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ILLUMINATION 2023-24: Black History in Springfield and Rural East Lane County

Illumination Annual Story and Public History Project


As part of the 2023-2024 chapter of ILLUMINATION, the Springfield History Museum explores the misconceptions and truths of Black history in Springfield and rural east Lane County. 


Misconceptions and Truths:

Black History in Springfield and Rural East Lane County


At first glance, the story of Springfield and rural east Lane County appears to be of one color. The lives of Black residents are difficult to find in historical records.

Ellen Kotz: Were there any other groups (other than Scandinavians) in Springfield in that time (1920s)?

Edith Larimer: No. Ellen Kotz: Were there any Black people in Springfield?

Edith: No. Not that I remember.

Above: quote from 1979 interview of local resident Edith Larimer. Right: public finding aid for this interview that cites “no black people”.



However, our scarce records do show that there were Black individuals and families in Springfield and east Lane County dating back to at least the 1880s.

Who were they? What were their stories? How did they impact the culture and history of this region?

Ellen Kotz: “Were there any Black people in Springfield?” Edith: “No. Not that I remember.”

What are the roots of this misconception?

photo left: Black workers from the Main Street Improvement Project in 1911.

photo right: Black man outside of Ford service garage at 433 Main Street, c. 1925.


There is so much evidence of rich Black history in Springfield and rural east Lane County, but you have to know where to look!

The United States Census started asking questions about race in 1790, but it was not until 1870 that African Americans were included by name alongside other Americans.

Lane County Census records can tell us a great deal about the lives of Black residents. While there is not a comprehensive list of this data available, the next slides show what we have found so far.


In 1880,

Caleb Wall, 21, lived and worked as a farm laborer in Willamette Forks. He was born in Missouri.

Kate (last name unknown), 13 lived as a servant in the house of J.C. Campbell in Junction City. She was born in Kentucky.

In 1900,

William Barnen, 45, lived and worked as a boot and shoe polisher in Eugene. He was born in Washington, D.C.

Shirley Allan, 34, lived and worked in Eugene as a bartender. He was born in Mississippi.

John W. Downes, 51, lived and worked in Blue River as a gold miner. He was born in the West Indies.

Annie Eusted, 24, was the wife of a logger living in Cottage Grove. She was born in Oregon.


In 1910,

Charles Hill, 40, lived and worked as a hotel porter in Eugene. He was born in Illinois.

Isaac Dangerfield (42), John Tucker (41), and Berry Fischer (24) all lived together and worked as hotel waiters in Eugene.

Wiley Griffin, 43, lived and worked as a laborer in Eugene. He was born in Illinois.

Romaldo Gomez, 19 lived and worked as a laborer in Middle Fork. He was born in Mexico.

In 1920,

Andrew Wetleau, 48, and his wife Lee, 39, lived in Fall Creek. Andrew farmed and Lee worked as a faller at a logging camp. Andrew was born in Tennessee and Lee was born in Texas.

Jessie Barnes, 22, and James Bradley, 25 worked as porter and head porter at John McLean’s hotel in Eugene. Jessie was born in Arkansas and James was born in Tennessee.


In 1930,

Andrew and Lee Wetleau had moved to Lowell: Andrew was farming their property, and Lee was working as a cook at a boarding house.

R.E. Holmes, 48, and his wife Vera, 35, lived in Santa Clara and worked as a hotel porter and cook. They also shared their home with a lodger, 13 year old Frank Thomas, who was born in Washington.

Charles Marshall, 41, lived in Eugene with his wife Johnie, 41. Charles worked as a shoe shiner.

Yance Morris, 34, lived and worked as a baker in Eugene. He was born in Mississippi.

May Pearson, 48, worked as a domestic servant in a private home in Eugene. She was born in Ohio.

In 1940,

Andrew and Lee Wetleau were still living in Lowell: Andrew was still farming, and Lee was a homemaker.

Roland Fitchue, 56, was a Redcap (station porter) for the steam railroad living in Eugene with his wife Ethel Fitchue, 53.

