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Racist slurs permeate Oregon geography

This canyon in Jefferson County originally had the N-word in its name and was renamed John Brown Canyon in 2013. Many Oregon geographical features still contain the word “Negro” in their names. (Photo courtesy of Oregon Humanities)


Editor’s note: This story contains racist epithets that some readers may find triggering. Watering down the toxicity of these words in the context of this story, we felt, would dilute the racist reality still present in Oregon’s geographic features.

Racist monuments have been toppling at the speed of reckoning throughout the country in the wake of George Floyd’s execution by police. Whether it be the statue of Thomas Jefferson being unceremoniously dismounted from the front entrance of the North Portland school that bares his name or Mississippi lawmakers voting to remove the Confederate battle emblem from their state’s flag this week, the layout of America is beginning to look different. However, in Oregon, some of the state’s legacy is more insidiously stitched into the fabric of its colonial roots.

There are more than a dozen geographic features in the state featuring the word “Negro” in their name, inlcuding Negro Ridge and Negro Hallow just southeast of The Dalles in Sherman County, Negro Gulch and Negro Knob mountain peak in Grant County, and Negro Creek in Douglas County. The use of the outdated term for Black Americans was used to replace the epithet “nigger” by the federal U.S. Board of Geographic Names in the 1960s across the country.

Locally, the president of that organization’s subsidiary, Bruce Fisher of the Oregon Geographic Names Board, describes his faction’s role as being more passive.

“We typically have to wait for someone to come with a proposal. We’re not proactive,” he said, “we’re reactive.”

Once a proposal is submitted, the 25-person board of volunteers goes to work on researching the history of the place, its surrounding area and how it came to be, to inform a vote on whether to move it up to the chain of command for a final decision.

One of the proposals they’ll consider in October is to change the name of Negro Ben Mountain in Jackson County. The mountain appears to derive its name from a local blacksmith who owned a shop at the base of the mountain in the late 1800s, a Black man by the name of Ben. While Census records show a man by the name of Ben Johnson and his wife, both listed as “mulatto,” living in the area, historians cannot say with certainty that they are in fact the same people, meaning the mountain’s namesake likely has been lost forever.

As part of the research for this proposal, the Jackson County commissioners were contacted and responded that they have “no opinion on the matter.”

Map with locations such as "Negro Jack Creek" and "Negro Ben Mountain"
This map, courtesy of Oregon Humanities, shows a number of Oregon locations whose names contain racial slurs for Black people. Previous names of these locations are also listed.
Map created by Ryan Sullivan for Oregon Humanities

Filmmaker Sika Stanton co-produced a short film on a canyon not far from the area with a similar history. The video, shot in 2016 as part of the nonprofit Oregon Humanities’ “This Land” series showcasing stories of the state from Black, Indigenous and other non-white storytellers.

The documentary pieces together the history of John A. Brown, Oregon’s first known Black homesteader.

“He made his life there,” said Stanton, who had no idea of the 900-acre canyon’s existence before the project, despite living in Oregon for more than a decade. “It’s a shame that this history was lost or that there wasn’t more documentation of it because how he got there, how he was able to thrive there — I’m just so curious to know more.”

What is known of the man further reveals a life of cultivation and defiance. Although it was constitutionally illegal for Black people to own property in Oregon at the time, he came in, likely by way of Canada around the time of the Gold Rush. After working the land for number of years, Brown managed to acquire the title to the 160-acre property close to the Deschutes River where he would grow fruits and vegetables, selling parts of his crop in nearby Prineville. Eventually he would sell part of his property, before dying in 1903 around the age of 63.

He’s said to have had a daughter, but a lack of documentation makes it difficult to trace the extent of his family tree. While there are rumblings of possible Brown descendants in the Portland-area today, no one can say with certainty at present.

A small headstone was erected in Brown’s honor in 2007 by the Crook County Genealogy and Historical Societies in Prinveville, where he’s buried.

