UO faculty member discusses history of racism in Portland

Skyline image of Portland

Although Portland has the reputation of being a progressive, liberal city, it has a long history of white supremacy — something that has been brought into the light after the stabbings that happened on a train last week.

In fact Portland, which is the whitest large city in America, had the largest Ku Klux Klan membership per capita in the entire country in much of the 1900s, and Oregon was legally a white-only state until 1922.

“We’ve kind of got a long history (with racism) that goes back to the founding of the state,” said Randy Blazak, a UO instructor who researches hate crimes, in a National Public Radio interview. “I mean the Oregon Trail was for white settlers only. It was a very active Klan state. And it’s a part of the explanation about why Portland is as white as it is in the year 2017.”

Portland is also home to a large number of skinheads, including a group that murdered an Ethiopian immigrant in 1988.

“Portland became known as a skinhead city in the 1990s because of rival factions of racist skinheads and anti-racist skinheads going at it,” Blazak said. “And so we’re seeing a new version of this. But it’s been kind of magnified by the election politics and the rhetoric of the alt-right and the ability to kind of rally the troops fairly quickly over the internet. And I think the city is sort of bracing itself for something that might turn quite ugly.”

For more, listen to “Portland Train Murders Highlight Oregon’s History Of White Supremacy,” Blazak’s interview on All Things Considered.

Blazak has spent the last 25 years studying hate crimes and hate groups, including the last five on the growth of white supremacist gangs in prisons. He is currently working on developing a program to help white gang members successfully transition out of prison culture upon release.