Local News

New Exhibit Explores Historic Multi-Cultural Logging Camps

BEND, OR -- Post-Civil War, African Americans found a decent living as loggers. But, by the 1920s, there was a "Great Migration" as many people of color sought to escape Jim Crow laws in the South. At the same time, timber companies had their eyes on Oregon, "And a lot of employees from the South see that as an opportunity to come west," says Deschutes Historical Museum Executive Director Kelly Cannon-Miller, "And see if they can make a better life for themselves out here."

A traveling exhibit coming to the museum in Bend explores one such logging camp, known as "Maxville," which worked near the eastern Oregon town of Joseph from 1923-1933. Cannon-Miller says racist “exclusion laws” remained on the books in Oregon for the first three years of Maxville, "But here you have a place where loggers who know each other, who have moved out together in family units - it’s a population of about 400 and 40-60 are African American. While the town was segregated on paper, they didn’t actually play that out in real life. The town did integrate." She says children played and attended school together, families gathered together - it was a multi-cultural community not seen elsewhere in Oregon at the time. 

But, it couldn't last. "It’s just like all Oregon logging stories," Cannon-Miller tells KBND News, "Eventually the trees are gone, and the logging operation winds down and comes to a close, and then you have to find a new job. So, for a lot of African American employees, the next opportunity available to them was the Vanport Shipyards in Portland." But in 1948, Vanport would also disappear, destroyed by a flood. 

The exhibit runs April 28-June 10 at the Deschutes Historical Museum. It coincides with a performance of "From Maxville to Vanport" at the Tower Theatre on April 27. Cannon-Miller explains, "The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble found out about this story and created a whole new body of work that’s musical and video and film, based on the lives of these loggers, following through to the Vanport story."

Ticket holders for the Tower performance can show their ticket to receive buy one, get one free admission to the museum's exhibit. 

Click HERE to learn more about the traveling exhibit from the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center.


Photo: courtesy Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center. 

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