- Type of Place
- Independent City or Town
- Metro Area
- Politics c. 1860?
- Don’t Know
- Unions, Organized Labor?
- Don’t Know
Sundown Town Status
- Confirmed Sundown Town?
- Was there an ordinance?
- Yes, Strong Oral Tradition
- Yes, Strong Oral Tradition
- Year of Greatest Interest
- Still Sundown?
- Probably Not, Although Still Very Few Black People
Method of Exclusion
- Violent Expulsion
- Threat of Violence
Main Ethnic Group(s)
Medford was a sundown town, said to have had a sign until the 1960s! See below.
Medford residents openly discuss discrimination against non-whites, but disagree whether there were official %u201Csundown%u201D laws.
In the Medford Mail Tribune News is a section entitled %u201CSince You Asked,%u201D which printed the following about sundown laws in 1998:
%u201C%u2018Sundown law%u2019 hasn’t been found
During the 10 years I have lived in Southern Oregon, I have had many discussions with teachers, lawyers, police officers and lifelong residents of Medford on the history of African Americans here. Inevitably the topic of “sundown” laws comes up. Were there actually laws that excluded blacks and other ethnic groups from residing in Medford and other surrounding communities? Or was this an unspoken custom? %u2014 Lewis J., Gold Hill
There’s no evidence that sundown laws actually existed on the statute books anywhere in Oregon, Lewis, but that didn’t make the discrimination any less real.
“I have never been able to find a written sundown law,” said Darrell Millner, professor of black studies at Portland State University. “I’m still looking, but I haven’t found any.”
However, Millner said there were often signs posted outside towns where nonwhite strangers weren’t welcome.
Article 35 of Oregon’s 1859 constitution prohibited black people from residing here. Things began to change after the Civil War, when Congress approved the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which guaranteed equal protection to all citizens under the law, and by extension gave black people the right to reside in Oregon.
Millner said Oregon did not drop the discriminatory language from the state constitution until 1927.
Millner said many Confederate sympathizers drifted in and out of Oregon during the War Between the States, and large numbers of them settled in Southern Oregon after the war ended in 1865.
As recently as the 1920s, few black people lived in Southern Oregon. Bill Alley of the Southern Oregon Historical Society says one black man, George Washington Maddox, was often noted in newspaper columns of the day. Maddox, a dwarf, shined shoes at the Medford Hotel.
Alley said there were probably more Japanese living in the Rogue Valley than blacks in the 1920s, but the entire nonwhite population was still very small. “When we talk about the `Japanese community’ we might be talking about two families.”
(Send your questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by fax to (541) 776 4376; or by e mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
http://www.mailtribune.com/news/dailynws.htm, The Mail Tribune 1998, Medford, Oregon
The Medford Mail Tribune also published investigation on its past as “sundown town” in 1995.
Two scholarly articles about Medford are:
LaLande, Jeff. BENEATH THE HOODED ROBE: NEWSPAPERMEN, LOCAL POLITICS, AND THE KU KLUX KLAN IN JACKSON COUNTY, OREGON, 1921 1923. Pacific Northwest Quarterly 1992 83(2): 42 52. Abstract: Robert W. Ruhl, owner and editor of the Medford Mail Tribune, spearheaded opposition to the rising power of Oregon’s Ku Klux Klan during the early 1920’s. Drawing on discontent from the post World War I recession, a new wave of nativism, and alleged calls for moral reform, the local Klan cast itself as a purifier of the community and utilized violence to accomplish its goals. William Phipps used his Medford Clarion newspaper to condemn critics of the Klan and to promote his own political aspirations.
LaLande, Jeff. THE “JACKSON COUNTY REBELLION”: SOCIAL TURMOIL AND POLITICAL INSURGENCE IN SOUTHERN OREGON DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION. Oregon Historical Quarterly 1994 95 95(4): 406 471. Abstract: Details the rise and fall of the populist insurgency in Jackson County, Oregon, from 1930 to 1933 in the context of past local populism since the 1890’s and concurrent nationwide political protest during the early depression. The depression in Jackson’s lumber and orchard economy in 1930 reawakened populist dissent and pitted one faction of the county small orchard operators, blue collar workers, farm town businessmen, and the scattered population of the hinterlands against urban Medford and the orchard owning elite. In the fraud ridden election of 1932, populist candidates, under the name “Good Government Congress” (GGC), overthrew the county’s established powers. The story of the Jackson County Rebellion is interwoven with the rivalry of the local press, with editors Llewellyn Banks and Earl Fehl sponsoring the GGC and editor Robert Ruhl supporting the establishment. By 1933, the election had been challenged, the patrician paper had won a Pulitzer, and the populist publishers had gone to jail.
