Across the country people are objecting to statues and place names that are tied to slavery and racial oppression. At the University of Oregon, the Black Student Union objected to a building named after a Ku Klux Klan member that was renamed DeNorval Unthank Jr. Hall. And after recent incidents, the UO may, finally, reconsider changing the name of Deady Hall and the placement of the Pioneer Mother and Father statues.
So it surprises me that I haven’t heard anyone spearheading an effort to rename the Whiteaker neighborhood. The epicenter of activism in Eugene was named after John Whiteaker, Oregon’s first governor. Whiteaker was pro-slavery and governed under the newly adopted state constitution which prohibited Black people from moving into the state; violators were whipped.
I don’t live in the Whiteaker, but I hope this letter inspires those who do to champion an effort to select a new name. Some people who identify with and take pride in the unique and quirky Whit may resist, viewing any other name as an existential threat. Indeed, one resident wrote in the Weekly’s “I Dream of the Whit” feature in 2015 that he dreams of “a Whiteaker that resists change at the semantic level.”
Perhaps this is an opportunity to reflect on why change can be difficult whether you live in Alabama or the Whit.