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First Black Oregon Landowner Honored at Douglas County Museum

9:14 PM · Dec 10, 2022

A new traveling exhibit from The Letitia Carson Legacy Project and Oregon Black Pioneers honoring the life of one of Oregon’s first African American pioneers opened on Friday at the Douglas County Museum of History and Natural History. The new exhibit, which is on loan to the Douglas County Museum, includes photographs, historic maps, newspaper articles, published works, and other documentary evidence about Letitia Carson, her family and the Letitia Carson Legacy Project. It will be on display at the museum through January 2023. “It is our honor to be the first museum to unveil this amazing exhibit and celebrate the life and legacy of Oregon pioneer Letitia Carson. We are equally honored that Letitia chose to call Douglas County her home over one hundred and sixty years ago,” Commissioner Tom Kress said in a press release. He is the liaison Commissioner to the Douglas County Museum. Letitia Carson was a Black Oregon homesteader, farmer and matriarch living in the time of Oregon's exclusion laws. She came to Oregon in 1845 with a white man, David Carson, with whom she would have two children. They originally settled in what is now Benton County. After David’s death in 1852, the Carson land, cattle and belongings were sold by a neighbor who claimed she could not own land because of the whites-only provision of the 1850 Oregon Donation Land Claim Act. In two unprecedented court cases (1855 and 1856), Letitia successfully sued for compensation. A short time after settlement of the lawsuits, Letitia and her children moved to Douglas County. For several years she reportedly lived in the upper Cow Creek Valley with the Hardy Elliff family, for whom she worked. She also served as a midwife for the community. On June 17, 1863, Letitia submitted a land claim for 160 acres along South Myrtle Creek, roughly 13 miles northeast of Myrtle Creek. On October 1, 1869, Letitia's land claim near Myrtle Creek was certified by President Grant, making her the first black woman in Oregon to successfully secure a land claim. Letitia’s ranch included a two-story house, barn, smokehouse, cattle, pigs, and an orchard of over 100 fruit trees. The 1870 census lists her real estate worth $1,000, and personal property as $625. In 1888, she was laid to rest in The Stephens Cemetery, just a few miles from her homestead property. “We are so proud to make available this new traveling exhibit about Letitia Carson. Communities around Oregon will be inspired by her story and her legacy,” said Zachary Stocks, Executive Director Oregon Black Pioneers. “We especially thank Oregon State University’s Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems and The Ford Family Foundation for sponsoring this important exhibit and opening event.” Oregon Black Pioneers is Oregon’s only historical society dedicated to preserving and presenting the experiences of African Americans statewide. Since 1993, the organization has illuminated the seldom- told history of people of African descent in Oregon. Inspired by the tenacity of Black Oregonians who have faced discrimination and hardship to make a life for themselves here over the past 400 years, Oregon Black Pioneers honors their sacrifices by remembering their stories and by sharing them with the public. Oregon Black Pioneers’ vision is to become the preeminent resource for the study of Oregon’s African American history and culture. Special thanks to OSU Center for Small Farms and Community Food Systems and The Ford Family Foundation for sponsoring this exhibit. The Letitia Carson Legacy Project is a collaboration between Oregon State University, Oregon Black Pioneers, Black Oregon Land Trust, and Linn-Benton Branch NAACP and Museum. For more information about Oregon Black Pioneers log onto The exhibit can be viewed at 123 Museum Drive in Roseburg for a small fee for non-members from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from between Tuesday and Saturday. The exhibit will start at the Douglas County Museum and travel to other museums in the state. *** Photo from the Douglas County Museum of History and Natural History Website.

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