Rest in Power, Willie Richardson

In Memory of Willie B. Richardson
Dec. 20, 1948 – Jan. 25, 2023

Oregon Black Pioneers would not be what we are today were it not for Willie B. Richardson. Willie poured her enormous talents, boundless energy, and incredible leadership skills into building this organization and educating Oregonians about our Black history. Willie was determined, courageous, and inspiring, and we are all grateful that she devoted so much of her time and energy to Oregon Black Pioneers. We miss her every day.

Willie, born and reared in South Carolina, moved to Salem, Oregon, with her family in 1978. She soon became involved in many civic organizations, including the Salem Human Rights Commission and the Women’s Political Caucus. Willie was committed to the education of Black and minority students, and she served on the Salem-Keizer School Board from 1987 to 1991, the first Black person elected to that board.

Willie served as co-chair of Oregon Black Pioneers’ first Board of Directors, from mid-1994 to early 1996. After that, OBP was mostly inactive until Willie decided to revive the organization in 2004. She served as president of OBP from 2004 until January 2022.

Under Willie’s leadership, Oregon Black Pioneers became a thriving organization, researching, recognizing, and commemorating the culture and heritage of African Americans in Oregon statewide. For example, Willie guided OBP as we curated four exhibits at the Oregon Historical Society, one of which occupied its major first-floor gallery for six months; provided assistance consultation to many other history museums; published books; conducting bus tours; worked with partners to erect historical markers; gave countless presentations on Oregon’s Black history throughout the state; hired our first executive director, Zachary Stocks; and, in earlier times, awarded scholarships to high school students.

Working alongside Willie during most of her tenure to implement these important projects were two inexhaustible historians, public speakers, and OBP Board members: Gwen Carr, now on our Emeritus Board, and Kimberly Moreland, now our president. Willie often also credited her husband of 56 years, Thomas Richardson, with being her loving supporter and partner, allowing her time to pursue her interests.

During Willie’s tenure as OBP president, hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised to support our museum exhibits and other work. Helping us raise these funds was Sharon Leighty, an extraordinary grant writer and consultant who, sadly, also passed away this year.

Oregon Black Pioneers received many awards during that time, including the 2009 David Duniway Award for Historic Preservation from the Marion County Historical Society; the 2017 Oregon Heritage Tourism Award from Travel Oregon; and the 2017 McMath Historic Preservation Award from the University of Oregon School of Architecture & Environment. In addition, in 2019, Oregon Black Pioneers was one of 22 sites and organizations in the nation—from a total of 462 applicants—to receive a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund.

To honor Willie and her work, Oregon Black Pioneers has created the Willie B. Richardson Scholarship Fund. The scholarship will be awarded to Oregon Black high school seniors bound for college who have demonstrated an interest in Black history, preferably Oregon Black history.

You can make a tax-deductible donation to the Willie B. Richardson Scholarship Fund via PayPal. Your donation will be greatly appreciated.

Willie’s contributions were enormous, her energy unmatched, and her laughter was so welcoming and wonderful and uplifting, just like Willie herself. Willie’s impact on Oregon Black Pioneers, the city of Salem, and the state of Oregon will be felt for generations.

As stated in The Skanner, Willie was “‘a force to be reckoned with’ – passionate, kind and deeply impactful.” You can read her obituary here and The Scanner article here.

Funeral services were held Saturday, February 4 at 10:30 a.m. at Trinity Covenant Church, 5020 Liberty Rd. S, Salem, with a viewing Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Golden’s Mortuary, 605 Commercial St SE, Salem.