Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years

Black United Front leader, Ron Herndon, stands on a desk at a School Board protest against the closure of Harriet Tubman Middle School, March 30, 1982. Steve Nehl, Oregon Journal. OrHi 95005 ba018353

January 15 – June 24, 2018

  • Free for Members
  • Family-friendly
  • Teachers
  • Handicap Accessible Friendly

Oregon Historical Society
1200 SW Park Ave
Portland, Oregon 97205
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Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years

Presented by the Oregon Black Pioneers.

Racing to Change illuminates the Civil Rights Movement in Oregon in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of cultural and social upheaval, conflict, and change. The era brought new militant voices into a clash with traditional organizations of power, both Black and White.

Visitors of all ages and backgrounds will engage in the examination of the repression and violence against African Americans that made the Civil Rights Movement necessary. The exhibit explores how racist attitudes, policies of exclusion, and the destruction of Black-owned neighborhoods shaped Oregon, as well as the unceasing efforts of the Black community to overcome these obstacles.

Programs & Events

All programs are free & open to the public!

Family Saturday: African Americans in Oregon

Saturday, May 19, 2018
12pm – 4pm

Oregon Historical Society

Families are invited to engage in the history of the Civil Rights Movement through hands-on, art-based activities.

Celebrate History and Make a Difference Now!

Saturday, June 9, 2018
2pm – 4pm

Oregon Historical Society

Exhibit closing celebration featuring presentations by local community organizations.

About the Oregon Black Pioneers

The state’s premier Black heritage organization is dedicated to illuminating African Americans’ contributions to Oregon’s history through research, publications, exhibits, and community outreach. The organization's newest exhibition, Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years, directly builds on three highly successful collaborations with the Oregon Historical Society and reflects the all-volunteer organization's increasing capacity to create meaningful opportunities for community dialogue and learning.

Oregon Black Pioneers

Members Opening Reception

Opening remarks from OHS Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, newly-appointed Oregon Supreme Court Justice Adrienne Nelson, Oregon Black Pioneers President Willie Richardson, and others.

News Coverage

Oregon Historical Society -- Racing to Change: Oregon's Civil Rights Years

AM Northwest, KATU-TV, May 17, 2018

Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years is an important exhibit on display now at the Oregon Historical Society. Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk stopped by to tell us more.

The exhibit runs through June 24th at Oregon Historical Society in downtown Portland.

You're invited to Family Saturday with an African American Twist -- May 19, 2018:

  • 12 pm - 4 pm
  • Free Admission
  • Special readings, and sing-alongs for all ages


Against the backdrop of an exhibit featuring Oregon's civil rights history at the Oregon Historical Society, Portand's new Chief of Police, Danielle Outlaw, was formally sworn in. January 22, 2018. Beth Nakamura, The Oregonian/OregonLivePolice Chief: Portland can't ignore history of racial inequality if it wants to improve

By Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian/OregonLive, January 22, 2018

Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said Monday that she deliberately chose the Oregon Historical Society and its "Racing for Change, Oregon's Civil Rights Years'' exhibit as the setting for her swearing-in ceremony to "address the elephant in the room.'' 

She described an era of early policing in the nation's history when sheriffs enforced segregation in the South and officers received political payoffs to turn a blind eye to a politician's illegal prostitution or drinking.

"Here in Portland, the issue of racial inequality and displacement still lurks in the undercurrent of a very progressive city,'' Outlaw said moments after she was formally sworn in as the city's first African American female chief. The ceremony comes after Outlaw has been in the job for three and a half months.

"We cannot effectively address crime reduction and community engagement and inclusion or organizational excellence through an equity and inclusion lens if we ignore our history.''

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JENNIFER ANDERSON - Gwen Carr and other members of the nonprofit Oregon Black Pioneers stress that the current exhibit couldn't come at a more relevant time.'Racing to Change' connects past to present

By Jennifer Anderson, Portland Tribune, January 16, 2018

If you take one thing away from "Racing to Change," it's that history definitely repeats itself. The newest interactive exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society — focusing on Oregon's black pioneers during the civil rights era — is a powerful, educational and inspiring window into a world that might have technically passed but is still ever-present in today's Black Lives Matter movement and other race-related struggles. "There was lot of residual from Oregon's racial history — employment, public accommodation, housing issues" and other racist policies that have persisted, says Gwen Carr, board secretary of the Oregon Black Pioneers, the Salem-based nonprofit presenting the event.

On the Go with Joe at ‘Racing to Change’

By Joe Vithayathil, KPTV - FOX 12, January 15, 2018

Monday is Martin Luther King Jr Day, when Americans remember the civil rights leader and the fight for equality, and a new exhibit examines the civil rights movement here in Oregon. In history class, when students hear about the civil rights movement, they hear about far off places like Selma and Montgomery yet next to nothing about Portland, or Oregon in general. The work of Dr. King and so many others in the movement did, in fact, have a place and a purpose right here in the northwest, though. A new exhibit from the Oregon Historical Society titled “Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years” documents the civil rights movement in the state during the 1960s and 1970s.

In Depth: MLK Day at OHS!

By KXL-Morning News, January 15th 2018

New exhibit on civil rights opens today at the Oregon Historical Society. Pat talked about it with Executive Director, Kerry Tymchuk.

Oregon Historical Society opens its doors for free for MLK Day

by Genevieve Reaume, KATU News, January 15th 2018

To celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Monday, the Oregon Historical Society opened its doors for free to all visitors. Hundreds of people will get to see the historical society's new exhibit, "Racing for Change," which focuses on the civil rights movement in Oregon. Inside, attendees get to see iconic quotes from prominent figures in the movement, along with a book signed by Martin Luther King, Jr. "This tells the story of how community leaders here in Portland and across Oregon finally began to demand equal rights and civil rights," Kerry Tymchuk, executive director of OHS said. "It's a timely exhibit."

In 'Oregon's Civil Rights Years' exhibit, issues still resonate today

By Samantha Bakall, The Oregonian | OregonLive, January 11, 2018

Though the Oregon Historical Society's newest exhibit focuses on Oregon's civil rights experience decades ago, many of the central themes still feel relevant to today. Presented in partnership with the Oregon Black Pioneers, "Racing to Change: Oregon's Civil Rights Years," is the fourth exhibit in a chronological series from the African American heritage organization and the museum. The series, which began in 2011, has been cataloging African American life in Oregon from the 1700s toward present day. On display until June 24, the new exhibit details the social upheaval and conflicts black Oregonians faced during the 1960s and 1970s, and the progress, experimentation and joy the black community experienced as they played an essential role in building the state's social, cultural and economic base.

Black Pioneers’ New Exhibit Tell Stories of the Civil Rights Era

By Melanie Sevcenko, The Skanner News, NOVEMBER 22, 2017

At the start of a new year, the Oregon Black Pioneers will invite Oregonians to join them in what they do best – looking to their shared past. The historians’ newest and largest exhibit to date, “Racing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Rights Years,” will open on Jan. 15 at the Oregon Historical Society and will offer visitors an opportunity to experience the struggles and achievements of the 1960s and 70s in their home state. For the past two years, the all-volunteer non-profit organization based in Salem has been collecting stories and overturning artifacts to compile an image of conflict, courage and change at a volatile time in history.