Public Domain/Wikimedia

The recent flaring of concern over racism in our country reminds us that bad days are not that far behind us. 

Lynchings of black men took place well into the middle of the 20th century. 

Karlos K. Hill is an expert on the history of lynching and the author of Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory.  

The Keenest Observers are often the people who stand outside a group or situation.  So that's the name we've given to our occasional explorations of conditions and experiences of minority communities within our region. 

Robert Goodwin returns to host The Keenest Observers with members of the LGBTQ community; there's never a shortage of topics, from "bathroom bills" to the coming SO PRIDE festival (October 1-9). 

Guests include Southern Oregon University Queer Resource Center coordinator Thomas Arce and Evan Mouldeoux of Lotus Rising.   

NASA/Public Domain

The images of the control rooms in the early days of American space flight--in real life and in the movies--are images of lots of white men. 

But it took more than the people in those images to put people on the moon for the first time.  Margot Lee Shetterly's book Hidden Figures introduces us to people very much behind the scenes yet very important to success in the space race: African-American women who functioned as something like human computers. 

The book is also a movie in the making, due in January.

Shetterly herself is the daughter of one of NASA's first black engineers, who worked for a still-segregated agency in the civil rights era. 

The Keenest Observers: Immigration

Aug 29, 2016
JPR News

A presidential candidate or two may have whipped up a bit of a frenzy on immigration this year, but it's always a hot topic in America.

And it is the focus of the latest installment of our perusal of issues facing non-white people in a region where whites are the overwhelming majority. 

We're calling these sessions "The Keenest Observers," because often the keenest observer is the outsider. 

Robert Goodwin of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is back to host this hour, with JPR News staffer Jessica De Nova--about to become a U.S. citizen--among the guests.  Also on the panel: Carlo Alban and Ricardo Lujan Flores. 

Gary Halvorsen/Oregon State Archives

College campuses are filled with buildings named for pillars of the community in times past.  And as times change, so do attitudes about the people once considered pillars. 

Matthew Deady and Frederick Dunn were important people in the history of the University of Oregon; both have buildings named for them.  Both also held views of non-white people not considered appropriate in our time. 

UO President Michael Schill wants input on removing one or both names from the buildings. 

Racism Happens Here

Aug 12, 2016
Geoffrey Riley/JPR

Ugly incidents in any small town can produce an instant reaction: "that can't happen here." 

  But it did: an African-American employee of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was the target of ugly racial talk in a brief encounter this summer. 

Christiana Clark posted a video shortly after the event; she joins us for a discussion of what she experienced then and on other occasions.  It's part of our continuing effort to explore racial attitudes, from the perspective of people who are often victims of racism. 

Living In Color In Southern Oregon

Aug 4, 2016

It's hard for most residents of the region to imagine what it's like to live as a person of color.  Because there are so very few. 

And the overwhelming whiteness of the population has produced some regrettable events and periods in the region's history, like the rise of the Ku Klux KIan in the 1920s. 

People of color still experience discrimination today.  We assembled an all non-white panel and host to explore the issues. 

Robert Goodwin of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival hosts the discussion. 

Penguin Random House

Apartheid ended in South Africa, but it did not end quietly.  Violence marked the drawing down of the strict separation of the races that had existed for decades. 

And the violence included the murder of a white American woman by a mob of young black men.  The parents of Amy Biehl forgave her killers.  But when writer Justine van der Leun investigated the case, the details only got more convoluted... leading to a wholesale reconsideration of crime and punishment, transgression and reconciliation. 

Her book We Are Not Such Things gets into the points of the murder and its much larger significance. 

Southern Oregon University

  Aja Monet is probably pleased to know that she is difficult to categorize. 

She is a poet, songwriter, singer, activist, and much more.  And she arrives in Southern Oregon for the Youth Artists Institute in Ashland, at a time when issues she holds dear are very much in the news. 

Juvenile justice, police violence, and race relations continue to trouble the country, and they are of concern to her. 

Viking Press

In theory, America is the land of opportunity: anyone can do anything, and we are not a country of strong class lines.  That's the theory. 

The recent debates about inequality remind us that people who don't make much money have a hard time getting to a position to make more. 

