Railroaded: Race Relations in Twentieth-Century Oregon
MetadataShow full item record
Between the Great Depression and the end of World War II, two black railroad employees were convicted of murder in Oregon. Two violent murders; one linked to money and one to illicit sexual relations. Both deaths occurred in Oregon, both were linked to the railroad and, in both cases, authorities prosecuted black men, Theodore Jordan and Robert E. Lee Folkes, for the respective crimes. In the end, while both Jordan and Folkes were sentenced to the death penalty, Jordan was eventually exonerated. What historical forces allowed for Jordan to have his sentence commuted during the Great Depression, while Folkes, accused of the murder of a white woman a full decade later, faced the gas chamber? The recent studies in the past few decades into black history have made it possible to explain why the two cases ended so differently in light of the Civil Rights movement that was gaining a foothold in the nation and had only grown stronger from the 1930s to the 1940s. I will argue that the contrast between these two cases demonstrates that the organization of Oregon's black population into unions and other political groups, like the NAACP and the Communist Party, was vital to the success of garnering attention for - and ultimately overturning - legal discrimination, at least in case of Jordan.