Friday, June 26, 2015

Local Places show History's Arc

Two flags have dominated the news this week: The Confederate flag and the rainbow flag. Perhaps no landmark in Salem crystallizes their meanings better than the Buchner House on 14th and Court. In both direct and indirect ways history haunts us in several places around town, and as we pass by them especially on foot or on bike, we should be alert to their significance, however shadowy and lost, yet still relevant today.

Buchner House at 14th and Court, now lovingly restored
The Buchner house made the national news. From the New York Times back in 1992:
Although recent polls indicate that an anti-homosexual measure on the Oregon ballot is headed for defeat, the referendum has produced a sharp increase in recent weeks in harassment and violence, by both sides....

But the most highly publicized incident, a fire that led to the deaths last month of two people in the capital, Salem, may have had less to do with emotions generated by Ballot Measure 9 than with racial intolerance and a feud, say the police, prosecutors and others who have been investigating the crimes.

Four young people have been charged with aggravated murder, assault, arson and intimidation in the Sept. 26 firebombing of a basement apartment in Salem. The police say all are white supremacists with links to Oregon's highly visible "skinhead" community.

Hattie Mae Cohens, a 29-year-old black lesbian, and Brian H. Mock, 45, a white homosexual, were killed in the firebombing. Some witnesses have told the Salem police that the firebomb was thrown hours after a relative of one of the victims had a fight with skinheads.

Witnesses have also said that Ms. Cohens, along with several black youths who were staying with her, had been feuding with the skinheads for several weeks.

"This clearly was not a crime targeted at homosexuals," said Dale Penn, the District Attorney of Marion County, prosecutor of the case. "When all is said and done, the primary motive for the killings will likely not be race or sexual orientation, but both of them played a role."
Since then the house has been purchased, first by a group of neighbors, and then by a family, and over time lovingly restored. The Historic Landmarks Commission recognized the quality of the restoration with a citation a couple of years ago.

Salmon Brown's house in 1960
with columns from Capitol Fire
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
Another meaningful site is the ODOT Mill Creek building at 12th and Marion. It is built where Salmon Brown, John Brown's son, lived for a while in Salem. Brown later killed himself in Portland. While the ODOT building is itself not interesting, you can still see columns from the Capitol pushed into Mill Creek.

More interesting are book stores, and the Book Bin is today in a structure built by Percy Willis, son of one of General Forrests' cavalry field officers in the Confederate army.

The First Congregational Chruch has more than solar
via Solar Oregon
And at Marion and Cottage is the First Congregational Church. You might have noticed its solar installation. But the congregation was also home to the Rev. Obed Dickinson:
He was minister of First Congregational Church in the 1850s and 1860s, and his tenure was embroiled in controversy because of what was referred to as "negro sympathy."

He invited black people into the church, baptized them and married them, and he was criticized for being so brazen. He continued to preach about the sins of slavery, despite recommendations that he stop.

Dickinson was a major figure in Oregon black history, said Dr. Darrell Millner, a professor in the black studies department at Portland State University.
Dickinson was forced out of the ministry and sold seed and nursery stock to farmers. Asahel Bush, a supporter of the "exclusion clause," excoriated him especially.

Maybe you will think of other places haunted by meanings like these. Tip your cap, say a prayer, recognize them in whatever way seems right. Don't let the history go down the memory hole.

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