Oregon was vastly different the last time the Ducks – then the Oregon Webfoots – were in the Final Four. When Oregon was in the semifinals, there were no black people on the team. The lack of African Americans on the 1939 team was partly the result of Oregon’s founding as a white utopia.
To this day, Oregon is one of the whitest states in America and only 2 percent of the population is African American. Yahoo sat down with Portland State University black studies professor Turiya Autry ahead of the Ducks game against North Carolina to find out what the public might not know about Oregon’s history that affected the make up of an all-white team.
“When they were a Final Four team 70 some years ago, it was a very different Oregon as far as segregation and what that looked like,” Autry said. “How long have black people even occupied Oregon in numbers, you know? And then there is the history of Oregon as a declared white state. Oregon has a very interesting story of race. The whole country does, but Oregon has a unique tale.”
In the summer of 1844, the state’s legislative committee passed an order that said any black person that was in the state of Oregon could be subjected to a beating every six months if they didn’t leave the state within two years.
When Oregon entered in the Union in 1859, it was the only state with a constitution that forbade black people from living in it.
“When they said no slavery here, it wasn’t because they didn’t want slavery. It was because they didn’t want blacks here, period,” Autry said.
It was technically illegal for non-enslaved black people to live in modern Oregon until 1926. In 1844, a law passed that banned slavery but also required any black person to leave Oregon. And in 1849, another exclusionary law by the legislature said, “It shall not be lawful for any Negro or mulatto to enter into, or reside [in Oregon].”
Although Mabel Byrd was the first black student to attend UO in 1914, integrated education became the law of the land after Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (Kan.) in 1954. According to Autry, when U of O first began accepting black students, the rule was that freshmen had to live on campus. “There were segregation rules as far as black students not being able to be in dorms with white students,” Autry said. “And apparently it was four students to a room. The first year that there were black students, there were three women that were admitted and they made an exception to the rule of not living on campus. Because since there was only three of them they wouldn’t let another student join them.”
It wasn’t until 1957 that Oregon lawmakers passed the Fair Housing Act that barred practices that discriminated against African Americans being able to buy or rent property. Two years later, Oregon ratified the 15th Amendment, which said that the government couldn’t stop a citizen from voting based on his or her race.
As Autry pointed out, this wasn’t a lifetime ago. It is relatively recent history.
“This is my parents’ history, basically,” Autry said. “That’s the era when they were starting to go to college was right in that time frame because we’re talking mid-late ’60s.”
On Saturday, a majority black team will face UNC – something that wouldn’t have happened even a few decades ago, especially in Oregon. So when Dillon Brooks, Jordan Bell and others take the court, they will be the first black players to represent the Ducks at this large of a stage.
“It’s good to see people being successful,” Autry said. “I know it takes a lot of hard work and effort to achieve that [Final Four appearance]. And I just hope that people can get maybe as excited and invested in other forms of support for black brilliance.”