Some Eugene streets have Klansmen names
The Associated Press
EUGENE -- An effort to rename Eugene's Centennial Boulevard after civil rights leader Martin Luther King has stirred controversy over some other local street names.
At least a few streets in town carry the family names of members of the Eugene Ku Klux Klan, which was active in the 1920s.
That's when the so-called "Invisible Empire" swept into Oregon under a white, Protestant, anti-Catholic banner that attracted many town leaders in Eugene.
A Eugene chapter once had as many as 450 members, and two partial membership lists seized by authorities at the time include at least a couple dozen names that still adorn streets, schools and public places throughout the Eugene-Springfield area.
From Harlow Road to the now-vacant Dunn School. From the Shelton-McMurphy House in Eugene to Dorris Ranch in Springfield.
All were named for the families of men who turned up on KKK lists published by the Salem Capital Journal and the Portland Oregon Journal in 1922, when Klan activity reached its zenith in Eugene.
"Can you draw a straight line from Harlow in the 1920s to the Harlow Neighborhood today? Probably not," said Mark Harris, a black activist in Eugene. "That's the difficulty with this stuff. Just because your family name is on a Klan list, doesn't mean you necessarily have the same predilection."
Harris raised the issue of racial history in local place-names during this summer's debate over the renaming of Centennial Boulevard to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
Harris maintains that at the very least, current residents should know something about their city's history. And perhaps a few steps could be taken to separate the present from the past.
According to various researchers of early Klan activity in Eugene, crosses were regularly burned atop Skinner Butte during the 1920s, apparently to warn away people of color arriving in town by rail.
An account in the Eugene Daily Guard of a 1924 march by Eugene Klavern No. 3 describes "a huge fiery cross (casting) its reddish light from the top of Skinner Butte, within sight of all."
Frederick Dunn, a member of a Eugene pioneer family and then chairman of the University of Oregon Latin Department, was the leader or "exalted cyclops" of the Eugene Klan. He campaigned against the establishment of a Newman Center to serve Catholics on campus as well as Mercy Hospital, the forerunner of Sacred Heart General Hospital.
Other prominent Klansmen who showed up on the 1922 membership lists included Joseph Shelton, a Daily Guard advertising manager for whose family the Shelton-McMurphy House is named, and Springfield nut farmer Ben Dorris. His family owned Dorris Ranch, now a Springfield park.
"During the day, these were probably all solid citizens," said Lane County Commissioner Bobby Green, who also serves as an officer for the local branch of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People. "Their public image was probably upstanding citizens."
The lists include many other names in the local lexicon, including a Harlow, a Svarverud, a Turnbull and a Patterson. None of the four entries include a first name; all four of the surnames currently grace local streets or roads.