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Activist: 'Why aren't there more black people in Oregon?'

Oregon, a place known for its contemporary embrace of social and racial diversity, wasn’t always as welcoming.

Scholar and activist Walidah Imarisha brought that message to Estacada as a part of the Oregon Humanities’ Conversation Project, which encourages Oregonians to discuss important issues and connect with new ideas.

Imarisha joined the Conversation Project six years ago. During this time, she’s facilitated more than 70 conversations in 18 Oregon counties.

The Estacada Arts Commission hosted one of those events on Oct. 29.

Imarisha’s presentation provides a timeline of the African American experience in Oregon, detailing a history that isn’t often discussed.

Her timeline outlined injustices ranging from the Oregon Territory’s mandate that all blacks leave the area or face lashing, to the destruction of the Albina neighborhood’s black community due to the expansion of Emanuel Hospital.

Imarisha finds that upon learning these things, most people are “overwhelmingly shocked, and horrified.”

“This isn’t something that’s easily accessible in public or educational forums,” she said.

Imarisha hopes people connect the history of injustices to the racial injustices we face today.

“We don’t often talk about this,” she said. “Race isn’t something that we often talk about comfortably, but we have to talk about it. These events aren’t just in the past — they’re a living legacy.”

Imarisha hopes the conversation gave people the desire to always question and dig deeper.

“I’d encourage people to attend future Conversation Projects, and come prepared to engage in dialog and think about topics in new, different ways,” she said.

While this was Imarisha’s final Conversation Project, she plans to continue encouraging discussion of racial equality in other forums.

“I liked the idea behind it the project,” she said. “Creating spaces for dialog is important.”

The complete timeline Imarisha presented is under “Oregon Black History Timeline - Audio Commentary” on YouTube.