Important African Americans in Oregon history, who will follow in their footsteps?
This month marks the 76th birthday of Avel Gordly, who in 1966 became the first African American woman elected to Oregon’s Senate. She advocated for such issues as education and mental health. Her achievements, as well as those of other Black political figures in Oregon, have impacted Oregonians in many ways. It’s important to take the time to acknowledge her and others’ influential firsts – accomplishments that have paved the way for greater diversity in government representation.
Another important first in Oregon’s government, the first Black woman elected to the Oregon State Legislature, belongs to Margaret Louise Carter, who was born in Louisiana during the Great Depression and came to Oregon in 1967. She earned a degree in education from Portland State University in 1972 and a master’s from OSU two years later. In 1984, she was elected to the Oregon State Legislature, representing northeast Portland. While in that position, she helped to pass legislation establishing Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday in Oregon and supporting the Oregon workforce, among other things.
The first person of color to be elected to an Oregon statewide office was Jim Hill, who was born in Georgia in 1947, came to Oregon in the 1970s, and became Oregon treasurer in 1992. His actions in reorganizing the treasury earned him respect from both political parties. He was re-elected to the position in 1996.
These are just a few of the numerous African American activists and trailblazers whose political firsts have impacted Oregon’s history. The reverberations of their accomplishments will be felt long into the future in the form of both their actions while in office and in the opportunities, they have opened up for underrepresented and minority populations.
It’s important to honor them and all the others like them, as well as everyone who seeks to follow in their footsteps, by learning about and respecting the challenges they faced to obtain the offices that they held and the role they played in shaping Oregon as it is today.
Anna Janowski is a teen volunteer at the Beaverton City Library (grade 12). Outside of school, she likes to read, write, play softball and the trumpet.