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Historians reveal UO founder's racist views

EUGENE  — University of Oregon founding father Matthew Deady was a hard-bitten racist who never disavowed slavery but who shielded innocent and vulnerable Chinese immigrants from violent mobs, UO-commissioned experts have found in a report released Tuesday.

The three historians commissioned by the UO combed through historic documents to assess the racial views of Deady.

"He had a very complicated intellect that defies a simple summary," University of Washington historian Quintard Taylor, Portland State University historian David Alan Johnson and UO historian Marsha Weisiger wrote in their collective review of the lives of Deady and UO Professor Frederick Dunn, a one-time Eugene Ku Klux Klan leader.

UO President Michael Schill commissioned the report to serve as a foundation for his decision about whether to strip the names of Deady and Dunn from campus buildings. The UO Board of Trustees has the authority to make the final call.

The UO president on Tuesday issued a request for comment from students and other community members who read the report. He's asking for their views on stripping away the Deady and Dunn names.

Schill said he's alerting students on summer break until Sept. 26 by email.

"We may make the decision prior to the time the students get back, but we're going to make it only after consulting with them," he said Tuesday.

Schill commissioned the report in answer to demands by black UO students during a fall 2015 Black Lives Matter protest. The students said they felt uncomfortable studying in buildings named in honor of men who had considered blacks human property.

Deady was an important figure in the founding of Oregon and of the UO. He was president of the state's Constitutional Convention in 1857, which produced a document that was ratified by Oregonians along with provisions that outlawed slavery but also banned free black people from the state.

The historians' report lays out stark details of Deady's views. Deady favored slavery: "If we are compelled to have the colored race among us, they should be slaves," he said in a newspaper article.

As late as 1890 — 25 years after the Civil War — Deady wrote: "The slave trade and Negro slavery were means providential or otherwise by which the negro was educated and prepared for his present career of self-dependence."

Still, after reading 218 cases from Deady's three decades as a judge and his multivolume diary, the historians found that Deady underwent an unexplained but dramatic metamorphosis.

After the Civil War, Deady embraced the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which demolished the legal structure of slavery, according to the historians.

The historians found that Deady was a strict constructionist and follower of judicial precedent, and his decisions were marked by a "careful, narrow analysis of the issues in play and obedience to the guidance the law provided."

Where he found the law favored to equal treatment, he ruled in favor of Chinese immigrants and Native Americans. Where it was not, he ruled against them.

No case involving black litigants came before Deady's court, the historians found.

Law in the form of treaties with China gave Deady the basis for ruling in favor of American- and foreign-born Chinese residents in Oregon. It was a time of violent mob action in the Western United States against many of those thought to be Chinese. States, including Oregon, passed laws that banned Chinese residents from holding certain jobs, owning real estate or working mining claims.

In a succession of rulings, Deady "in fact shielded innocent and vulnerable people from harassment, discrimination and violence," the historians wrote. "Deady declared void local ordinances that, he judged, intended only to harass Chinese for gaming, possession or smoking opium (then legal), or operating laundries," the historians wrote.

With regard to Native Americans, Deady wrote a key opinion that denied U.S. citizenship to a man who was half Native American and half "white." The opinion was cited for nearly two decades to deny the right of citizenship to Native peoples.

On the other hand, Deady ruled in favor of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce rights to the Wallowa Valley. Deady wrote: "To what manifold uses Indians can be put, and how many uncivilized and unchristianized white men have made their fortunes pretending or attempting to civilize and Christianize them."

Schill is expected to ponder the whole of the historians' 34-page report, and then make a recommendation to the trustees — who meet Sept. 8 and 9.

The report didn't necessarily make Schill's decision easier. "How you weigh the criteria is a complicated question," he said. "As I read the report the issues became more complicated."

The criteria for keeping or removing the name, written earlier by a UO committee, includes questions of whether the historical figures were responsible for laws or policies promoting slavery or genocide, whether they fanned racial violence, whether they belonged to a group that promoted violence, whether they brought infamy or dishonor to the university, whether they furthered oppression, and whether they ever in their lives took redemptive action.

In the wake of the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement, U.S. universities have been challenged to remove the names of racists from buildings but mostly have decided to leave them in place.

Schill's alma mater, Yale University, decided in April to keep the name of Calhoun College, named after ardent defender of slavery and U.S. Vice President John Calhoun.

In July, a black dining services employee used a broomstick to smash a stained glass window inside the Calhoun College. The window was a depiction of a male and female slave carrying bales of cotton with smiles on their faces. "It's the 21st century; you shouldn't have to see that," the employee, Corey Menafee, was quoted as saying.

The university since has decided to name a dining room at Calhoun College for an inspiring black student who attended Yale in the 1980s. With Yale's support, the prosecutor dropped charges against Menafee, and he returned to his job at the college.

The UO is "approaching this in exactly the right way, which is to make the decision about whether we take the names off the buildings based upon rationality and based upon a really careful analysis of the historical record rather than based upon emotion," Schill said. "That's what you hope an institution of higher learning will do."