“No free Negro, or Mulatto, not residing in this state at the time of the adoption of this constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this state, or hold any real estate, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein; and the Legislative Assembly shall provide by penal laws, for the removal, by public officers, of all such Negroes, and Mulattos, and for their effectual exclusion from the state, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into the state, or employ, or harbor them.”
— Oregon Constitution, 1857. The clause was repealed in 1926, but the language remained until it was removed in 2001. Oregon is the only state to be admitted into the Union with an exclusion law based on race.
In the mid 1940s, Oregon’s booming timber and shipyard industries drew African Americans leaving the South as part of the Great Migration to cities in the North, Midwest and West.
Black people couldn’t find housing in Eugene because of widespread deed restrictions against selling homes or renting to them, so in the early 1940s they created the area’s first African-American community on the north bank of the Willamette River, just outside of the city limits. The small community was called “Across the River” or “Across the Bridge” by some and known as “Tent City” by others.
A 2016 article in the The Register-Guard described it as follows:
“White people called it Tent City. To the black families who lived there in dirt-floor shacks, it was just known as ‘Across the Bridge.’ Willie Mims says. ‘Anybody asked, we would say: We live across the bridge.’
They drew water from the Willamette, cooked food on an open fire and erected a small chapel with a canvas roof.
A late 1940s tally of Tent City counted 22 families living there and a total of 101 people, 65 of them black, the remainder poor whites.”
Families such as the Mims, the Washingtons, the Reynolds, the Nettles, the Johnsons, the Stubbs, the Henrys and many others founded a community that they, as African Americans, could call home. But as the region grew, more land was sought to expand the Ferry Street Bridge, and in 1949, Lane County issued notices to Ferry Street residents to vacate in six months.
On August 24, 1949, a bulldozer flattened homes and the church. The destruction continued beyond the area outlined in the notice. According to eye-witness accounts, some families were prepared, while others were not and did not have enough time to grab their belongings before fleeing their homes. Families were forced to relocate to Eugene’s outskirts in present day Glenwood, High Street (at the base of Skinner Butte) and West 11th Avenue near Bailey Hill Road.
Alton Baker Park exists now where this community once stood. Although the buildings were destroyed or moved, and the residents were displaced, this location continues to be remembered as the home of Eugene’s first Black community.
Efforts are underway to honor and remember the Ferry Street Community. In February of 2021, Lane County’s Board of County Commissioners voted in favor of publicly acknowledging its role in the destruction of the county’s first Black community and agreed to contribute funds for a memorial.
“The Lane County Board of County Commissioners requests that the Public Works Department work with the City of Eugene to memorialize Lane County’s first Black Community and recognize the injustice inflicted by Lane County to begin a process of reconciliation with our past and to actively acknowledge and address the remnants of Lane County’s historical legacy.” – Lane County Board of County Commissioners Meeting, Board Resolution, adopted February 2, 2021
· Wolfe, M (2019). Civic Unity Comes to Lane County, Lane County Historian
· Lane County Board of County Commissioners Meeting Minutes, February 2, 2021 https://lanecounty.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_3585797/File/Government/BCC/2021/2021_ORDERS/020221/21-02-02-04.pdf
· Beckner, C. (2009). Tearing Down Eugene's Black Community (Unpublished master's thesis). The University of Oregon. page 51
· Historic Preservation Northwest and Eugene Planning and Development Department (2003). Eugene Modernism 1935-1965.
· Baker, Mark. The Register-Guard. Sept. 27, 2015. https://www.registerguard.com/article/20150927/NEWS/309279998Sources
The tragedy of Ferry Street Community sheds light on past and present injustice, as well as the individual and communal pain that it caused. Increasingly, research shows that racial trauma contributes to adverse health conditions and is often passed down through generations. Research also shows that models like LACE (Love, Authenticity, Courage and Empathy www.thelaceheartedway.com) provide tools for acknowledging and disrupting trauma. Reflecting on the creation of the Ferry Street Community and forced removal of the families shortly after is an opportunity to share love by caring about others’ pain.
From the arrival of the first enslaved people to current times, Black Americans have suffered centuries of racial violence and intergenerational trauma. How are you leaning into the resources of love, authenticity, courage and empathy as you continue to work to end racism and other forms of oppression?
What responsibility do communities of color have to and for one another? How do you “bear witness to the truth” and “make the invisible visible,” even when your particular group is not in danger?
Love can look like acknowledging past and present injustice and caring about others’ pain. In what way does the forced displacement and trauma that the Ferry Street Community residents experienced provide an opportunity to reflect on, care about and redress the pain of others?
· Aroke, E. N., Joseph, P. V., Roy, A., Overstreet, D. S., Tollefsbol, T. O., Vance, D. E., & Goodin, B.R. (2019). Could epigenetics help explain racial disparities in chronic pain? Journal of Pain Research, 12, 701–710. https://doi.org/10.2147/JPR.S191848
· Conching, A. K. S., & Thayer, Z. (2019). Biological pathways for historical trauma to affect health: A conceptual model focusing on epigenetic modifications. Social Science & Medicine, 230, 74–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2019.04.001
· Majeno, A., Urizar Jr., G. G., Halim, M. L. D., Nguyen-Rodriguez, S. T., & Gonzalez, A. (2020). Examining the role of ethnic microaggressions and ethnicity on cortisol responses to an acute stressor among young adults. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000401
· Sullivan, S. (2013). Inheriting racist disparities in health. Critical Philosophy of Race, 1(2), 190. https://doi.org/10.5325/critphilrace.1.2.0190
· Van Der Kolk, Bessel. 2015. The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin.
· Yehuda, R., & Lehrner, A. (2018). Intergenerational transmission of trauma effects: Putative role of epigenetic mechanisms. World Psychiatry, 17(3), 243–257. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20568Sources
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