Despite Fisher’s assertion that the Oregon Geographic Name Board is mostly passive, he does note it was actually then board member Jarold Ramsey who filed this name change proposal.

It was renamed from Negro Brown Canyon to John A. Brown canyon in 2013.

Problematic terrain doesn’t end with this canyon, or even anti-Blackness in the Beaver State though. Features named for “Dead Indians,” a “Jew Valley” and terms like “Chinaman” and the equally misogynistic and racist “squaw” permeate the trails, creeks and mountains that carve out Oregon’s majestic landscape in droves.

Fisher says his board is considering about 20 name-change proposals at present. “There’s been a lot more activity on (renaming offensive feature names) worldwide in the last year,” he said.

Once a proposal clears the federal level, the change is made almost instantaneously in their database, which will be reflected on digital platforms like Google Maps quickly. However, physical maps can take years to update, he said, because of a downtick in their usage in the face of the massive takeover of technology.

However, the pathway to upending Oregon’s colonial roots remains a tireless one.

Although the board is deciding whether to change the name of Negro Ben Mountain, the road that surrounds it bears the same name and is simultaneously out of their jurisdiction.

Examples as such are plentiful throughout the state.

“A number of our counties are named after people with backgrounds that were racist, pro-slavery or KKK,” said Fisher, who noted that Lane County is named for Joseph Lane, one of the state’s first legislators and a documented slaveowner.

Stanton said ultimately wiping offensive names from Oregon’s geography cuts down to something much deeper than policy: humanity.

“How can you value someone’s contributions if you’re disrespecting them in how you speak about them?” she said. “I think by correcting those names, it’s part of all the work that we’re doing to kind of rewrite history and re-tell Black people’s place in it because it’s been erased basically by the white supremacists who’ve written and told the history up until this point.”

According to the Oregon Historical Society, anyone can submit a formal proposal for a geographic feature name change. You can learn more about the procedures for changing geographic names on its website.




Law Enforcement Continues the Racist Legacy it Was Born From

By Ben Luongo

The killing of George Floyd has put on full display the persistent and overt racism present in America’s law enforcement. The way in which he was murdered typifies the gratuitous violence that white officers use on a daily basis against black men. The police always deploy force disproportionately against minorities, and that force is often deadly. Black men make up only thirteen percent of the population, but they constitute a quarter of the people shot and killed by cops. This makes them three times more likely than white people to be killed by police, despite the fact that white people are more likely to be armed.

The brutal and oppressive racism in the police force has led activists and political leaders in recent years to call for police reform. Those calls have reached new levels following the murder of George Floyd. One example is Joe Biden who said on a live-stream last week “It’s time for us to face that deep open wound we have in this nation. We need justice for George Floyd. We need real police reform.” Other examples include the founder of Utah’s Black Lives Matter, Lex Scott, who recently called for certain measures such as “data collection, de-escalation training for police, implicit bias training for police, less than lethal weapons for police.”

These are reasonable measures and we should seriously consider them. However, it is important that we not place complete faith in the promise of reform and that we remain open to alternatives to law enforcement. The reason for this is that the police have major structural problems which may be too deep-seated for modest reforms to solve. The idea of reform assumes that a system functions largely as it should aside from a few noticeable flaws. Whatever those flaws are can be corrected, or reformed, by implementing simple adjustments to improve how the system functions. As this relates to police reform, it assumes that police are a vital part of law enforcement and that we can fix the problem of racism to ensure that policing is more just and fair.

There are two issues with this view, however, which exposes the limitation of police reform. The first is that it assumes police are somehow a natural fixture of modern society that play a necessary role in maintaining order. This just isn’t the case. In reality, today’s institution of policing is a rather recent historical development emerging out of modern changes of property relations and white supremacy. As a result, policing continues an outmoded legacy of social order which serves very little purpose for our modern society. This brings up the second issue: because the police are rooted in racist and classist modes of social order, white supremacy may be a built-in feature which cannot be expunged from the institution of police.

