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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.



Basic Information

Type of Place
Independent City or Town
Metro Area
Politics c. 1860?
Unions, Organized Labor?
Don’t Know

Sundown Town Status

Sundown Town in the Past?
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

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld
1990 10786 1632
2000 17884 16345 81 292 179

Method of Exclusion

  • Violent Expulsion
  • Threat of Violence

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black


Email 2/2008

Salem is no longer Sundown, but black friends of mine have told of stares and comments on the city busses. Salem is currently far more racist toward Latino folk, probably because they’re more numerous and therefore perceived as more of a threat to the white population.

According to Howard Goodman, “Bigotry: Oregon’s Sad history,” Oregon Territory, 4G: “The white citizens of Liberty, OR, now a South Salem neighborhood, ordered all blacks out of town in 1893.” “But the spirit of Liberty, OR, lived on for decades. Cities throughout Oregon adopted ‘sundown laws,’ maintained in fact if not by law. Blacks appeared outdoors after dark only at their peril. The code lingered in many paces until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.”
“By 1936, the black pop. of Salem virtually had disappeared. As a local NAACP observed: Salem has no Negro population, except a few inmates in the Penal Inst. and Insane Hospital. All of the colored people who did live here have all moved to L.A. I know of no Negroes living in Salem at the present time.”

According to Lawrence J. Saalfeld, Forces of Projudice in Oregon, 1920-1925 (Portland: Archdiocesan Historical Commission, 1984), 7:
“In Salem, the Klan anonymously threatened Charles Maxwell, a black man and proprietor of a shoeshine shop.” “Maxwell refused to leave town” and opened a barbecue restaurant, but then left after foreclosure.
KKK had 300 members in Salem within five months, by 2/1922.

Agreeing with this story is another Oregon historian, who writes: %u201CIn 1922, Charles and Marie Maxwell, black, lived in Salem, received a death threat from the KKK. This source says they did not leave town but opened Fat Boy Barbecue in 1928. In 1930, their son was a porter. But in 1936, cites NAACP report, above. Mark Hatfield had to escort Paul Robeson to Portland to sleep, apparently in early 1950s. (Virginia Green, “Hidden Citizens: Blacks in Salem, 1844-1962,” Salem, typescript in personal collection, unpaginated.)

An Oregon resident was told that Salem had had a sign, but has not been able to find documentation.

According to an Oregon Historian, on July 4, 1863, there was altercation between Democratss and Republicans, and Southern sympathizers were chased from a park. There were many Democrats in Oregon.
Police in Salem had sundown attitude. Senator Hotel, the main one in town, refused to let blacks stay into the 1950s, maybe ’60s, and other hotels followed suit. Louis Armstrong couldn’t stay. Paul Robeson too.

There were more blacks in the rural areas outside Salem, while the Chinese were allowed to stay in Salem. Threats to drive them out, but never happened.

On the Oregon State University website is information about Carrie Halsell Ward, written by Terri Tower:
Carrie Woodson Ward, the first black to graduate from Oregon State University, graduated from Salem High School in 1921, and graduated from Oregon Statue University in 1926. “The Halsell family moved to Salem, OR, about 1912, where William. Halsell was listed … as a janitor, laborer, and farmer between 1913 and 1917.” In 1921, he became shopkeeper on downtown State St., Cigars, tobacco, shoe shining parlor.
“In 1922 another black shopkeeper on Salem’s State St. received a letter signed by the Ku Klux Klan, threatening the shopkeeper and his family to move out of town. It is likely that the Halsell family also would have received a similar type of letter…” and they indeed moved to Portland sometime in 1921 or 1922. Carrie lived off-campus, may not have been allowed to live in dorm. In 1927, she became a maid for Meier and Frank Dept. Store in Portland, “one of the few places in Portland that would hire black women for any type of work at all.” Then, 1927, she moved to Virginia, worked at Virginia State, helped found Delta Sigma Theta sorority, then ended up teaching in Sapulpa, OK.

Seven bl. lived in Salem in 1900, not counting 4 in insane asylum. In 1915 at least three bl. (two men, one woman, all separate) lived in Salem.

Oregon historian recalls that in Salem there was a sign in the Rail Road station that read, “Salem, 99 and 99% white and proud of it.”