What’s in a name?

County name does not represent us

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Diana Baker / The Torch

To many, Lane County is known for inclusiveness, acceptance and progressiveness. I would tend to agree. A lot has changed in Lane County since its founding in 1851, however there’s much more progress to be made.

What’s in a name? Lane County was named after politician, soldier and slave owner Joseph Lane. Thought of as a Mexican War hero, Lane was the first governor of the newly formed Oregon Territory in 1851. According to Oregon Encyclopedia, Lane was a controversial defender of slavery and secession. Lane served his constituents by marshaling federal funding dedicated to defense against Indians. His conviction for slaveholders’ right to bring slaves into any territory was well known, perhaps due to his Southern background. In 1859, when Oregon achieved statehood, Lane was elected to the U.S. Senate.

Even as abolition gained momentum in Oregon, Lane refused to abandon his pro-slavery stance. Acts were passed to exclude blacks and mulattoes from Oregon in 1844.

“The infamous ‘Lash Law’ required that blacks in Oregon — ‘be they free or slave — be whipped twice a year until he or she shall quit the territory,’” according to the City of Portland’s official website.

Lane continued to defend slavery, rejecting compromise and defending separation, alienating a growing number of Oregonians, resulting in the denial of his reelection, according to Oregon Encyclopedia.

For his work, a large county in Oregon was named after him; Lane Community College was named after him; middle schools were named after him along with naming jails and correctional facilities. That doesn’t feel right, does it?

How can Lane County be inclusive and accepting if there are constant reminders of how things were back then? Our community deserves better. Everywhere I go, I see Lane’s name attached to everything. Even my associate degree has Lane on it. I wonder what he’d say about me, a person of color, graduating from a school that is his namesake.  

I come from a mixed background, my mother being white and my father being black. “Best of both worlds,” some have told me. But I do not identify as white. I’ve never been looked at or treated white in my life. I’ve lived in Lane County for three-quarters of my life, and have been assured how lucky I am not to have to deal with racism or prejudice. How can that be so?

Oregon has deep ties to segregation and race conflicts. I see constant reminders of a time in which one’s privilege to freedom and the true pursuit of happiness depended on the hue of one’s skin.

For a community that some say is inclusive and welcoming to all, I see very few people that look like myself. According to Statistical Atlas, Lane County is comprised of 84 percent whites, and only .8 percent blacks.

According to the city of Portland’s official website, there have been numerous examples of racial conflict in our communities.

  • 2008; Medford, Ore. man had a cross and the letters KKK burned into his family’s lawn.
    • 2008; four George Fox University students hung an effigy of President Barack Obama from a tree with a sign saying “Act Six Reject,” which is a scholarship program for minority students in Portland.  
  • 2008; Oregon School Activities Association lists 16 high schools with mascots that many Indians feel disrespect their heritage.
  • 2016 a sign that read “House 4 Sale” and “Whites Only,” was found in front of a West Eugene home.  

So what is the call to action? Confederate flags and other monuments, no longer considered a symbol of inclusiveness, have been removed across the country — particularly in the South.

Lane County has made strides to be more attentive to racial conflict but still fall short of accomplishment. In 2017, a residence hall at the University of Oregon, Dunn Hall, named after a Ku Klux Klan leader, has been renamed, which showed progress but lacks consistency. After debates, UO decided to retain the name of Deady Hall, also named after pro-slavery advocate, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.

I say it’s time for our community to remove our symbols of exclusion and racism. Allow everyone in our county to enjoy the true meaning of community; inclusiveness, acceptance and progressiveness. It’s time for us as a community to leave the name Lane in the past.