One has only to consider this history in order to realize that the police were never intended to serve and protect people. Instead, they were designed to protect the property and economic interest of white elites and slave owners. Two related points in American history exemplify this.

The first can be found in 200 year-old methods designed to control and repress slave populations. As historian Salley Hadden writes in Slave Patrol, “the new American innovation in law enforcement during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the creation of racially focused law enforcement groups in the American south.” As the south began to industrialize, slave owners found new lucrative opportunities in “renting out” their slaves to employers in the city. This meant that slaves spent more time away from their owners who were used to monitoring their every move. White people grew fearful of the opportunities this provided for slaves to organize and revolt against their masters. As a result, the state instituted race-based forms of legal repression called slave patrols. These slave patrols, as Robert Wintersmith rights, “scoured the country side day and night, intimidating, terrorizing, and brutalizing slaves into submission.”

Today’s police also has its origins in 19th century class struggle and how American cities in the north used state violence to repress and control immigrants and the working poor. As historian Sydney Harring writes in Policing a Class Society, “The criminologist’s definition of ‘public order crimes’ comes perilously close to the historian’s description of ‘working-class leisure-time activity.” As rural peasants migrated to urban areas looking for work, city and business leaders worried about the rise of “disorderly conduct,” which was essentially code for worker strikes, riots, and other kinds of collective activity. Cities stopped this kind of activity by hiring watchmen, which were groups of men who often resorted to extreme forms of violence in order to keep the peace. They slowly morphed into municipal police departments in the mid-19th century as states began to centralize power.

In general, the origins of the police reflects an oppressive history of white and propertied elites protecting their interests by controlling black people, immigrants, and the working poor. As a result, our modern society has been saddled with a paradigm of social order which reflects the interests of white supremacy and private property. Just consider how white cops brutally murdered George Floyd after receiving a report of him allegedly purchasing merchandize with counterfeit money. We like to think that, after two hundred years, today’s police academy reflects more modern values of justice and equality. While social institutions do evolve throughout history, however, they rarely abandon the legacy they were born out of. The structures of power that gave rise to the police simply reproduce themselves in new ways that make the paradigm of police violence more acceptable. In today’s context, this takes form in a racist discourse that justifies police brutality against the backdrop of “super-predators” and “thugs” that threaten social order.

Quite frankly, the idea that cops prevent crime is a myth that Americans should disabuse themselves of. Not only has the overall number of cops declined for the past five years, but the ratio of police per citizen has dropped for the past two decades. During this time, the number of violent crimes have actually gone down. This shows quite clearly that social order is not maintained by police. Instead, we need to recognize that social stability is rooted in racial equality regarding issues in housing, education, health, and employment. Just like the police, however, each of these issues continue an insidious and persistent legacy of racism which still haunts black Americans today. The best way to address these injustices is to take resources wasted on police reform and redirect it to rebuilding our communities.

Consider the fact that Minneapolis spent just over a third of its general fund ($163 million) on police. The general fund refers to discretionary spending which could very well have been spent on a more constructive community-based initiative. For instance, Minneapolis has the fourth highest unemployment gap between white and black residents in America. Imagine how that money could have be spent on closing that gap. It’s these kinds of investments which are necessary for erecting a fair and just society.

Ultimately, we need to adopt a new paradigm of social order, one that doesn’t rely on reforming the police. The problem of racism is far too entrenched and widespread for police reform to solve. Correcting this requires that we rebuild and restore the lives of black Americans which the police, up to this point, have only ruined


Bomani Shakur’s life matters

Bomani Shakur at home. Let’s not only campaign to keep him alive but also to send him home, to his real home.


by Comrade Malik and Nube Brown, Liberate the Caged Voices 

“Leadership does not mean domination. The world is always supplied with people who wish to rule and dominate others. The true leader is of a different sort; he seeks effective activity which has a truly beneficent purpose. He inspires others to follow in his wake and, holding aloft the torch of wisdom, leads the way for society to realize its genuinely great aspiration.” – from “The Wise Mind of H.I.M. Emperor Haile Sellasie I,” Chapter 10, Leadership

Bomani Shakur (Keith LeMar) is an intelligent and compassionate Black man who has been sentenced to DEATH in the state of Ohio. The state of Ohio falsely accused Bomani of murder in 1993 in connection with the events that transpired during the Lucasville Prison Uprising.

