How “Meeting the Sewells” Came to Be

Is a moving picture worth 1000 words? You can skip these words if you want to get straight to the video, but there’s a nice backstory about it if you want to stick around!

Oregon Black Pioneers’ mission is to research, recognize, and commemorate the history and heritage of African Americans in Oregon. When we had the opportunity to work with High Desert Museum on a video that would bring the Columbus and Louisa Sewell family to life, we knew this was a perfect way to share a very unique perspective of one of the first Black families to settle in Central Oregon.

High Desert Museum had already created a popular series of living history videos called “Oregon Encounters.” Each of these videos highlights the experience of a different 19th century cultural community in Central Oregon. The museum reached out to Oregon Black Pioneers to help develop a new video recognizing the Black history of the High Desert region. Together, High Desert Museum and Oregon Black Pioneers planned for a longer and more in-depth video than any previous installment in the Oregon Encounters series.


Oregon Black Pioneers suggested a video about the Sewell family, who lived in Canyon City, OR from the 1870s-1890s. Executive Director Zachary Stocks connected HDM with Devin Boss, a Black filmmaker in Portland and owner of North East Production. While the script originally called for an interview with interpreters depicting Columbus and Louisa Sewell, it evolved into a short film about a time-traveling museum visitor who meets the Sewells in the year 1890.

Meeting the Sewells is not just a cleverly told story, it’s also an educational tool for classrooms to help students explore and understand how to find and use primary sources in historical research. Educators can find a Resource Guide here, and will be able to download a curriculum in Spring 2023. If you would like to be emailed when the curriculum is released, please click this link and complete the form on the page.

Meeting the Sewells continues Oregon Black Pioneers’ efforts to remember and share the stories of Black Oregonians who have faced discrimination and hardship to make a life for themselves here over the past 400 years.

If you’d like to help further Oregon Black Pioneers’ efforts to share stories of African American Oregonians, please consider a tax deductible donation!