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Grand Ronde tribal owners of Jacob Vanderpool's former business site express support for historical marker.

Jacob Vanderpool, the only known person expelled from Oregon under the state's Black exclusionary laws, might be memorialized at the Willamette Falls development site as part of an initiative that's been gaining momentum among Oregon City officials and the tribal owners of the former paper mill.

Vanderpool owned a hotel near the intersection of Fourth and Main streets, an area of downtown Oregon City currently fenced off as part of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde's future development project.COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF OC - Oregon City Commission President Denyse McGriff introduces Taylor Stewart, right, as the keynote speaker at the city's Juneteenth event, as Commissioners Adam Marl and Rocky Smith look on.

Vanderpool was forced to leave Oregon in 1851 after a competing white business owner reported him to authorities and a trial was held finding him in violation of the Black exclusion law.

Oregon Remembrance Project Executive Director Taylor Stewart is organizing the initiative to place an historical marker where Vanderpool's business once stood to make his story a permanent fixture in the geographic memory of the community.

Stewart said getting an historical marker placed will involve making it a part of the larger Willamette Falls Legacy Project, which has a timeline that's currently unknown for completion. In the meantime, Stewart is working to develop community support for the project, while supporting the recruitment and retention of people of color in the community.

"I'm excited at the prospect of Oregon City leading this effort to repair our history of exclusionary laws," Stewart said.COURTESY PHOTO: TAYLOR STEWART - Coos Bay resident Alonzo Tucker became Oregon's most widely documented African American victim of lynching in 1902.

City, tribal support

Sara Thompson, communications director for the tribe, said "Jacob Vanderpool's story is important in the history of Oregon, and we'll look more closely at the idea as we move closer to redevelopment."

Thompson said specific design planning for a memorial and other features of the future development of the Willamette Falls site will have to wait.

"Our plans for Willamette Falls are focused on the central idea of healing — and making the space a place that is open for all and shares the stories of this important site," Thompson said. "While specific design planning is in the future for the site, we plan to incorporate a complete history that includes many communities from many diverse backgrounds."

Those who have been expelled from the Willamette Falls area include the tribes that are currently part of the Grand Ronde confederation who were removed to a reservation, and Chinese-born people who had been hired to work in the mill area and forced out by white residents.

Oregon City resident Hiram Straight wrote on behalf of the White Laborers Association, published in The Oregonian, on Jan. 15, 1869, "We, the citizens of Oregon City here assembled, utterly condemn and denounce the discharge of white laborers and the employment of Chinese in their place, as mercenary, unprincipled and against the peace and welfare of this community," in another example of the city's resistance to diverse citizenry.

Elizabeth McLagan's "A Peculiar Paradise: A History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788—1940" details how Perry Ellis, the only black resident of Oregon City and the owner of a car wash in 1923, was nearly lynched by men thought to be members of the Ku Klux Klan who threatened Ellis into leaving town. First published in 1980, a revised second edition of the book is coming out this year through a recent co-publication with Oregon Black Pioneers and the OSU Press.

Commission President Denyse McGriff introduced Stewart as the keynote speaker for the city's Juneteenth event. McGriff said Stewart's mission started as an effort to memorialize a lynching victim in Coos Bay but is going on to "rectify further instances of historical injustices" in other locations.

"The Emancipation Proclamation promised freedom, but was that promise kept?" McGriff asked.

The founder of nonprofit organization Oregon Remembrance Project, Stewart has a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's degree in social work from the University of Portland.

"Taylor started the Oregon Remembrance Project in 2018 to help communities unearth stories of injustice and engage in the necessary truth-telling and repair required to reconcile circumstances of historical harm," McGriff said. "His work connects historical racism to the present-day legacies in order to inspire contemporary radical justice action."

Stewart said he was heartened by the responses from tribal leaders and city officials to continue his work to advocate for a Vanderpool memorial.

"The Juneteenth event was a good start and I'm looking to begin inviting different segments of the community into this conversation," Stewart said. "I look forward to developing a more in-depth conversation with the Grand Ronde Tribe."