There was no physical evidence, nor was there any forensic evidence that connected Bomani to the crime of murder. Nevertheless, an all white jury, a white judge and a large crowd of bigoted white bystanders subjected Bomani to a modern day lynching inside a courtroom in rural Ohio.



In the year of 2020 an army of young white, Black, Asian, Arab, Latinx and First Nation activists have teamed up with us and many others in order to save the life of Bomani Shakur. BOMANI SHAKUR’S LIFE MATTERS!

Murdering Black men has become a favorite pastime for the authorities in states such as Ohio, Texas, Georgia and Alabama. We hear politicians like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker telling us that Joe Biden is the presidential candidate for all the people!

Ok! If that is true, then we say to Joe Biden, show us some love! Advocate for the life of Bomani Shakur! Nevertheless, my confidence and hope does not rest with politicians, who continue to mislead us and spout lies and false promises.

My confidence and hope rests with THE PEOPLE! In the month of April 2020 I strongly encourage everyone to support our solidarity actions which seek to save the life of this remarkable human being known as Bomani Shakur.

We implore you to join activists and freedom fighters of all races and genders all across the United States and Europe as we DEMAND that the state of Ohio halt its pursuit of the death penalty against another innocent Black man here in Amerika! BOMANI SHAKUR’S LIFE MATTERS!

His life is worth saving! This is a movement and not just a moment in time.

End Prison Slavery in Amerika! Liberate the Caged Voices! Incarcerated workers, never give up!

Dare to struggle, Dare to win, ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

April: A month of action for Bomani Shakur

by the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement

“Shakur is best known for the 1993 Lucasville Uprising, a rebellion inside the walls of an Ohio prison against tyranny and harsh conditions.”

This April, 2020, we invite you to participate in a month of actions and events for comrade Bomani Shakur.

Bomani Shakur has been showering our world with beautiful gifts. His words and actions haven’t missed a beat in elevating those he knows and even those he has never met. His voice and his words came to be widely recognized when he was unjustly persecuted after the 1993 Lucasville Uprising, a rebellion inside the walls of an Ohio prison against tyranny and harsh conditions.

In the aftermath, Bomani was falsely accused of having murdered prisoners and having “led a death squad.” No physical evidence connects him to the murders that took place when the prison in Lucasville was in uprising.

The verdict itself only came about due to forced testimony by a prisoner turned snitch. In 2004 Bomani wrote a book called “Condemned” to highlight his life and the truth about what happened.

Prisoners organizing, confronting their oppressor and the organizers being attacked by the state as retaliation is nothing new. In 1971 prisoners in San Quentin, California, revolted.

George Jackson was killed and Hugo Pinell would spend the following 44 years in California’s harshest prisons only to be stabbed to death in 2015 by white supremacists. It’s important to recognize that prisoners stand up, organize and are attacked by the state for it. In response, the prisoner strikes back by persevering, surviving and continuing to build with fellow prisoners and those of us on this side of the wall.

As we see with letters, articles or the book Bomani wrote, the message carried by his words have touched people inside and out and spread far. How could a man sitting on death row, his execution date only three years away, be the source of so much kindness and inspiration?

It is because, as he says, this situation is much bigger than him. This is about the entire movement.

The fact that the state has set Bomani Shakur’s date of execution is not a moment of tragedy or for despair, but a moment to build from, and to be moved to action.

It is about how we come together, learn how to work together, and prepare to rescind the power of those who run the most efficient life destroying machine: the prison system.

He is clear how this works on his end: He’s not interested in allowing others to characterize him as unsuccessful, as a victim. He doesn’t want activists crowding around, showing pity.