M. Gilmore, 38, was a housekeeper living in Springfield. She was born in Texas.

Philip Nunn, 45, was a hotel porter living in Springfield. He was born in Indiana.

John Ward, 69, was a cook living in Bethel. He was born in Pennsylvania.

Lennie Rowls, 45, was working as a maid in a private home in Eugene. She was born in Kansas.


In 1950, the Census shows that east Lane County’s Black Community was growing.

In Eugene: Ralph Redman, 38, and his wife Edna May, 27 lived in Eugene with their stepdaughter Wanda Crump, 3. Ralph worked as a fire lighter for the National Railroad. Edna May’s brother George Rucker, 30, worked as a shoe shiner and lived with Ralph and Edna May. A boarder, Alandis McKracken, 43, also lived inthe house and worked as a car washer at an auto shop in Eugene.


Perlie Mae Garrett, 26, worked as a hotel “pantry girl” in Eugene. She was born in Texas. Five other people also lived in Perlie Mae’s house: Bertha (32), Melvin (35), and Mary (52 Williams, Albert (43, no last name listed), and Charles Mitchell, 45.

Stacey Garrett, 43, worked as a freight line trucker and lived in the Oregon Hotel in Eugene. He was born in Tennessee.

Chester Daniels, 21, was living in Eugene. He was born in Ohio.

In Oakridge:

A.C. Steger, 43, and his wife Loula, 39, lived in Oakridge. A.C. worked as a fire lighter for the railroad. A family member of A.C. and Loula, Henry Steger, 21, also live in the house and worked as a supplyman for the railroad. All three of them were born in Texas.

In Lowell:

Andrew and Lee Wetleau were still living in Lowell. Andrew was working as night watchman at a local lumber mill. John McClain (20), George Simmons, and John Bedford (45), were also living in Lowell and working for the railroad.


During this time, there was a large Black community in Jasper, supported by employment with the Southern Pacific Railroad.

Harry Morris, 39, worked as a section hand. Section hands worked as crews and built and maintained railroad tracks. He was born in Arkansas.

Benjamin Woods, 42, also worked as a section hand and was born in Texas. He lived with his wife Flossie, 47, born in Missouri.

Chester Perry, 41, also worked as a section hand and was born in West Virginia. He lived with his wife Leecy, 41, born in Arkansas.

Oscar Taylor, 28, also worked as a section hand and was born in Mississippi. He lived with his wife Debra, 22, who was born in Missouri and worked as a maid in a private home.

Henry Jones, 30, also worked as a section hand and was born in Arkansas. He lived with his wife Jessie, 29, also born in Arkansas. They had three sons: Henry (12), LeeRoy (10), and Alva Lee (infant). Henry and LeeRoy were born in Missouri, and Alva Lee was born in Oregon.

John Brown, 25, also worked as a section hand and was born in Michigan. He lived with his wife Vesta, 24, born in Alabama, and their 4 year old son Tommy, born in Michigan.

Elbert Jenkins, 31, also worked as a section hand and was born in Arkansas. He lived with his wife Elenora, 41, also born in Arkansas.

Eskake Hadyn (31), Mayon Boyd (37), and Volley Bradshaw (44), were also living in Jasper and working for the railroad as section hands.


In 1950, one of east Lane County’s other large Black communities was found in Glenwood.

Glenwood is a one-mile-square community on the Willamette River between Eugene and Springfield.

Although Glenwood was a popular stopping place on the Pacific Highway and became known for its tourist cabins and nightclubs, its tendency to flood before dams were constructed in the 1960s made it an undesirable place to live.

Property values in the area were low, and as a result, it became home to low-income, Black, and other historically marginalized communities. This meant that Glenwood, and specifically Brooklyn Street, was a remarkably diverse community in Oregon during this time.


Glenwood’s Black community in 1950 included these people and families, who all lived on Brooklyn Street:

Leon Glaster, 28, who worked as a general construction laborer. He lived with his wife Maxine, 24, and their daughter, Ruby, 5. Leon and Maxine were born in Texas, and Ruby was born in Oregon.

