I find interesting objects in my yard as I weed and plant. A railroad spike here, an old marble there; crockery shards and wonderfully rusted metal objects (“Now what could this BE?”). I am playing a guessing game as I piece together an identity and a history for my old place, but fortunately not so for those looking to celebrate, or at least acknowledge Black History Month in Pendleton. We have some very fortunate and ready-made connections not requiring (too much) guessing and digging to find them!! Allow me…
Within a few city blocks is a trifecta of history and ongoing effort to add character and nuance to the nexus of our multiple histories. Before the official effort to coalesce around Black History in 1926, Pendleton had George Fletcher (see image). Influenced by the mentoring and the savvy of the Umatilla Tribe, he was a sensation for those in attendance at the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up (Black Cowboys in Oregon). He is featured on Main Street as part of the Bronze Trail of statues in town. His story was recently retold at the Heritage Station “Terrific Tuesdays” events where children’s author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson presented her publication. “Let’ Er buck: George Fletcher, the people’s champion.” Copies are available at local library branches, and it is terrifically illustrated by Gordon C. James.
Two blocks south on Main, a plaque is dedicated to the Triple Nickles, the first U.S. Forestry Service-trained military smokejumpers, operating out of Pendleton in 1944 (See 555th History plaque). What a proud legacy for our local airfield to have been on the avant garde in the defence of our local population, and how nicely it is honored as we connect the past with our recent use of space in the core of downtown.
These past events, so recently crafted and honored by bronze casting, image and text, are prominent enough in the community that no one need dig to find them. As I continue my muddy work to document my history of place, I am encouraged by the more recent story of Chuck LeValle and his tenure as interim Pendleton City Council member. He made history in 2018 when he became the first African American to hold this leadership position, which he very nearly retained after campaigning that same year just one Main Street block away from the monument to George Fletcher and one block from the future site of the Triple Nickels’ tribute plaque. Perhaps you (the reader) can encourage and share more of our local Black History by posting a comment to this blog!
African American History in the West:
Children's Author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson:
-Contributed by Suzanne Church, AmeriCorps Mentor Coordinator