March 8, 2007

Public Secrets?

Category: History :: Permalink

In his lecture last May at the Resurgence conference, Ed Stetzer listed a bunch of things church planters ought to get to know about their communities.  One of them, I recall, was what he called “the best-kept public secrets.”  Every community has certain things which people know about but which they don’t like to recall or discuss.  Knowing what these things are can be helpful if you’re planting a church in that region.

I suspect that the stuff in the fifth chapter of Land in Common: An Illustrated History of Jackson County, Oregon would fall into this category.  The chapter focuses on events in Jackson County in the 1930s, though it begins with some disturbing information from earlier periods of its history:

As the wealthiest section in southern Oregon, Jackson County became known to upstaters as a place where volunteer troops fighting the local Indians carried banners proclaiming “Extermination,” where newspaper editors — excelling at the so-called Oregon style of journalism — lambasted their opponents with vicious personal abuse, where racial minorities such as the Chinese routinely were subjected to indignities and violence, and where in 1860 the electorate bucked the state’s Unionist tide to vote for pro-slavery presidential candidate John Breckinridge (p. 85).

Racism seems to have been fairly widespread in this area back in the early years of the Twentieth Century, in fact.  In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan arrived in this area and was especially strong in Ashland and even kidnapped some people (p. 87).  The next chapter, focusing on Camp White during the war years, talks about the way black soldiers were treated in Medford and the surrounding region.  One woman is quoted as saying “Medford was known as the town where the sun didn’t set on blacks” (p. 115) and many businesses refused to serve black customers (p. 117).

Those attitudes seem to have changed dramatically since World War II, though I don’t know enough about how the Hispanic community has been treated in more recent years.  Ashland, in particular, appears to have changed its tenor dramatically.

But equally surprising was the story of Llewellyn Banks, Earl Fehr, and the Good Government Congress.  The 1930s saw the rise of populism all over the United States, and Jackson County was no exception.  Labelling the current government “the Gang,” Banks and Fehr began plotting to gain power.

The story includes the GGC’s future president, Henrietta Martin, lashing a journalist across the face with a horsewhip (from her picture, I’d say she was exactly the type of woman who would do that!) and the theft of ballots from the Jackson County Courthouse (the man who broke the window was Rogue River’s mayor), and it culminates with Banks shooting down the officer who came to his house to arrest him.  The trial revealed that Banks intended not only to have the District Attorney kidnapped and possibly murdered, but also to form a band of guerillas to fight “the Gang.”

Even in the ’90s, when this book was published, the author of this chapter says, “The question of Who was in the right? during the stormy Good Government Congress period still can cause heated debate among now-elderly residents of the county who recall those events” (p. 100).

Posted by John Barach @ 6:06 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Public Secrets?”

  1. Dale Nelson Says:

    I guess you can pat yourself on the back, ’cause I just stumbled across this blog and already have ordered a book that it drew to my attention (the southern Oregon one – – I lived there 1969-1978, 1980-81).

    My Google search was

    “john buchan” + blog

    I take it that you read Buchan with enjoyment from time to time. I’ve become quite a fan, having read ten or so of JB’s books. Two of my favorite authors, Lewis and Tolkien, were also Buchan fans.

    I’m a Lutheran myself, but I see you reference Canon Press – – if that’s the outfit you identify with, then your Reformed sensibility is that which is closest to mine.

    Dale Nelson

Leave a Reply