Samuel Pledger, 23, who worked as a railroad firebuilder. He lived with his wife Bertha, 21, and infant daughter Deloris. Bertha Pritchett, 41, was also shown as living in the house, but was likely Bertha’s mother and visiting to help with the new baby. Samuel was born in Arkansas, Bertha was born in Texas, and Deloris was born in Oregon.

John Green, 31, who worked as a firelighter for the railroad. He was born in Missouri.

John Tyler, 43, who worked as a firelighter for the railroad. He lived with his wife Essie, 42. John was born in Arkansas and Essie was born in Louisiana.

Mary Walker, 40, who worked as a domestic servant. She lived with her 1 year old son, Anthony. Mary was born in Texas, and Anthony was born in California.

Willie Glaster, 29, who worked as a “habitary laborer”. He lived with his wife Thelma, 22. Willie and Thelma were both born in Texas.


The data clearly shows that there were Black community members in Springfield and rural east Lane County. While we don’t know a lot of their experiences, let’s dig a little further into some of their stories.


Lee Wetleau

Lee Wetleau was born in Paris, Texas in 1878. After her father died when she was 15, she went to work on the ranch of a white family with a daughter her age. A few years later, she met and married Andrew “Al” Wetleau; she worked for a wealthy family as a housekeeper while Andrew worked as a farmhand.

When their employers moved to Oregon, the Wetleaus came too. Later, after Lee went to work for another family in Portland, she and Al accompanied them when they moved to Lowell in 1915. They stayed in Lowell until Al died in 1962, and Lee stayed until she moved to a retirement home in Springfield in 1979.

After their employers moved back to Portland, Al and Lee purchased land in Lowell. Al had a team of horses and did hauling and plowing for other farmers in the area. Lee worked as a cook for railroad workers. Eventually, they developed their property and ran a boarding house.

The Wetleaus are remembered for their devotion to local children. After the death of their only child as an infant, they often took in children as free boarders if they lived in logging camps too far for them to attend school, and they donated 15 acres of land for the building of Lowell’s schools. Lee died at age 102 in 1981.


Austin Ray

Austin Ray came to Springfield with his wife Eunice and their six children from Portland in 1981. Austin, who had been a pastor in Portland, was the first Black leader of the Ebbert Memorial Methodist Church in Springfield (although he was assigned as co-pastor with a white man).

Born in Langston, Oklahoma, Austin and his family stayed in Springfield for three years before moving to another church in Lexington, Kentucky in 1984. According to interviews from this period, Austin experienced prejudice as well as acceptance.

In 1982, Austin said that he was worried about his children losing their Black identity while living in an all-white neighborhood in Springfield, and “Blacks [in Oregon] have been told they’re different [from Blacks elsewhere].’

In May 1984, Austin said that before his family’s arrival in Springfield, there were stereotypes and prejudice in Springfield, and “Our coming here forced people to have to deal with that...They discovered thy did have prejudice toward people of color...Ninety-nine percent of the people did some deep soul searching...[The United Methodist Church] didn’t know whether it was going to work and I didn’t know whether it was going to work. My goal was to make it work. I feel good. I think it has been a success here.”


Jesse Maine

Jesse Maine was born in 1948. After his mother died, he was raised by an older sister, and moved from Chicago to Seattle when he was 17 to work his way through college.

He moved to Springfield and met his wife, Maureen while they were both working at Weyerhaeuser, Jesse as an accountant. They later left the company and Jesse created PICO Information Systems.

Jesse quickly became involved in Springfield politics. He joined the Springfield Planning Commission in 1988, and was elected as a Springfield’s first Black City Councilor in 1992.

During the 1992 election, Jesse receive more votes than any other Council candidate-despite his direct efforts to overturn Measure 20-15, an anti-gay measure created by the Oregon Citizens Alliance and approved by Springfield voters earlier that year.

