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New historical marker in Philomath honors early Black residents of Benton County

A new sign in Philomath tells the story of Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley, early Black residents of the Benton County community.
Oregon Travel Information Council
A new sign in Philomath tells the story of Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley, early Black residents of the Benton County community.

There's a new historical marker in Philomath that honors some early Black residents of Benton County.

The marker tells the story of Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley. Both were enslaved when they were brought to Oregon in the mid-19th century. Both eventually gained their freedom and they later married each other.

Later, the Shipleys donated land for a local cemetery, called Mt. Union Cemetery, which is still in use today.

“If you look around Benton County, there’s just darn few visible markers for the contributions of Oregon’s Black pioneers," said Roger Blaine, a member of the Corvallis Baháʼí Community, which helped organize the effort to create the new sign.

Blaine said he was drawn to the story of the Shipleys because he said they exhibited some of the characteristics that are main tenets of the Baháʼí faith.

"Among the characteristics that Baháʼí's appreciate and try to emulate are things like collaboration, the oneness of human kind, that we're all created equal, and that we want to be a service to the community," he said. "And when I look at Reuben Shipley, he does all of those things. He's a Black man in a world that is populated by white folks and they don't care too much for Black folks. He's collaborative and works with people around him and makes a gift to the community of a cemetery where he and other Black folks can be buried alongside white folks."

According to a press release from the Oregon Travel Information Council, the marker was jointly funded by the Oregon Community Foundation, the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Indians, the Baha'i Faith of Corvallis, the Oregon Black Pioneers, and contributions of 43 individual donors.

“We are proud to honor the Black Oregonians who made a life for themselves and their families during the years of legalized Black exclusion," said Zachary Stocks, Executive Director of the Oregon Black Pioneers. "The story of Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley represents the courage and perseverance of all 19th century Black pioneers, particularly in their achievements after their freedom was realized.”

The marker is located near the Mount Union Cemetery in Philomath, at the intersection of James Street and the Hunsaker bike path. The public is invited to a dedication ceremony on Saturday, July 23 at 11 a.m. People attending the event are encouraged to park at the LDS church, which is adjacent to the location on James Street.

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.”