Research Project: History of Racism in Ashland

Barbara Geraghty
Research Parameters from Mayor Tonya Graham
• What has the City of Ashland done to help and interfere with civil rights of different groups of people (Black, Indigenous, Chinese, etc.)? 
• This research will be the starting point for identifying reparations that the City of Ashland can put in place to address the actions by the body in the past - and to celebrate good work that has been done. 
• Once we understand the history, then the pathways to address it will be more obvious. What is an appropriate life affirming way to acknowledge the past in order to move forward? The Mayor reminded the group that while it is important to know and to understand what happened across the valley we mostly need to know what the city did and its history so that we can take responsibility more formally as a body for what it has done in the past.
Southern Oregon Historical Society (75 documents pulled by staff)
Jeff LaLande, historian and author of The Jackson County Rebellion
Mike Green, Common Ground Conversations
Allyson Phelps, Ashland Together
Taylor Stewart, Oregon Remembrance Project


My research did not reveal discriminatory ordinances or actions by the City of Ashland, specifically. However, I did discover troubling historical events that could discourage people of color (POC) from making Ashland their home.

Examples: Historical Events (Sources: SOHS & Jeff LaLande)

•Ashland might have been a Sundown Town. According to Jeff LaLande, referencing the book Sundown Towns by David Loewen, “There was an unspoken rule in many towns that Blacks weren’t welcome after sundown. This rule was not included in actual ordinances—that would’ve been unconstitutional—but was an unwritten law that was enforced extralegally.”
• The Ku Klux Klan participated in Ashland’s 4th of July parade in either 1921 or 22 and crosses were burned in Ashland. 
• 1911 newspaper article: A White Man’s Country; Oregon leads the states and is politically, as well as racially, a white man’s country
• 1915 Ashland Commercial Club (predecessor of Chamber of Commerce) had stationary stating membership was “100% American citizens, no Japanese or Negroes.”
• 1948 Oregon Realtors proclaim “a realtor shall never introduce into a neighborhood members of any race or nationality whose presence will be detrimental to property values.”
• As late as 1940 there were no Blacks in Ashland. According to The Ashland Chronical in 2021, 322 Ashland residents identified as African-American out of a population of 20,733 in 2017.

Currently, Ashland is 90% white and 10% BIPOC compared to the US population that is 59% white and 41% BIPOC. 

Although my preliminary research did not uncover specific ordinances or public policies by the City of Ashland, I did discover a cultural pattern of exclusion and microaggression that may correlate with and contribute to the problematic diversity demographics mentioned above. 

• Multiple reports of racial harassment by OSF leadership, staff and actors. These situations are highly visible and heavily reported; Christiana Clark’s video was viewed 200k times in 8 days according to a news article.
• 2021 civil rights lawsuit against Ashland police by OSF actor (trigger warning; video of police beating) 
• Vance Beach, founder of B.A.S.E, speaking at SOU: “Being in Oregon is being in a place where people that look like us have been excluded in every aspect of community. So our work is all around how do we assist in building an inclusive community?”
• Kayla Wade’s comment after death of Aidan Ellison in Ashland: “We're here because every person of color, every Black person in this community, has experienced something like that: having a white person decide that how we're living our lives is unacceptable and that we need to tone it down or need to be silenced. If we want to live in a world where we can exist with dignity, something has to change."
• Social media response to Why Don't Black Folk Live in Oregon? “The overwhelming vote to outlaw slavery but write all the “exceptions” feels so very on brand, especially for liberal cities (Ashland/Eugene/Portland). “Oh look we are good white people, we don’t like slavery…but also you can’t work here, own land or live next to us”.…and still a current cultural sentiment.

Mike Green of Common Ground Conversations, who previously worked as Content Editor for Ashland Daily Tidings, shared his perspective on Ashland’s duality: Public sentiment supports and encourages diversity with a proactive presence of progressive-minded white people who have a vision of an inclusive, multicultural, multiracial community and use their privilege and power to stand in allyship with non-white populations; combined with a quiet sentiment of status quo that controls development boundaries, resists affordable housing efforts, and pushes a strong NIMBY influence to thwart multi-family housing projects. To evolve from its past to the future, Ashland must battle those who seek to sustain the status quo by investing in economic and cultural inclusion to lead the way and become a model of what southern Oregon cities can become ... welcoming places where everyone feels a sense of value and belonging.”

To highlight the positive aspect of the duality, I found the following comment on Road Tripping While Black in Oregon: “I was the most nervous about traveling through Southern Oregon, but Ashland was very welcoming and friendly, and I didn’t get ignored by business owners or waiters like I had in other rural areas.”

Conclusion: Oregon’s “origin story” contains Black exclusion laws that have served their purpose by creating a culture that is still being perpetuated today. The City of Ashland has the opportunity to lead the way in changing the narrative arc from exclusion to inclusion.


Action items from Mayor Graham 
• The Mayor noted that SERJ needs to understand the scope of the DEI internal assessment.  When the recommendations from the consultant come forward we may need to put them into tiers to address over time.  Sometimes what is needed doesn’t fit in the current preconceived budget.
• Work with local partners (Chamber of Commerce Ashland for Everyone? Others?) to develop a DEI training program for local businesses and their staff so that Ashland can move forward in its goal to be authentically welcoming to all people. 
• Assist the City in public support activities for SERJ related holidays and community events. This includes helping the City identify which events to participate in and recommending ways in which to participate in these holidays and events.
• Support efforts within the City's operations to train staff and ensure that our internal practices and protocols help us move forward with our DEI goals. 
• Support other Committees in their work as it intersects with the goals of the SERJ Advisory Committee. 
• Support Ashland Together with Sundown to Sunrise collaboration with ORP and speaker series launching February 12, 2024 at Carpenter Hall.

Additional Action Items to Consider 

1  Survey Ashland’s 1978 BIPOC to capture data that will inform strategies and action plan plus help BIPOC feel heard and valued:
• What’s working for people of color?
• What isn’t working?
• What could be different or better?
• What kind of identity does Ashland have among BIPOC? 
2  Conduct Strategic Gap Analysis:
What is the identity Ashland intends to have in the DEI arena?
What is the gap between our intended identity and survey results?
3  Design Action Plan:
How do we close the gap? 
How do we fix what’s broken?
How do we change perception in areas of false narrative?
4  Design Campaign of actionable steps with social media amplification of “what’s working” stories and progress reports on resolution of what’s not.

Model: The City of Long Beach gathered 1,500 people into 13 Listening Sessions and 4 Community Town Halls to center the voices of those affected and eliminate disparities in order to expand opportunities for all residents. They partnered with CSULB to analyze the qualitative data. Data from the survey, listening sessions and town halls informed 21 distinct strategies and 107 potential action plans.

A truth and reconciliation commission is a body tasked with revealing past governmental wrongdoings in an effort to move a community toward resolution and unity. 

The most well-known truth and reconciliation effort is South Africa’s commission, which was created as the country emerged from apartheid in the 1990s. The commission heard thousands of testimonies, providing victims a platform to describe their experiences under the racist policies of apartheid. Dozens of other countries have also used different truth and reconciliation models.
Long Beach Racial Equity & Reconciliation Initiative,Black%20racism%20in%20Long%20Beach.
To promote racial reconciliation and unification by examining race relations in Pennsylvania
State Rep. Veon launched BRIDGE by bringing together a group of people who are interested in the issue of race. Representatives from schools, businesses, churches and nonprofit organizations participate in the program. Some members of the group are also trained as facilitators of racial dialogues. Like the Study Circles Program, groups of 12 to 15 people are invited to share in an open discussion on race, with the help of a facilitator.

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