It is not for them to decide who he is and if he is successful. Success has already begun the day you decide to get up and do something about the situation. He is looking for collaborators, people who understand and want to struggle together.

This is where we come in. The fact that the state has set Bomani Shakur’s date of execution is not a moment of tragedy or for despair, but a moment to build from, and to be moved to action.

This is how we follow his excellent example and this is how we turn this situation against the state. Their system thrives off despair. We will build our bonds of solidarity, lines of communication, respectful dialogue and comradely exchange.

Bomani plays with his niece and nephew during a visit. He won the right to “contact visits,” replacing the glass wall that separates a prisoner from his visitors, a practice that is common for prisoners classified as high risk, whether that designation is warranted or not.

We will amplify the words of Bomani Shakur and become an impenetrable and intractable force – a force for life, a force for comradeship. We will be as kind and accepting to our comrades and those hunted by the state as we are dangerous to and unrelenting against the prisons.

We begin with April, a month of solidarity actions with Bomani. Please join in this initiative by:

  • holding a letter writing event,
  • screening the movie about the Lucasville uprising,
  • putting up posters,
  • posting about it on social media,
  • hanging banners,
  • inviting Bomani to do a call-in event with you and your comrades, or
  • any other action or event that raises his profile and builds the kind of movement that is a reflection of his steadfastness and generosity.

April is the anniversary month of the Lucasville prison uprising, a powerful decision to stand up and reclaim a life of dignity and an example of the power of unity among prisoners. This month is to raise awareness about Bomani and his contributions, and by doing so, to build stronger connections with one another, and with comrades inside.

Join together with us and carry forward Bomani’s strength and spirit!

From your comrades in

Anarchists Worldwide

Antifa Sacramento

Atlanta Abolition

Blue Ridge ABC

NYC Anarchist Black Cross

Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement

Salish Sea Black Autonomists

Page One Collective

To sign on to this call, message


Poster to download: Bomani Poster

Zine for printing: Bomani Zine

The movie “The Shadow of Lucasville”:

Zines about Lucasville:

Bomani’s book:

Articles by Bomani:

Support websites:

To learn more about the 1971 San Quentin uprising:

Send our brother some love and light: Keith LaMar, 317-117, OSP, 878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road, Youngstown, OH, 44505.

source:Bomani Shakur’s life matters

Chicano leader Carlos Montes condemns racist massacre in El Paso


Los Angeles, CA – Carlos Montes, a longtime leader in the Chicano movement, spoke out about the vicious massacre in Texas, stating, “We must condemn this mass killing in El Paso as a hate crime against Mexicans and Chicanos. President Trump’s racist attacks have emboldened white supremacists to commit violent crimes against Blacks, Muslims and now Brown people.”

Montes noted, “El Paso is a special city for Chicanos and the millions of Mexicans and Central Americans who have passed through el Paso al norte in traveling North. It is affectionately referred to as el corazon de Aztlan [the heart of Aztlan] the Chicano nation.”

El Paso has a long history of resistance against racism and of labor struggles, like the two-year Farah strike in the 1970s. El Paso and Juarez city across the border share a common bond with familial, cultural and economic bonds.

Montes stated, “Stop white supremacist attacks.”



Los Angeles, CA – Carlos Montes, a longtime leader in the Chicano movement, spoke out about the vicious massacre in Texas, stating, “We must condemn this mass killing in El Paso as a hate crime against Mexicans and Chicanos. President Trump’s racist attacks have emboldened white supremacists to commit violent crimes against Blacks, Muslims and now Brown people.”

Montes noted, “El Paso is a special city for Chicanos and the millions of Mexicans and Central Americans who have passed through el Paso al norte in traveling North. It is affectionately referred to as el corazon de Aztlan [the heart of Aztlan] in the Chicano nation.”

El Paso has a long history of resistance against racism and of labor struggles, like the two-year Farah strike in the 1970s. El Paso and Juarez city across the border share a common bond with familial, cultural and economic bonds.

Montes stated, “Stop white supremacist attacks.”