Announcing the 2020 Joel Palmer Award Winner

September 1, 2020

By Erin Brasell

The “Oregon Historical Quarterly” is a peer-reviewed, public history journal that has been published continuously since 1900 by the Oregon Historical Society. Pictured here are “OHQ” covers published in 2019.

Each year, the Oregon Historical Quarterly (OHQ) presents the Joel Palmer Award to the author of the best article published in the journal during the previous year. The award was established by Omar C. “Slug” Palmer and William J. Lang in honor of their ancestor Joel Palmer, a nineteenth-century Oregon leader. Members of OHQ’s Editorial Advisory Board vote on what they deem to be the best article from the previous year. In addition to the first-place prize, which carries with it $300, two authors are presented honorable mentions.

This year, the winning article and honorable mentions were all published in the Winter 2019 Special Issue, “White Supremacy & Resistance.” The issue began as an idea in June 2017 at an OHQ Editorial Advisory Board meeting that followed the May 2017 deadly attack by a white supremacist on Portland’s light-rail train. The result is an issue that is a counterpoint to traditional narratives that valorize settler-colonialism and conquest, instead addressing topics such as racial exclusion and land ownership, abolitionism and anti-slavery politics, citizenship, violence, labor organizing, white supremacist organizations, and resistance to those systems. Over a dozen authors drew on lifetimes of scholarship to provide a fact-based and nuanced framework for understanding this history. Three of those authors are honored this year for their contributions.

Cover, Winter 2019 “White Supremacy & Resistance” special issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly.
The Winter 2019 Special Issue of the “Oregon Historical Quarterly” explores the history of white supremacy and resistance in Oregon.
1907 Map: “Line of Original Emigration to the Pacific Northwest Commonly Known as the Old Oregon Trail.” Published in in Ezra Meeker’s 1907, “The Ox Team or the Old Oregon Trail, 1852–1906.”
This map, published in Ezra Meeker’s 1907 “The Ox Team or the Old Oregon Trail, 1852–1906,” is an example of how nineteenth century migrants to Oregon commemorated those who traveled along the Oregon Trail, often obscuring their legacy of violence, displacement, and exclusion.

This year’s first-place Joel Palmer Award goes to Katrine Barber’s article, “‘We were at our journey’s end’: Settler Sovereignty Formation in Oregon.” In the article, she expertly weaves diary entries written by Esther Bell Hannah, one of 60,000 overland migrants heading west in 1852 alone, into a narrative of resettlement, exclusion, and displacement. The article reveals the structures — settler colonialism and white supremacy — and official and unofficial measures, such as federal and state policies coupled with violence and harassment, that have created “race-inflected advantages and disadvantages that have persisted through generations.” Of note are two charts compiled by the author that clearly illustrate these concepts. The first details citizenship status, voting rights, and property rights by race and gender during the twentieth century in Oregon. The second provides examples of settler colonialism in Oregon history and resistance to it. An OHQ editorial advisory board member described the article as an important contribution to Oregon history for its description of “the realities of white supremacy and settler colonialism, placing Oregon in a national and global content, and explaining the impact on communities of color.”

Honorable mentions also go to two articles published in the Winter 2019 special issue: Johanna Ogden’s “White Right and Labor Organizing in Oregon’s ‘Hindu’ City,” and John Linder’s “Liberty Ships and Jim Crow Shipyards: Racial Discrimination in Kaiser’s Portland Shipyards, 1940–1945.”

In “White Right and Labor Organizing in Oregon’s ‘Hindu’ City,” Ogden provides an account of a little-known March 1910 anti-Indian riot in St. John’s, then a city just outside Portland, that was part of a growing anti-Asian movement along the West coast. The riot, perpetrated by a crowd of two hundred white laborers, was also joined by the mayor, police chief, and two police officers. The Indians (Sikhs whom newspapers and residents called Hindus) fought back the night of the riot and demanded prosecution of the rioters. The Indian community in the region “became a center of anti-colonial organizing” in forming Ghadar, a global movement to free India from British rule. One OHQ editorial board member who nominated this article for the author’s “stunning expertise in placing St. Johns into an international story of not just migration of peoples, but migration and mutations of concepts, ideas, and outcomes.”