Historian and author Nancy Isenberg says it's not a new situation.  She is the author of the newly released White Trash

The book tracks the accomplishments and abuses of (and on) poor white people since colonial days. 

Julie Cortez/OSF

Abraham Lincoln made his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but the Civil War and slavery dragged on for two more years.  It was not until June 19, 1865, that former slaves in Texas finally got word of their freedom. 

The date is now remembered as "Juneteenth."  The Oregon Shakepeare Festival observes Juneteenth every year, and this year the celebration is Monday, June 27th (an off-day for festival performers). 


Civil rights legislation passed in the mid-60s, but attitudes took longer to change. 

And the institutions of racism linger to this day.  Those include the continued presence of the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists, albeit far weaker than in its heyday. 

One contributing factor: a successful lawsuit against the United Klans of America by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Morris Dees.  Laurence Leamer's book The Lynching tells the story of the horrific crime that led to the lawsuit, and the suit's lingering impact. 


Donnell Alexander only gets 90 minutes to speak at the Eugene Library Thursday Night (June 2). 

And that's a shame, because he has a lot to say about a lot of things.  Like what it's like to be an African-American in Portland, which he described as feeling like "a sitting black duck." 

Like his visit with the extremists who took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in January, or his documentary on the only (known) major league pitcher to throw a no-hitter while tripping on LSD (Dock Ellis). 

Alexander is journalist, writer, film producer, radio producer... that's just the short list. 


Decisions made back when Oregon became a state had a long-lasting impact. 

Like the relative paucity of African-Americans in the state.  "Exclusion laws" forbidding black people from living in all or part of the state existed from statehood's dawn into the 20th century. 

Oregon Humanities' "Conversation Project" offers an traveling presentation called "Why Aren't There More Black People In Oregon?" 

It is in Cave Junction Thursday (April 7) and Cottage Grove on Friday (April 8).  Scholar/poet/writer Walidah Imarisha leads the discussion. 

Algonquin Books

Novelist Jim Grimsley was a public school student when public schools integrated in North Carolina. 

The black students he met were the first black people he'd ever known. 

He has the benefit of hindsight as he looks on back on that time now, 50 years later, and comes to grips with his racist upbringing.  How I Shed My Skin is the story of his experiences. 

JPR News

Telling and hearing experiences that acknowledge real cases of bias in our communities, both contemporary and historical, can feel at once empowering and uncomfortable.

How do we talk about personal experiences and learned stories in ways that emphasize individual empowerment and collective progress? What role may those stories serve for personal growth, shared justice, and societal advancement? 

Bias and its undoing is a theme running through this weekend's Social Justice Conference at Southern Oregon University. 

Professor and award-winning writer Robert Arellano and students Ahsante Foree (SOU) and Grace Pruitt (Ashland High School) take up the story task in a session called "Telling Stories to Transform Communities." 

Christian LInder/Wikimedia

  We try and try to be as fair as possible to our fellow humans, but darn it, our primitive brains continue to hold onto some biases. 

Law professor Erik Girvan at the University of Oregon says implicit biases are nothing to be ashamed of, but certainly to be aware of. 

He plans a pair of workshops this week on the role of implicit bias in decision making. 

Southern Oregon University

A presidential candidate calls for excluding people of one religion from entering the country.  College students insist on greater attention to minority needs, and succeed in convincing top campus leaders to resign. 

Diversity, or at least efforts to secure it, has been in the news a lot of late. 

Southern Oregon University President Roy Saigo took note.  Saigo was on the receiving end of racial exclusion in his own life, spending time in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans as a child. 

Now he urges non-exclusion and tolerance from his perch atop a college administration. 


It's been a tough couple of years for race relations in America. 

So there's really no better time to bring the subject up and spend several days talking about it. 

That is the approach at Southern Oregon University, which observes Race Awareness Week November 2nd through 6th. 

Speakers from on and off campus are involved in the project, including Claudia Alick of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Multicultural Resource Center director Marvin Woodard. 

Simon & Schuster

Race relations and police interactions can be hard enough for mature people to understand. 

How do we explain it to younger people? 

Co-authors Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely give the explanation a try in their YA novel All American Boys

They alternate chapters in the voices of two teens, one black and one white, as they respond to the beating of the black teen by a white cop.