Jesse was a key player in the push to bring economic prosperity to Springfield in the late 1980s, which culminated for him in the opening of Sony Disc Manufacturing’s Springfield plant in 1994.

Sadly, Jesse passed away from cancer in March 1994, at age 46. He was expected by many to become Springfield’s next mayor.


We’ve seen so far that:

Black people have been living in east Lane County since at least the 1880s.

These people worked in a variety of jobs and were active community members here.

So again: what are the roots of the misconception?

Let’s explore it.


While there were early Black residents in eastern Lane County, there were never very many. Why is that?

First, Oregon’s early laws discouraged Black people from moving to the state. In 1843 slavery was outlawed in the Oregon territory, but the law was amended to force any free Black Oregonians out of the state within two years: any who didn’t leave were subject to physical whipping.

This law was rescinded in 1845, and replaced in 1849 with a law that specified that “it shall not be lawful for an negro or mulatto to enter into, or reside” in Oregon. This law was rescinded in 1854.

The final exclusionary law was incorporated into the Oregon Bill of Rights in 1857, and prohibited Blacks from being in the state, making contracts, and owning property. Oregon became the only free state admitted to the Union with an exclusion clause. This law was not officially repealed by voters until 1926.


Other laws excluded Black Americans too, some federally:

Other exclusionary Oregon-specific laws included an 1862 poll tax that required $5 yearly ($152 today) from all Black, Chinese, Hawaiian, and biracial people living in Oregon, and an 1868 law that prohibited marriage between whites and anyone who was Black, Chinese, Hawaiian, or Indigenous.

The Federal Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 was created to bring new settlers to the west to replace Indigenous populations. The law was segregated: white American citizens were entitled to 320 acres of land, while the law explicitly excluded Blacks and Hawaiians.

The goal of these laws was to discourage Black settlement in Oregon, and ensure that Oregon would develop as primarily white. The small number of Black people found in Census records for east Lane County in later years are the aftermath of these laws.


Black Oregonians also faced social barriers along with legal ones.

The Ku Klux Klan arrived in Oregon in early 1921, and by 1923 Oregon Klan leaders claimed 35,000 members in more than 60 local chapters, the largest membership west of the Mississippi River. The Klan wielded a lot of power in Oregon through political influence, economic coercion, and violence.

Exclusionary laws had already made Oregon’s Black population small, so the Oregon Klan’s main targets were Catholics and Jews, with Black residents their secondary target. It was not uncommon for KKK members to parade through city streets in full regalia, followed by rallies and cross burnings and lightings-these events happened across the Willamette valley.

The local Eugene-Springfield Klan Chapter No. 3 included over 140 names in its 1922 rolls, including Ben Dorris (nephew of Dorris Ranch founder George Dorris), Mountain States Power Company accountant Harry Anderson, Gray’s Cash and Carry Grocery manager Carl Gray, and Lane County Commissioner Emmett Sharp.

This list of examples shows the breadth of local Klan members’ involvement in the daily life and political landscape of this region in the 1920s.

Black residents also faced employment discrimination in this region: research shows that the Springfield lumber industry was almost entirely white until well into the 1940s.


Certain housing was also barred to Black Oregon residents.

Racial covenants are clauses that were inserted into property deed to prevent people who were not white from buying or occupying land. They can be found in the property records of nearly every American community, including Springfield and rural east Lane County. The title report on the right shows the racial covenant from a Springfield property.

Racial covenants were created in the early 1900s as part of urban planning policy, along with practices like steering and redlining. The 1924 National Association of Real Estate Boards Code of Ethics stated that “a Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood or property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”

Practices like this pushed Black residents into smaller sections of cities like Eugene and Springfield. Racial covenants were declared illegal in the 1968 Fair Housing Act, but many are still written into deeds and titles.


So, what is the truth?


In spite of the legal and social barriers they faced, Black residents are significant to the history of Springfield and rural east Lane County.


Thank you for reading!

Sources and further reading:

Due to size limitations our Black History slideshow PDF is divided into four separate documents, parts 1 - 4. We apologize for any inconvenience.