Oregon's official state song will get a makeover, as it turns a century old, to remove words that advocates of change say reflect a racist past.
The Oregon Senate has approved a resolution to change some of the words originally written by J.A. Buchanan, a former state representative from Southern Oregon, whose "Oregon, My Oregon" was adopted by the 1927 Legislature as the state song.
The first verse by Buchanan is: "Land of the Empire Builders, Land of the Golden West; Conquered and held by free men, Fairest and the Best." It substitutes these words by Amy Shapiro: "Land of Majestic Mountains, Land of the Great Northwest; Forests and rolling rivers, Grandest and the best."
In the second stanza, the phrase "Blest by the blood of martyrs" is replaced by "Blessed by the love of freedom."
House Concurrent Resolution 11 passed the Senate without amendment Monday, June 7, on a 23-5 vote. Resolutions do not require the signature of the governor.
Buchanan lived in Astoria in 1920, when he wrote the original lyrics for a competition sponsored by the Society of Oregon Composers. He was a state representative from Roseburg in 1909, and from Medford in 1911, in what was then House District 9.
Buchanan will remain as the author of the song. The new lyrics by Shapiro were first performed Feb. 14, 2020, in the House chamber on the 161st anniversary of Oregon statehood.
Shapiro is a constituent of Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Portland, whose district extends into part of Beaverton.
"We are not changing history here," Lieber, who was elected in 2020, said. "We are changing what we aspire to. The original song will always have a place in history, a place we can learn from. But it should not be what we celebrate."
Unlike in the House, where some representatives spoke on both sides during debate on April 16, Lieber was the only senator to speak on the resolution.
Lieber said she respects traditions, but some of the current words in "Oregon, My Oregon" can be read and heard to exclude Indigenous tribes and Blacks.
Although Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859 as an anti-slavery state, its 1857 Constitution also specified that Blacks were unwelcome. Voters repealed that section in 1926 and removed all racial references in 2002.
"The current lyrics do not represent the values and hopes of our state," Lieber said. "In fact, they contain racist, outdated and exclusionary language.
"Words are powerful. Words matter. Those words cause harm to Oregonians who hear or read them and feel they are not welcome to members of our community. But supporting this resolution will change that."
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