“St. Johns’ Mayor and 8 Indicted,” headline published on April 27, 1910, in the “Morning Oregonian.”
On April 27, 1910, the “Morning Oregonian” reported that the St. John’s mayor and eight others, including eight police officers, were indicted for failing to disperse rioters who attacked the town’s Indian (Sikh) residents. Charges against the mayor and police were eventually dropped. Two white laborers were convicted, but their sentences were suspended.
“For This—We Shed Our Blood,” cartoon published in the “People’s Observer” on June 29, 1943
This cartoon, published on June 29, 1943, in the “People’s Observer,” a Black-owned newspaper in Portland, Oregon, highlights the bitterness felt by many African Americans who were being sent to fight a “war of democracy” against proponents of a “master race” while the U.S. government allowed and even promoted blatant discrimination at home.

In “Liberty Ships and Jim Crow Shipyards,” John Linder describes systematic discrimination experienced by Black workers in Kaiser’s Portland shipyards, discrimination enforced by corporations and ignored by the federal government, and the workers’ resistance. During World War II, new arrivals to the region sought work in war industries, particularly in the three large Kaiser Company shipyards. There, a majority of skilled jobs were under the jurisdiction of the Local 72 of the Boilermakers Union, which refused to admit Black members. Linder describes how, during a time when shipyards needed skilled workers, “qualified Black workers were consigned to laboring jobs or forced to join a segregated and powerless ‘auxiliary local’.” Black workers and organizers won significant victories, however, through “mass action rather than the promises and proclamations of government and company officials.” OHQ editorial advisory board members emphasized the importance of the author’s use of first-person accounts and his connection of this local history to national events.

Please join us in congratulating these three authors for their work and contributions to Oregon history. All three articles are now available to for free download on our website, along with the introduction to the Winter 2019 special issue, by Dr. Carmen Thompson. OHQ is the journal of record of Oregon history and a benefit of OHS membership. Join today to start receiving the journal, which OHS has published continuously since 1900, or purchase single-issue print copies in the OHS Museum Store.

Author Biographies

Katrine Barber is a history professor at Portland State University where she teaches courses in Western History and Public History. She is author of In Defense of Wyam: Native-White Alliances and the Struggle for Celilo Village (2018), Death of Celilo Falls (2005), and Nature's Northwest: The North Pacific Slope in the Twentieth Century (with William Robbins, 2012) as well as numerous articles.

John Linder recently retired from teaching fifth grade at the Creative Science School, a Portland Public School, and is a member of the Portland Association of Teachers and Portland Area Rethinking Schools. Between 1979 and 1980, he worked in the potrooms at the Kaiser Aluminum smelter in Chalmette, Louisiana, where he could still read “Colored” through a coat of paint on a restroom door. He was also a member of the Committee to Overturn the Webber Decision, which sought to protect an affirmative action program that Black Kaiser workers and the United Steelworkers Union had won to reverse decades of racial discrimination by the company. Linder holds bachelor's degrees in history and Spanish and a master's in education from Portland State University. His article grew out of a term paper that he wrote in 1992 as a student in Darrell Millner's Oregon Black History class.

Johanna Ogden is an independent historian. She received her bachelor’s degree from Portland State University and her master’s in history from the University of British Columbia. Her earlier publication, “Ghadar, Historical Silences, and Notions of Belonging,” won OHQ's Palmer Award in 2012. In 2013, she, along with former city councilperson Karen Mellin, spearheaded the centenary celebration of Ghadar's founding in Astoria, Oregon. She has spoken from British Columbia to California, and in India, on Indians' Oregon legacy in the context of global empire, and is currently completing a book manuscript on the topic.

Erin Brasell’s Other Posts

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