Changing Lanes

Lane County is named after Joseph Lane, a pro-slavery territorial governor of Oregon who ran as the 1860 vice presidential candidate on the pro-slavery southern Democratic ticket. He was a fierce opponent of Abraham Lincoln. Why honor such a man?

It would be possible to retain the name “Lane” by honoring his grandson, Dr. Harry Lane, a physician who was elected to the U.S. Senate from Oregon in 1912. Harry Lane was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage and public ownership of utilities. He challenged southern senators’ racism on the floor of the Senate and spoke out about the violence and injustices perpetrated by white people against Native Americans. 

This approach of retaining the name but changing the namesake has a precedent. In 1852 the Oregon Territory included what later became Washington state. The Oregon Territorial Legislature created a new county, the future location of Seattle, and named it King County to honor Rufus Vane King. Rufus Vane King was another proslavery Democrat who had served briefly as vice president and had recently died in office. In 1986 the namesake was changed to honor Dr. Martin Luther King.

Of course there are many alternative names, any of which would be better than honoring the racist Joseph Lane.

By the way, in 1860 voters in the new state of Oregon gave the plurality of their votes to Abraham Lincoln, who edged out the Breckinridge and Lane ticket, which received only 34 percent of the vote.

Robert Liberty


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