Our organization was founded in Salem, Oregon, in August 1993. Carole Davis, the newly hired Deputy Superintendent of Salem-Keizer Public Schools, had recently relocated from Seattle. She was discouraged to learn that area schools were not teaching students about Oregon’s Black history. Inspired by the Seattle-based group Northwest Black Pioneers, Carole invited members Jackie Winters and David Burgess to discuss forming a sister organization in Oregon. Together they created the Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers.
Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers’ first program was bringing a Northwest Black Pioneers’ exhibit to Mission Mill Museum (today Willamette Heritage Center). Soon after, ONBP produced three brief publications on Oregon’s Black history and debuted a scholarship program for local students. A Board of Directors was established in summer 1994 with Willie B. Richardson and Johnny Lake as co-chairs. Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers received tax-exempt status in November 1995.
After Willie Richardson resigned from the Board in 1996, the organization was mostly inactive through 2004, when Willie, with a renewed vision for what the organization could accomplish, approached Jackie Winters and asked to take possession of Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers’ files and records. Jackie agreed, and the two began the process of reestablishing the organization’s operations.
Under Willie’s leadership, Oregon Northwest Black Pioneers reactivated its 501(c)(3) status and built a new Board of Directors. This began a period of intensive, research-focused activities, including presentations on the Black history of Salem, the Willamette Valley, and eventually the entire State of Oregon. In 2007, the group erected a headstone at the Salem Pioneer Cemetery honoring the 40+ members of Salem’s 19th-century Black community interred there (most in unmarked graves).
The group’s research efforts, led by Board Member Gwen Carr, culminated in the publication of our first book, Perseverance: A History of African Americans in Oregon’s Marion and Polk Counties, in 2011. Board Member Kimberly Moreland wrote a second book, Images of America: African Americans of Portland, published in 2013.
In 2012, we dropped “Northwest” from our name and rebranded as Oregon Black Pioneers. Oregon Black Pioneers’ relationship with Oregon Historical Society resulted in four exhibits installed at its museum in Portland: Perseverance: Blacks Around Oregon (2011); All Aboard! Railroading and Portland’s Black Community (2013); A Community on the Move (2015); and Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years (2018).
In July 2020, Oregon Black Pioneers hired Zachary Stocks as its Executive Director and first paid staff member. COVID-19 challenged the organization to move programming online. Oregon Black Pioneers created a new website and social media presence, and produced a number of digital learning resources like History Maps, lesson plans, and a radio show and podcast called The Register.
When in-person gathering resumed in 2021, the organization hosted outdoor history hikes and revived our popular bus tours. That same year OBP helped create the Letitia Carson Legacy Project, a cooperative project with Oregon State University to elevate Carson’s story and preserve her original 19th-century homestead. Oregon Black Pioneers co-sponsored an archeological excavation and open house on this land on Juneteenth weekend 2022. In November 2022, the organization and Oregon State University Press republished Elizabeth McLagan’s landmark 1980 book A Peculiar Paradise.
Today Oregon Black Pioneers’ work is characterized by diverse statewide program offerings, traveling exhibitions, and collaborative projects that celebrate Oregon’s Black history.