Portland protests ignite: A major civil rights moment in Oregon

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January 17, 2022
Nathan Howard // Getty Images

Portland protests ignite: A major civil rights moment in Oregon

A land of contradictions from the outset, the United States was founded by slave owners who spoke passionately and eloquently about liberty, freedom, and justice for all. In the beginning, “all” was limited to men of European ancestry who were wealthy enough to own land. The Constitution’s protections did not apply to most of the people living in America for most of America’s history—at least not in full.

Women—about 50% of the population—were not included in the country’s concept of “all,” likewise millions of slaves—and for a long time, their offspring. Native Americans, the descendants of the original inhabitants of the United States, were commonly excluded from the promise of America, as were many immigrants, ethnic groups, and religious minorities.

Despite all the work that remains to be done, all of those groups and many others now enjoy freedoms that had to be won—won through the courts, through the court of public opinion, through mass demonstrations, through legislation, through boycotts, and in many cases, through martyrdom.

Fighting to expand the definition of “all” requires powerless people to challenge the power structures that benefit from keeping certain people locked in their status as second-class citizens. They often do it at great risk to their jobs, their reputations, their homes, and in many cases, their lives. Even so, brave advocates and activists fought the good fight in every state in America. Each state has a unique story to tell about the epic struggles for civil rights that were waged there, as well as those that continue to be waged. The following is a tiny sliver of their collective efforts.

Using a variety of sources, Stacker identified a defining moment for civil rights in all 50 states. They stand out for different reasons and led to changes that lifted different groups, but they all prove how much can be achieved—and how much still remains to be accomplished.

Keep reading to find out your state’s contribution to civil rights.

Oregon: Portland protests ignite

Loud and radical public activism has been a central theme of Portland culture for decades, and the state of Oregon as a whole has a long and ugly history of often violent state-based racism. Those two dynamics contributed to an explosion of sustained civil unrest that has gripped the city for months on end in 2020, as protests for racial justice devolved into a sustained anarchistic outburst. In an irony not lost on the original organizers of the legitimate uprising, the crowds that co-opted the movement have been largely white—and Portland is the whitest large city in America.

Click here to see an event from every state or continue reading for other events near Oregon.

California: Immigrant farmworkers stand up

Decades before Cesar Chavez popularized the plight of agricultural laborers in California, a coalition of Mexican and Japanese farmworkers blazed the trail that Chavez would follow. In 1903 in Oxnard, 1,200 immigrant laborers formed the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association, which would become the first union in California to win a strike against the state’s formidable agriculture industry.

Idaho: Idaho beats the country to the punch

Idaho has a long, proud, and often overlooked history of important civil rights achievements dating back to mask-ban laws that challenged the Ku Klux Klan at the height of the group’s power in the 1920s. Idaho’s finest moment, however, came in 1961, when the state passed a comprehensive civil rights bill three years before the United States as a whole.

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