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Editor Phil Hawkins reflects on Oregon's history and the state of the country's current fight for civil rights

I graduated from Canby High School in 2001. In a class of more than 300 seniors, there were no black students. In my 12 years of public education I can remember precisely two black students I ever went to school with. In more than 16 years of education, I've never had a black teacher, a black professor, a black GTF, a black administrator.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Woodburn Independent editor Phil HawkinsI've grown up inside a white bubble in the Pacific Northwest, which is precisely how the state was originally envisioned. It's no secret that Oregon was founded under laws that prevented African American settlers from entering the state. A quick search for Oregon black exclusion laws show that the state's provisional government voted in 1844 to exclude black settlers. Those of who remained in the territory were punished with "not less than twenty no more than thirty-nine stripes" for every six months they remained.

More anti-black laws were ratified in 1849 and 1857. I never learned about these laws growing up. Instead we learned about the Oregon Trail and white founders such as John McLoughlin and Jason Lee. We learned that Oregon was founded on Valentine's Day — Feb. 14, 1859 — as a "free state" in exchange for opening slavery in the southwest United States.

The last black exclusion law in Oregon was repealed in 1926, but the effect of these laws has rippled through the past 161 years, making us one of the whitest states in the country.

I'm reflecting on this history at a time in which civil rights demonstrations continue to grip the country, one month after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis after he was arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill.

Five years ago on June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof entered a church in South Carolina during a Bible study and and killed nine black parishioners, including the senior pastor. He was apprehended the next day and confessed he committed the shooting in an attempt to ignite a race war. He is currently alive, serving nine consecutive life sentences without parole from the state and was sentenced to death in federal court.

I've grown up seeing news like this inside my comfortable bubble. Events that happen thousands of miles away that, while heart-wrenching to read about, bear little weight on my every day life. It's a privilege I hold as an upper middle class white American, often times making it seem as if these events are happening in another country, in another world.

COURTESY PHOTO - Racist graffiti was tagged on the grounds in Salem where editor Phil Hawkins' son attends elementary school.Last week my family and I walked a block up the street to my son's elementary school to play basketball. When we arrived, there was a graffiti abatement team on the site, working to remove spray paint from the side of the wall. Earlier that morning, someone had sprayed "Whites only" in red paint, along with the SS bolts of the Schutzstaffel — the police state of Nazi Germany.

Four days later while I was out getting ice cream with my son, we drove behind a pickup truck with a full size Nazi flag flying off the back of its bed.

I don't often bear witness to overt acts of racism first or second hand — the luxury of living in my sheltered bubble.

I often see protest signs at civil rights rallies that read, "Racism isn't born, it's learned." Whoever tagged my son's school wasn't born thinking "whites only." They had no concept of race. No concept of color. No concept of using an adjective to modify a noun, creating two words that send a powerful message of historical oppression.

They learned it. They absorbed it from the environment in which they grew up. I'm sad they were forced to grow up in a world in which that kind of attitude was normalized for them. I'm sad that now my son is growing up in a world in which that attitude — while widely reviled — continues to be prevalent enough that people feel comfortable expressing it in open public.

It's uncomfortable to be exposed to this aspect of America, to have my bubble pressed upon, just a little bit. But it's a reality that millions of people in the United States are faced with every day and have been faced with for hundreds of years.

All lives matter — they do. Every life is important and should be cherished and celebrated. But for too long that simple idea has been held to a double standard. In practice, large swaths of Americans have not been treated as if their lives matter — at least not as much as mine.

All lives matter is the ideal with which we want to aspire to as a nation, as a human race. But until every life can truly feel that they are safe to live freely, that they can shop, worship and live — as I do — without fear that they will be targeted for the way they look, talk and act, then that simply is not the case.

Which is why right now, in this moment in history, we need to recognize that black lives matter.PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Community members swifty rallied to show support at the site where racist graffiti was spraypainted at an elementary school in Salem.

— Phil Hawkins is the managing editor of the Woodburn Independent. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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