Linda Hamilton

Linda HamiltonPhoto by Paul Neevel

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 18, the Eugene Human Rights Commission presented its annual Human Rights Award to Linda Hamilton, a 30-year resident of Eugene who has served on more than 20 local educational and governmental boards and committees. “I call it community civic engagement,” she says, “being at the table to drive the change you need around equity. I’m usually the only Black person on those boards.” Hamilton was the seventh of 12 children in her family, growing up in the bayous of northeast Louisiana. “My mom, Fannie Akins, was Cherokee and Black,” she says. “We all called her Madea. Dad hunted alligator, turtle, rabbit, duck and deer. We grew sugar cane, watermelon, collard greens, and raised chickens, hogs and cows.” By age 12, Linda wanted out. “I was scared,” she recalls. “I saw young girls getting pregnant. Kids dropped out to work in the fields.” She saw her chance at age 15, when her uncle and cousin from Las Vegas came to visit. “I packed my stuff in a brown paper bag,” she says. “We told my mother that I’d be back.” Instead, she wound up living with her aunt, her mom’s baby sister, in Salem, Oregon. She was the only Black person in her 1985 McKay High School graduating class. “I got a lot of attention,” she recalls. “People were so accepting, loving and kind.” She studied criminal justice at Chemeketa Community College, but left to pursue real-life experience as a store detective: Nordstrom’s sent her to its flagship Portland store. She went from there to the Oregon Department of Corrections, where she was one of the first women to work in an all-male maximum security prison, the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. In 1996, she was promoted to correctional counselor/parole and probation officer in Eugene, where she lives with her husband, Senior State Trooper Rick Hamilton, and where they raised their daughter, Tiwanna. In 2015, she was elected to an at-large position on the Lane Education Service District Board of Directors. “I got an award from the University of Oregon,” she notes, “for juggling the most meetings!”