. These unnumbered sections don't even point you to the Schedule in Article XVIII to let you know how they are interrelated. All the unnumbered section (online) does is to say that Article 1, Sec. 35 dealt with "Free negroes and mulattos"
So you have to know to go to Article XVIII and read the very faint flowing script (which I have given in nicely typed letters in the previous essay) to learn that Oregon actually voted on the issue of exclusion of "Negroes." And so it was. Though the voters of Oregon have tried to remove every Constitutional trace of the racist past, there is that one slender and difficult-to-read filament from the Original Article XVIII that still exists and tells us the truth about ourselves. Actually, in my mind, the truth shouldn't be made so difficult to discover. Freedom really comes for people when you are not afraid to talk about your scars.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long