Tuesday, June 2, 2020

As Jason Lee House Site has Layers, so History Telling has Layers

On May 31st as the Tulsa Race Massacre was unfolding in 1921, a note on the front page of the afternoon paper here said "the spirit displayed by the early pioneers" was a "true expression[...] of the Anglo-Saxon race."

May 31st, 1921
I was going to write about Tulsa, but more relevant here in Salem is the story of Jason Lee. It is striking how strongly writers over the decades centered not just his whiteness, but the centrality of "the Anglo-Saxon race." Tulsa is not directly our story, but Jason Lee and the ways we have understood him is very much our story, a substantial part of our self-understanding and origin story, and peeling back the layers in the telling of that story is as important as digging through the physical layers of dirt at the house site.

February 1st, 1884

December 3rd, 1904

March 19th, 1929

June 5th, 1934
Even away from less formal writing in newspapers, in its early days the Oregon Historical Quarterly also centered the Anglo-Saxon race. (Contrast this with the Winter 2019 issue on "white supremacy and resistance.")

OHQ V:2, June 1904
There's an extensive literature on "manifest destiny" and race, and it's not possible to say anything new or even anything especially interesting here.

But as we reconsider Jason Lee, the Methodist Mission, and the origins of Salem and Oregon, we should remember how many versions of these stories placed whiteness, and a specific kind and understanding of whiteness, at the center of the narrative. It was not an incidental matter; it was one of the main matters.

Addendum, June 3rd

Front page today
There was a very nice summary column in the paper today. It was especially nice to read that
Some of the best examples of intact brick have been preserved, and CB|Two Architects is working on ideas for reusing them in future interpretative plans at the site.
It would be great to have a richer kind of interpretive history at this site. The current sign is not very effective, and the current owner said
he had no idea the Jason Lee House was built where the parking lot for his building is today.
At the same time, this front page story is directly below the main front page story, "Salem police ‘take a knee’ with protesters," and there is more to be done on connecting the two stories.

(All previous notes on the Jason Lee House and the Mission generally here.)

1 comment:

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added note on today's history column in the paper)