Oregon Remembrance Project

Stewart's mission is to help communities in Oregon with truth and reconciliation projects in attempts to rectify historical injustices.

"Within this idea of reconciliation are three R words — remembrance, repair and redemption — and, that in order for us to get to that last R word of redemption, we need to have the courage it takes to undertake the first two," he said.

For three years, Stewart worked with Coos Bay's city leaders to memorialize a man named Alonzo Tucker, Oregon's most widely documented African American victim of lynching in 1902. In February 2020, Stewart and other project organizers held a soil collection ceremony near the site of Tucker's lynching, then they unveiled a historical marker in June 2021.

Stewart said that recent events to memorialize Tucker have put a new perspective on the lynching.

"We can't fully understand Alonzo Tucker's story only focusing on the 1902 date, as his story now continues on into 2020 and 2021, when that same community where his lynching occurred used his memory as inspiration for becoming a community more committed to the ideals of truth, justice and reconciliation," Stewart said.

Having completed the "remembrance" part of reconciliation, Stewart's project then moved toward "repair."

"In this case, we are called to repair the fundamental question of who our society believes deserves death because the answer continues to be disproportionately African American," Stewart said. "By using Alonzo Tucker's story and this idea of historical repair to end the death penalty in Oregon, I believe we can bring his memory a semblance of redemptive justice — the kind of justice that redeems our pain, wrongdoing and stories."

Stewart said he's looking to bring a similar project to Oregon City to memorialize Vanderpool. The actual memorial would provide "remembrance" for Vanderpool, but Stewart said Oregon City also needs to "repair" the fundamental question of who citizens want to be living in their community.

"I want to work with the community to develop recruitment and retention plans for people of color as our way to honor the memory and experience of Jacob Vanderpool," he said. "By using his story to improve the lived reality of people of color in Oregon City, I believe we can bring his memory that semblance of redemptive justice. Given that Oregon's Black exclusionary laws were formed in Oregon City, my hope is that Oregon City can lead the way for recruiting and retaining people of color in our state."

What happened to Jacob Vanderpool?

According to West Linn resident Greg Nokes, an historian who specialized in the racism of Oregon pioneers, Vanderpool is the only known expulsion of an African American under Oregon's exclusion laws, although there may have been other exclusion trials not recorded.COURTESY PHOTO: TAYLOR STEWART - Alonzo Tucker's memorial sign says accusations of Black-on-white assault required no evidence to arouse mobs like the one that lynched him in 1902.

Vanderpool was a sailor from the West Indies who arrived by ship in 1850 and took up residence in Oregon City, where he operated a boarding house. He was arrested and jailed in August 1851 on a charge of violating "the statutes and laws of the territory," specifically the 1849 Black exclusion act.COURTESY PHOTO: TAYLOR STEWART - In February 2020, project organizers held a soil collection ceremony near the site of Coos Bay resident Alonzo Tucker's lynching.

Theophilus Magruder, who had served briefly as the territorial secretary of state in 1849, was proprietor of the Main Street House, a well-known hostelry in Oregon City, at the time that he brought up a complaint against his business competitor.

Vanderpool's case went to trial in Oregon City on Aug. 25, 1851, before Judge Thomas Nelson. Vanderpool's lawyer, A. Holbrook, argued that the 1849 exclusion law violated several provisions of the U.S. Constitution that says, "Citizens of each state shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states."

Holbrook contended that enactment of the Black-exclusion legislation was "not within the jurisdiction of the Legislative Assembly of Oregon" and had been improperly executed. Three witnesses spoke to Vanderpool's good character.

Judge Nelson issued his one-paragraph ruling the following day, on Aug. 26, finding Vanderpool guilty of violating the 1849 exclusion law, and ordered Vanderpool "removed from the said territory within 30 days." Judge Nelson didn't address any of Holbrook's arguments.

Stewart said it's a shame that so far no one has uncovered any photos of Vanderpool, since a photo of Tucker added considerably to the memorialization work. No one knows for sure what happened to Vanderpool after he was expelled from Oregon, although the 1870 census recorded a 50-year-old with the same name living in San Francisco.


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