On this dayJun 26, 1844

Oregon Territory Bans Free Black People

On June 26, 1844, the legislative committee of the territory then known as “Oregon Country” passed the first of a series of “black exclusion” laws. The law dictated that free African Americans were prohibited from moving into Oregon Country and those who violated the ban could be whipped “not less than twenty nor more than thirty-nine stripes."

That December, the law was amended to substitute forced labor for whipping. It specified that African Americans who stayed within Oregon would be hired at public auction, and that the “hirer” would be responsible for removing the “hiree” out of the territory after the prescribed period of forced service was rendered. This law was enforced even though slavery and involuntary servitude were illegal in Oregon Country.

The preamble to a later exclusion law, passed in 1849, explained legislators’ beliefs that “it would be highly dangerous to allow free Negroes and mulattoes to reside in the Territory, or to intermix with Indians, instilling . . . feelings of hostility toward the white race.”

The Oregon Constitution of 1857 included racial exclusion provisions against African Americans and Asian Americans. The document declared that African Americans outside of Oregon were not permitted to “come, reside, or be within” the state; prohibited African Americans from owning property or performing contracts; and prescribed punishment for those who employed, “harbor[ed]”, or otherwise helped African Americans.

Between 1840 and 1860, in the midst of this exclusion and discrimination, African Americans never constituted more than 1 percent of the population in the American Pacific Northwest. Oregon, which joined the Union as a "free state" on February 14, 1859, stands as a clear illustration that racial discrimination and oppression against black people was also widespread in jurisdictions where slavery was illegal.  As of 2018, the U.S. census bureau estimated that less than 3 percent of Oregon residents were African American. 

About EJI

The Equal Justice Initiative works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality.

Learn more

About this website

Until we confront our history of racial injustice and its legacy, we cannot overcome the racial bias that exists today.

Learn more