Celebrating the Contributions of Oregon’s African American Pioneers

Who We Are

Our Goals

The Oregon Black Pioneers is an all volunteer nonprofit organization based in Salem, Oregon. It was founded in 1993 and incorporated in 1994 to do research and educate Oregonians about African-Americans’ contributions to Oregon’s history. Within the next few years, the organization developed a small resource booklet and study guide on Oregon’s black history and distributed it through the Salem-Keizer School District and Marion County Historical Society.

Its original plan was to continue expanding on its research and telling the stories of these pioneers through presentations, exhibits, and books and to partner with school districts and historical organizations to distribute this information statewide.

2009 David Duniway Award for Historic Preservation, Marion County Historical Society
2009 Education Award, Oregon Assembly for Black Affairs
2010 Heritage Award, American Legacy Magazine
2014 Nominee for McMath Award presented by the University of Oregon

The Oregon Black Pioneers adopted a two-year strategic plan to guide its near-term priorities, and is working to complete a business plan that will assure its sustainability over time. We are proud that we are able to continue the work of researching, documenting, and presenting this “lost history”. In 2011, we published our first book with "Perseverance” A History of African Americans in Oregon’s Marion and Polk Counties". A second book, "African Americans of Portland" was published in 2013. As our founders envisioned, we plan to move forward from there, expanding our work to include all Oregon counties and bringing attention and honor to all of Oregon’s black pioneers. 

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What We Do

Pioneer Cemetery Advocacy

As an organization, Oregon Black Pioneers also began fundraising events to provide college scholarships for graduating high school seniors of African-American heritage.

The organization was inactive from 1996 to 2004; new leadership then emerged to continue with programs, research and exhibits, scholarships, and youth development. The organization is now governed by an active volunteer board of directors that works with community volunteers and confers with academic consultants and historical organizations to do research, compile historical information, and present its findings through oral presentations and exhibits and in written form.

The board welcomes people of all races in fulfilling its mission, and there is a board-approved nondiscrimination policy in place. People of a variety of races have served on the board and committees, and one of the goals of our strategic plan is to increase the board’s size and range of expertise.

A highlight of our work with one such group (the Friends of the Pioneer Cemetery) led to our discovery that there are more than forty black pioneers buried at the Pioneer Cemetery in Salem, in both marked and unmarked graves.

In 2007, the Oregon  Black Pioneers presented the City of Salem with a stone marker for the cemetery to honor the memory of those pioneers. This gift to the city was accepted by Mayor Janet Taylor at a well-attended ceremony that kicked off an exhibit called “Salem’s Black Voices,” which told the stories of many of those pioneers.

Research Affiliations

Oregon Black History Exhibits

Well-known black history expert Dr. Darrell Milner, professor of African-American history at Portland State University, serves as primary academic consultant. In addition, the organization has renewed a relationship with the Marion County Historical Society and has been collaborating with this group as well as the Polk County Historical Society in doing research, preparing presentations, publishing findings, and developing exhibits. For the last few years, the organization has partnered with the Salem Multicultural Institute in its Lecture/Presentation Series to present annual exhibits and lectures during National Black History Month at the Reed Opera House in Salem. In addition, it has presented exhibits at a variety of venues, including an educational booth at the World Beat Festival in Salem each year and exhibits at the Heritage Museum in Independence, the Salem Public Library, and the Sheep and Shawl Day at Mission Mill Museum.

Historical Education

Fund-raising Events

Since 2004, the Oregon Black Pioneers has continued its research and created presentations, displays, and exhibits on Oregon black history for an array of secondary schools, colleges, civic clubs, and historical societies. Examples include age-appropriate presentations at several elementary schools in the Salem-Keizer School District, an exhibit at West Salem High School, and lectures at the college level at Chemeketa Community College and Linfield College.

In addition, we have given Oregon black history presentations at several local Rotary Clubs, including one in Oregon City. As a result of such outreach, local historical societies have requested speakers, and we have provided presentations both locally and around the state. This high level of interest on the part of important historical groups attests to the credibility of the work the organization is doing and Oregon historians’ desire to add this long-overlooked history of the state to their knowledge base.

The organization continues to hold annual fundraising events highlighting various aspects of black history and culture. These have included performances of notable works such as a one-woman presentation by award-winning author Velma Maia Thomas, who wrote No Man Can Hinder Me, and theatrical performances based on the book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats. These fundraisers, taking place at the Historic Elsinore Theater and Willamette University, have been very well received by the community. They have enabled the organization to fund over $25,000 in college scholarships for graduating high school seniors of African-American heritage and have contributed to the organization’s ongoing expenses.

“Discovering and documenting the history of the Oregon African Americans (pre and post statehood), which was basically lost, is now being uncovered by the ‘Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers’ board and advisors. With vigor and purpose the board has put permanence to that goal with the current major project being an Oregon African American museum in Salem to visually tell the story. Your support in providing information, artifacts, and financial contributions would be appreciated."

Victor Atiyeh (Oregon Governor 1979-1987)

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