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Lane County Commission To Explore Whether Or Not To Stay 'Lane County'

Matthew Brady, Public Domain

In these times of social unrest, many historic ties to racism are being revisited. That’s been seen recently in everything from the toppling of statues to the rebranding of pancake syrup.  Now as KLCC’s Brian Bull explains, the next step could change the very name of Lane County.

Joseph Lane was the first territorial governor of Oregon, and a U.S. Senator. He was also the running mate of John C. Breckinridge, nominated by Southern Democrats for a failed presidential bid against Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

Lane’s pro-slavery stance and support for the Confederacy still hits a sour note with progressives. Now a Lane County Commission may opt for a new namesake.

Kerry Tymchuk is executive director for the Oregon Historical Society. He says Lane’s stance was less volatile in the 1800s than it is today.

“Oregon was a state that had banned slavery, but it had also banned all blacks from living in Oregon," he tells KLCC.  "So as we say, Oregon had an incredibly checkered past with race relations.”

Credit Library of Congress / Library of Congress; public domain.
Library of Congress; public domain.
Harry Lane, grandson of Joseph Lane, seen today as the more progressive of the two.

It's too early to tell what form a name-change process could take with the county. When new streets were created at a riverside development in Eugene last year, submissions were solicited from the public to create names that were culturally and historical relevant to the area.

Lane County could also keep its name by associating it with Joseph Lane's grandson, Harry, who supported women’s suffrage, sought peaceful relations with Native Americans, and opposed America’s entry into World War I.

Revisiting the past with modern sensibilities, standards

In the past month, Americans – including many in Oregon – have taken a hard, serious look at place names with racist connections.

Tymchuk says this has included changing the names of geographical areas containing the words “squaw” or “negro” over past decades.

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Protesters gather outside Deady Hall on June 7, 2020, as part of a "teach-in" organized by Black Indigenous People Of Color (BIPOC).

In light of the more recent Black Lives Matter activism, renewed focus is also on institutions whose founders supported slavery or the concept of white superiority.

“You have the issue with Matthew Deady at the University of Oregon, our first federal judge who had controversial views back then," continues Tymchuk. 

"So I think this a great conversation for Americans and for Oregonians to have, to look at our past, and reflect on it, and to think if there’s a better path forward.”

The UO Board of Trustees week will consider renaming Deady Hall next week.

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.
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