[Marxism] White only towns

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Oct 26 12:52:21 MDT 2005


>Wasn't Portland a sundown town?
>--
>Michael Perelman
>Economics Department
>California State University
>Chico, CA 95929

I am sure that Michael Yates will have more to say on this, but when I was 
in Powell's bookstore in Portland some years ago while visiting some old 
friends, I spent about 15 minutes browsing through an old book on Portland 
that documented its racist past. The KKK was very strong in the city in the 
1920s and the mayor actually allowed himself to be photographed in his 
offices with Klan leaders.

---

The Sunday Oregonian
January 5, 2003 Sunday SUNRISE EDITION
UNCOVERING OREGON'S TARNISHED PAST

OREGONIANS HAVE FEW reasons to gloat over Mississippian Trent Lott's serial 
apologies and self-induced miseries. Our state practiced forms of racial 
segregation for years after Strom Thurmond's failed 1948 bid for president.

Forget the romantic notions of a glorious pioneer past and a virtuous 
present. Oregon is certainly not a Mississippi or a South Carolina, but our 
state's history is scarred with racial prejudices, social conflict and 
violence: German backlash. The Ku Klux Klan. Red Squads. Japanese American 
relocation. Skinheads. Gangs.

Most Oregonians know little about their flawed history. Typical history 
lessons tend to emphasize the brawny, brave pioneers, and the state's many 
newcomers and a younger population carry no memory of Oregon's dark side. 
As the new year opens to the prospect of a war with Iraq, heightened 
tensions with North Korea, new terror alerts, constraints on our civil 
liberties and a sluggish economy, could Oregon's history predict its future?

WAR TYPICALLY HOLDS CIVIL liberties hostage to national security and 
unleashes violence against perceived enemies. The stage is set for a new 
wave of social conflict at home.

Reports of hate crimes in Oregon against Muslims and those of Arab ancestry 
increased from none to 29 between Sept. 11 and December 2001, according to 
the FBI. If we're not careful, the Patriot Act and newly established 
Department of Homeland Security could create an atmosphere of tolerating 
hate crimes.

Oregon's history offers many examples of the powerful trying to extinguish 
the powerless. During the 1800s, the exploration and acquisition of the 
Oregon Country, as it was known, by the United States renewed the national 
promise of democracy and economic opportunity. Oregon was viewed as a 
pristine place far from the corrupting influences of slavery, immigration, 
Catholicism and the factory.

In 1843, the Scottish Edinburgh Review newspaper said Oregon was "the last 
corner on Earth left free for the occupation of a civilized race." Just a 
straightforward expression of an English and American imperative: Dominate 
Oregon and the West with a mostly Protestant -- any very white -- culture. 
That year began the mass movement along the Oregon Trail.

This racial unity and cultural identity between white Britons and Americans 
proved a cautionary tale about violence, delivered with guns, axes, rocks 
and hands. Anglo-Saxonism merged with the biblical idea of God's chosen 
people, somehow justifying the triumph of white settlers over native peoples.

Perhaps this assumption of Manifest Destiny explains part of what happened 
in Oregon to Native Americans, Chinese and Japanese during the 19th and 
20th centuries. That attitude might also partly explain why Oregon's laws 
and constitution initially banned not only slavery but free blacks.

DURING WORLD WAR I, Oregon's pacifists, political radicals and German 
immigrants were the victims of stereotyping, verbal assaults and violence. 
Even before Congress passed the Espionage and Sedition acts, local police 
and social organizations enforced "proper patriotism."

Historian Gordon Dodds cites numerous instances of silly and serious 
responses to war on the homefront: "In Portland, the City Council changed 
the name of Frankfurt Street to Lafayette, Frederick to Pershing and 
Bismarck to Bush." In Tillamook, locals tarred and feathered a Swiss 
immigrant with a German-sounding name.

And during World War II, Japanese Americans were forced to live in 
relocation centers in inland states. There they suffered the additional 
indignities of racism and economic loss. In the Hood River Valley, Portland 
area truck farms and other places with small pockets of Japanese Americans, 
the war disrupted and destroyed old friendships and livelihoods. Race was 
the calling card.

Early in the 1900s, fears of espionage, subversion and terrorism spawned 
movements attacking radicals, foreigners and labor organizers. These early 
anti-radical activities evolved into the Red Scare of 1919, with its 
deportations and detainees, and set the stage for McCarthyism and more Red 
Scares in the 1960s and 1970s.