A Tillamook resident born in 1927 knew it and Medford to be sundown. “Medford was considered to be the biggest sundown town.” First time he saw a black person was 1938, on railroad.
A former Medford resident writes:
%u201CMedford, however, was sooo white it was staggering.%u201D Employees of the local elder care facilities told me that the women were very bigoted, commonly using racial slurs, and some reminisced nostalgically of the times when sundowner laws were in effect, while others were under the impression that they still were in effect. They were shocked that these women could be so sweet and kind concerning other matters, but never about race. A few years later I realized that the Hispanic ministry at my church, Shepherd of the Valley, was completely separate from the regular congregation. Our pastor, Fr. Jim, gave a homily one Sunday concerning the parishioners’ attitudes about the Hispanic group. Apparently he had fielded a number of complaints, again from the elderly set, that we were spending all our money on “them” and that we shouldn’t be doing so much for those people, even if they were poor and needy. Fr. Jim, bless him, read everybody the riot act and told them to go find a new church if they didn’t like the way things were run. The thing that hit me, though, was the entrenched white supremacy evident in their attitudes. I can’t help but think such ideas are hangovers from the old sundowner laws. I was told they were in effect until the mid 60’s, and that no person of color was allowed on the streets after sundown period. Now that I’m living somewhere, I can see even more the lasting effect of those times in Jackson County. They will never experience the open freeness brought about by ethnic diversity, I’m afraid. One generation is teaching another.%u201D
A Medford resident writes:
%u201C Medford used to have a sign up by the Medford Armory stating that this was a sundown town, and a KKK member, but that was gone in the late 60’s. There never was bells or whistles. We really didn’t have blacks in this area till the late 70’s when one family got a job at Payless. We would go there just to look at her. She was sooooo nice to everyone. Then she got married and had kids and they went to public school. It must have been hard on them being gawked at all the time. I’ve never heard of bells for the 6 pm curfew.%u201D
In 1922, after Luther Powell, Klan Kleagle, arrived in Medford to organize, hooded riders threatened and terrorized George Burr and Henry Johnson, blacks (Medford Mail tribune, 3/18/1922, cited in Kay Atwood, Blossoms and Branches, p. 47.) Within 4 months, three acts of terrorism. “Two black residents, George Burr and Henry Johnson, were told to leave the area after being terrorized…” (newspaper clipping in Oregon Historical Society)
In Medford, the KKK took George Burr, a bootblack, to the mtns., “placed a rope around his neck, threw an end over a branch, and drew him up. Then they cut him down and ordered him to run.” (Howard Goodman, “Bigotry: OR’s sad history,” OR Territory, 3G.) Later people recalled that %u201CPosse Comitatis%u201D enforced Medford’s sundown rule.
During Dr. Loewen%u2019s talk on Southern Oregon Public Radio, February 12, 2002, people called in to share that they had often heard people say that Medford had a billboard into the 70s reading, “If you’re black, don’t lay your head here at night.” Another person remembered that the Medford Police told a black man in the 1970s that Medford had once had a sign at the edge of town warning blacks not to be there after sundown. Another caller remembered that a cross was burned on the lawn of the black meteorologist who had moved to town, c. 1954, and he left afterwards.
A former Medford resident writes:
When I lived in Medford, I had heard, somehow, during that time that a US Weather Service man had been hired and moved into Medford with his family. (I don’t think this was in the newspaper but our neighbor was with the Bureau of Land Management. Maybe he knew from “inner circles”.) Anyway this family was refused service at markets, etc. and had to phone for food delivery, etc. They moved out of the valley in about 6 months. …. We were living in Medford in the beginning and then moved to the nearby college town of Ashland. A friend asked if I would take part in a Human Rights Group to encourage better relationships with the blacks. I agreed. At that time, Southern Oregon College was beginning to encourage Black students from other parts of the world as part of a growth decision. One of my friend%u2019 comments was, “You may have to have black people bed down on your floor, so be ready for that.”%u2026 but here was never a need for us.%u201D