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Asheville Can Teach Eugene About Reparations

August 31st, 2020 by dk

Eugene City Council is taking its traditional and well deserved August recess. Our childhood experience of recess taught us that it’s healthy to get outside and run around for a while. You make new friends, learn new tricks. And then, after you’re back in your seat, you discover you have some new thoughts.

Suddenly you see clearly what didn’t make sense before. Multiplication is really just addition for lazy people. All you have to do is add the first number to itself over and over again, until the number of repetitions equals the second number. I learned that concept while racing my friend Scott around the playground swings.

When Mrs. Savage grades penmanship, she wants the bottoms of letters to be straight across, unless they have a tail that dangles below. The letter “h” is a consonant that wishes it was a vowel, so it sometimes tries to act like one. History isn’t what happened — history is how people who came later understand what happened.

Recess gives us time to reflect. The harder we study something, the more important it is to get out and chase somebody around the swingset. You don’t stop thinking about the questions you have. You stop thinking about how you’re thinking about it. Insight emerges from the absence of effort.

Into this intermission for incubation, I’d like to drop an idea. Reparations. Oregon’s past policies toward Blacks were reprehensible. And we’re not talking about the ancient past. Many native Oregonians remember firehouses sounding their alarm every night at 6. This practice began with Oregon’s so-called “sunset laws,” which required Blacks to leave town before nightfall.

The original Ferry Street Bridge displaced Eugene’s most vibrant Black neighborhood, because they lacked the political power to prevent it. Other injustices against Blacks — large and small — continued. Some still do.

Oregon was never a slave state, but that’s hardly the point. It was certainly a White supremacy state. Oregon had more members of the Ku Klux Klan than any state outside the Deep South. And so, reparations are in order.

Another progressive town in a once-retrograde state has shown the way. Last month, Asheville, NC’s city council voted unanimously to alter “budgetary and programmatic priorities” to begin leveling the local playing field. Their leaders resolved to favor those who have been victimized by systemic racism for generations.

Please note that no one in North Carolina has proposed sending checks to descendants of slaves. As Oregon’s history shows, disenfranchisement continued — continues! — long after slavery ended. Making amends now is the order of the day.

Asheville will focus on increasing generational wealth — something African Americans were deprived of through economic and regulatory discrimination. Disparity of wealth between races hobbles Asheville’s growth, safety and character.

They intend to close that gap by “increasing minority home ownership and access to other affordable housing, increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities. [They will build] strategies to grow equity and generational wealth, closing the gaps in health care, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety and fairness within criminal justice,” according to their resolution.

After recess is over, Eugene should learn from Asheville’s lead.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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