During these times, the Portland Police Department and other local law 
enforcement agencies used "Red Squads" to monitor the activities of alleged 
radicals and political activists, often collecting information 
indiscriminately and sometimes illegally.

AT TIMES, THESE UNDERCURRENTS of fear contributed to the growth of social 
movements intended to purge un-American elements from the population and 
culture. A revived Ku Klux Klan gained astonishing strength and political 
influence nationally and in Oregon for a brief time in the early 1920s.

Why Oregon?

It seemed an unlikely place for the KKK. In a state with a population of 
slightly more than 700,000, there were only about 2,000 African Americans, 
5,000 Chinese and 5,000 Japanese. There were few Jews or members of other 
minority faiths, and the state's population was only 8 percent Roman Catholic.

But the terrible legacy of World War I, severe economic problems in farming 
and logging and concerns about moral issues and rapid urbanization prompted 
a political realignment in the state. Klan organizers took advantage of 
this, rapidly turning the Oregon KKK into an effective force in local and 
state politics.

The Oregon Klan, which attracted an estimated 25,000 to 40,000 members, 
acted as if it was a chamber of commerce on steroids. The Klan sponsored 
the Women of the Klan, the Junior Order of Klansmen and the Royal Riders of 
the Red Robe, an organization for foreign-born Protestants. Oregon Klansmen 
defended conservative moral values in a decade popularly known as "the 
Roaring Twenties."

They paraded and burned crosses in Portland and communities throughout 
Oregon. The Klan loudly proclaimed the virtues of public schools, 
Protestantism, racial purity and One-Hundred Percent Americanism -- the 
Klan's version of true patriotism.

THE PAST IS NOT THE ONLY tarnished part of Oregon life; just look around 
you. The state's growing diversity and huge influx of new residents have 
broadened our understanding. But the past few decades also have brought 
some political baggage packed with negative ideas. Remember Lon Mabon and 
Bill Sizemore and their versions of cultural conservatism and anti-tax issues?

There's also a newer wave of self-consciously liberal and sophisticated 
urban elites crashing against the marble entryways and faux facades of tony 
neighborhoods such as Portland's Pearl District. Residents of the 
Eugene-to-Portland metropolitan corridor often express stereotypical 
attitudes toward loggers, ranchers and others who work the land as 
exploiters of natural resources. And what might they say to the "culturally 
challenged" residents of Eastern and Southern Oregon?

In its own way, this new Oregon can be as cruel and insensitive as the old 
one. The state is still divided in many ways by geography, politics, 
economics, class and race. It's not simply a rural/urban or 
Eastside/Westside dichotomy. Our experiences since 9/11 have added other 
significant factors.

Oregon's major urban areas are home to most of the state's Muslims and 
centers for racist skinhead groups and gang violence. The potential for 
social conflict and personal violence is obvious.

The arrest of Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye, imam of The Islamic Center of 
Portland and the false finding of suspected TNT residue in family luggage 
just magnified the difficulty of protecting civil liberties in a time of 
crisis. Another widely publicized example of Oregon's place in the war on 
terrorism was the October arrest of six members from local mosques for 
allegedly aiding the Taliban. Newsweek labeled them "The Portland Six," and 
the Rose City was said to be the site of at least one and maybe more terror 
cells.

There was a news frenzy until later stories described the suspects as 
better suited for the Keystone Kops than the Taliban. Amateurs or 
terrorists? asked one story from The Oregonian. Experts said they could be 
either. Meanwhile, friends mostly described five of the six as devout 
Muslims and U.S. citizens. Guilty or innocent, the resulting headlines 
upended a minority community already on edge.

THESE OREGON ARRESTS, necessary as they might be, and the FBI's questioning 
of other Muslims have revived memories of the relocation of Japanese 
Americans and the Red Scares. History can provide us with examples of 
behavior, but it does not dictate standards of behavior. Those are ours to 
choose; future generations will judge us for how we act.

Consider that a full-scale war with Iraq will feature a correspondingly 
greater casualty rate, heightened social tensions, and increased fear of 
terrorist attacks. Oregon is no longer protected from harm by distance from 
battlefronts, but we are not the first generation to face the challenge of 
change. As our state becomes more racially and culturally diverse, we need 
to revive that often forgotten Oregon promise of freedom, opportunity and 
equality -- a promise that has so often eluded us.

Rather than stand in line with future apologies of our own, the greatest 
challenge will be to avoid them and keep Oregon's tarnished past just that 
-- a part of history.



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