© 2024 KLCC

136 W 8th Ave
Eugene OR 97401

Contact Us

FCC Applications
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Commissioners Opt To Retain 'Lane County' Until Further Review

Credit Matthew Brady, Public Domain / https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/File:Lane-joseph.png

In spite of its controversial namesake, Lane County will remain “Lane County”, for the time being. 

At its latest meeting, the Lane County Board of Commissioners reviewed a proposed name change for the county. Joseph Lane’s pro-slavery sentiment and actions against Native Americans as Oregon’s first territorial governor was presented.

“Specifically to organize the government, protect white settlers and settlements, and manage what was then called ‘Indian Affairs’," Lane County spokesperson Devon Ashbridge said during the teleconferenced meeting.  "Certainly there are examples of battles and violence done under that guise towards Native Americans.”

Ashbridge says research also shows that Joseph Lane owned a slave, a 10-year-old Modoc boy who'd been captured in a war between that tribe and Rogue River Indians.   As to whether Lane espoused secession or advocated slavery as some accounts claim, Ashbridge says that was tougher to verify.

There are three options: Lane County Commissioners can rename the county, re-dedicate it in the name of another Lane (like his son, Harry, who’s seen as more progressive), or do nothing. After an hour's worth of discussion, the motion was unanimously passed to review potential costs to signage and letterheads, as well as incorporate feedback from the Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC( community, before revisiting the issue in a month or two.

Commissioners agreed that a public vote would be the most educational and fair way to determine the matter, versus having a board action based on a task force recommendation.

From today's presentation:

Thepower to rename Lane County is held solely by Lane County voters. Chapter 202 of Oregon Revised Statutes discusses the process for combining existing and creating new counties, including the requirement that the name goes before the electorate. It does not specifically address renaming an existing county.

Further, as a Home Rule county, Lane County claims the right to name itself under its home rule charter. Chapter 1, Section 1 of the Lane County Home Rule Charter states “The name of the county as it operates under this charter shall continue to be Lane County.” Changes to the Charter must be approved by Lane County voters. The charter cannot be changed without a vote of the electorate.

The power to rededicate Lane County can be exercised by either the Board of County Commissioners or Lane County voters. For the purpose of this discussion, rededication means keeping the name “Lane County” while renouncing the legacy of General Joseph Lane and selecting a different person with the name of Lane to serve as the namesake of the county. Oregon Revised Statutes do not address the rededication of county names.

Rededication can be accomplished by Board Order or by a vote of the electorate.

Renaming existing counties has not been a common practice in the United States for many decades. Two recent examples include Miami-Dade County in Florida and Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota.


Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.
Related Content