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Oregon’s Black Pioneers Honored With Exhibit

Benton County Historical Society

Black pioneers in Oregon are being honored with an exhibit at the Benton County Historical Society in Philomath. It's called "Black In Oregon: 1840 - 1870."


The history of early Black settlers is told through personal stories and artifacts. Some were enslaved when they arrived. Others came to Oregon by choice.


All faced legal and social inequities, said Zachary Stocks, the executive director of Oregon Black Pioneers, an organization dedicated to preserving and presenting the experiences of Blacks in Oregon.


Stock said he hopes the exhibit gets people thinking.

“When we talk about our state’s history and the pioneer narrative that defines the Oregon experience, we don’t often think about the Black individuals who were also part of that experience,” he said. 

Much of the exhibit was originally on display in 2018 at the Oregon State Archives in Salem. Oregon Black Pioneers then converted the material into something more suited for a traveling exhibition. Some of the exhibit was on display at a coffeehouse in Salem last summer. The stop in Benton County is the first in a formal museum setting.

"I've talked to people from other museums over the last couple of weeks who are interested in hosting it at other places around the state," said Mark Tolonen, the curator of exhibits at the Benton County Historical Society. "I hope that will happen."

The exhibit is on display through April 17. Admission is free, but COVID-19 measures mean no more than six visitors can be in the museum at a time.

Hours and location information are available on the Benton County Historial Society's website.


Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”