February is Black History Month across the country. This month gives everyone the opportunity to stop and reflect on a particular set of Americans who have often been marginalized in the story of our nation. New to Pacific University’s celebration of Black History Month this year is an exhibit which can be found in the library.
The exhibit, titled “Pacific Against Slavery,” is the project of archives and instruction librarian Eva Guggemos. When Geggemos arrived at Pacific at the beginning of the school year, she was looking to insure many items in the library’s collection, especially those older books locked behind glass on the second floor. However, upon examining some of these books, she began to notice a large portion of the material, particularly from the 1840s and 1850s, was devoted to the anti-slavery cause.
The new exhibit highlights some of Pacific’s early history intermingling with ideas concerning slavery and race that were prominent at that time. Pacific’s founders in particular were of a religious “Yankee” protestant background, belonging to the Congregationalist Church. “In the decades before the Civil War,” the exhibit notes, “Congregationalists were among the most outspoken voices against slavery.”
Some items of note include sermons by Sidney Harper Marsh, Pacific’s first president, as well as minutes from a meeting of the Congregational Association of Oregon from 1864. Another such prize is an 1859 copy of The Anglo-African Magazine, an extremely rare item presumably given to Marsh in 1860.
The Oregon State Constitution once had a provision banning African-Americans from the state. The materials held under glass in the library also seem to be characterized by the less enlightened racial views of that time period. One such textbook in the exhibit states that “Africa is noted for its burning climate, its vast deserts and for the dark colour and degraded character of its inhabitants.”
Yet in the context of the time, many figures in Pacific’s early history had relatively more forward-thinking views on the subject than many of their contemporaries. University figures George Atkinson, Cushing Eells and Elkanah Walker, as well as their wives had originally intended to travel to Africa in order to do missionary work.
Guggemos noted that, while they are currently under glass in the front of the library, all items in the exhibit have been at Pacific for some time as part of the collection. Thus, library patrons who wish to examine the materials on their own time will able to do so upon the close of the exhibit and are encouraged to do so. In the meantime, Pacific will be proudly displaying its small part in the anti-slavery tradition.