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UO Report Sheds Light On Oregon's Racist Past

University of Oregon

University of Oregon president Michael Schill is asking for input on a proposal to remove the names of two men with racist histories from campus buildings. A new report by three historians sheds more light on Matthew Deady and Frederick Dunn.

Deady helped write the state’s constitution. He advocated for the exclusion of free blacks from Oregon. He also wrote in favor of slavery. Deady was a judge. He served on the University board of regents for 20 years. The U of O’s first building is named for him. Frederic Dunn was a U of O classic’s professor at the turn of the 20th century. He also led the Ku Klux Klan chapter in Eugene in the 1920s. A student dorm on campus is named for Dunn.
During the past school year, the UO Black Student Task Force demanded the removal of these men’s names from campus buildings. U of O President Schill commissioned the historical report as he considers a name change. Lane County NAACP Leader Eric Richardson says this isn’t a new issue.
Richardson: “This list of demands that the Black Student Task Force came up with was informed by a list of demands that had been in existence since the ‘60s. And so this issue of Deady Hall and Dunn Hall have been brought up many times before in the past. So, many activists have suggested this change be made.”
Richardson says changing the building names on campus can be a way of moving forward. That doesn’t mean forgetting the past.
Richardson: “I think that the University and higher education should get behind the idea of progress and diversity. I think they are and so I think by recognizing the past, and both honoring the past and the achievements that were made, but also looking at the mistakes and looking at how we can move forward in positive ways.”
Richardson says the fact that Ku Klux Klan leader, Frederick Dunn was teaching at the University of Oregon only one hundred years ago is something to be concerned about.  In the report, historians found Matthew Deady, despite his pro-slavery stance, later expressed support for emancipation. As a judge, he also supported Chinese immigrants.
Richardson:  “The idea that black people are “less than” is something that in a percentage of Americans, still exists. And therefore, by representation, others are less than, by a lesser degree. So the argument that we heard about well, Deady later in his judicial career made some decisions in favor of Chinese and Native Americans does not release him from the fact that Native Americans and Chinese are not black people.”
Richardson points out that the namesake of Lane County, Joseph Lane was also pro-slavery. He says it’s important to acknowledge the past. If the U of O buildings’ names are changed there can still be information posted about Deady and Dunn.
Richardson: “Who is going to be the one to stand up and make these bold decisions? I would be one to stand up and say, let’s respect them. So I think this is a decision that I’m sure weighs heavy on the president’s, Schill’s mind. I’ve spoken with him and he’s spent a lot of time this year dealing with this issue of race, as our nation has.”
President Schill has asked the U of O campus community to share input on Deady and Dunn Halls. He sent out an email this week requesting comment.  If Schill decides in favor of a name change, for one or both buildings, he’ll have to bring that proposal to the U of O Board of Trustees.

Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s host for All Things Considered on weekday afternoons. She also is the editor of the KLCC Extra, the daily digital newspaper. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000.