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"Shades of Color at OAC 1916-1921: The Untold Story of Palmer Patton," February 24, 2020

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Terrance Harris: I'd like to welcome you to Untold Story of Palmer Patton. I'm Terrance Harris, Director of the Lonnie B. Harris Black Cultural Center. If it's your first time here, welcome. If not, welcome back. We do have some refreshments up in the back so please feel free to get something to eat. I'm going to turn it over to Dr. Plaza and Larry to give you the introduction of today and they'll be talking through with you about the discussion, so please give it up for Larry and Dr. Plaza. [Applause].

Dwaine Plaza: Alright, good evening everyone. Again, sorry for the technical problems. What we're going to do tonight is a two-part presentation. We're presenting the life of Palmer Patton and our objective really is to lift the 00:01:00veil [unintelligible] and we're here to tell the story of his life and it's the life that someone may have decided to choose because he was looking for mobility. Mobility was an opportunity that was also based on skin color in the United States in general. What I want to do in our presentation is I want to carve out for you the historical realities of what it would be like to be an African American person in the United States in the early 1900s and the 1920s when Palmer would've been making these kinds of decisions about what he was going to try to do to navigate the system that oftentimes was blocked.

Before I go into detail, I just want to acknowledge the support we have had from Dean Alan Sams. Is he here? No. Larry Rodgers from the College of Liberal Arts, Charlene Alexander's office, which is the Office of institutional Diversity, and 00:02:00Faye Chadwell who is with the libraries. These are the individuals who provided for us the food that you will get the chance to enjoy later on but also to support to do this research from Larry. He is the one who did the major [unintelligible] of this research. I came in at the back end, and so did Terrance, and so what we are going to try to do tonight is just tell you that story. I've provided here a lot of images and if you're a student who is in the room please go ahead and pull out your smartphone and you can look up some of this stuff as we go along. It's all going to be important to embellish what I'm going to say with images that you can also pull up on your phone.

Let me begin by carving out what it would be like for an African person to be dragged onto the continent of north America. It would be a brutalizing situation. it would be a situation for them where they have lost the language, lost the culture, lost their family, and being in an institution that is so encompassing that it basically would change their lives in ways that many of us can't imagine today having arrived in a place where you were seen as less than everybody. I want to point out to you that life on plantations in the United 00:03:00States was such that a slave life was based on the mother's line of lineage. Typically in Europe, as you all know, we often trace our lineage from the father's side based on what the father's last name is. Well, there was a real strategy behind doing something like that. It means then that if a while male impregnates a black female the child could never trace the lineage to a white father. It would always have to be through the mother's line. Another legacy of slavery was also referred to the "One Drop Rule." I'll going into more detail about it in a second, but the One Drop Rule essentially meant that if you had a drop of African blood in your lineage, you would always be considered to be black, even if you were ten grandparents away, once somebody would prove that you actually had a black ancestor you'd always be considered black. That's really a [unintelligible] in this case. Under the slave codes and various laws 00:04:00and legislation that actually existed.

I want you to take a very close look at this manifest. I say close look because it actually tells us a great deal about what life would be like for slaves. In particular here you have names of slaves: they have their last name, they all have first names that were given to them, and obviously they have sex listed here. As a manifest it then goes on to tell us about their age, how tall they were. That's actually a very important factor, because society was dependent on bodies to do agricultural production, they really wanted people to be of a certain stature and a certain age because they'd be more productive. What's even more interesting in this column, is this-what is referred to as class. If you look down this list, you'll notice is that people are listed by skin color. I'm going to read off for some of the folks in the back. One classification was color, another was black, another was yellow. Ultimately these degradations of 00:05:00color indicated to people oftentimes your status of hierarchy within a system of slavery. In addition to that you also had things like what skill you have: were you a cobbler, were you somebody who could be a blacksmith, a carpenter, etc.

Think about what was also going on in this time, which we often referred to this as ethno-sexual invasions that were taking place. Imagination a situation where if you were a black female, you had no rights to your body. This would be a situation that oftentimes by the age of 12, or 13, years old you'd know. your mother would actually tell you this: "Be aware, Massa [Master], or somebody's, going to come, a white male, is going to come and rape you." imagine living with that kind of psychology in your mind to know that somebody was going to come and essentially assume your body and ultimately likely impregnate you or, worse yet, rape you and have some kind of situation where you'd never necessarily have any 00:06:00rights to your body. In effect, what this process did was it created a group of individuals who were mixed ethnicity and the effect of having this mixed ethnicity group of people in society was that they became a group as sort of an inbred. They weren't white. They weren't black. They were mixed.

I draw your attention now to this series of paintings down in the Caribbean. I say in the Caribbean because Augostino Brunias was an Italian painter who travelled throughout the southern Caribbean and various islands. He was painting images. I draw your attention to those images because we don't have the same kind of images coming out of North America. He paints people in very dignified ways. You'll notice here in these paintings is that he centers a light skinned woman in all his paintings. He's doing that because he's reflecting what's going on in that society in the Caribbean and also in North America. That is, people 00:07:00of lighter skin color ended up being the people with the most cache. They were the most mobile in society. They had more opportunities.

One of the legacies of slavery becomes an African American society that is very much divided by color. I'd like you to think about the analogy I have here of carbs in a bucket. If anybody's ever seen a bunch of crabs in a bucket you realize what is happening to them, they oftentimes will pull each other down in order for one or a couple to get out. The weak are oftentimes struggling, but the ones who are stronger can get their way out. The images of the women you see here is very typical of the idea of color being seen as better than, prettier than, etc., in American society. You often had something in sororities and fraternities in the south they often referred to as the brown paper bag test. 00:08:00Folks may have heard about this test: basically it was a test where somebody would show up in a sorority or fraternity in the south in an African American fraternity and they'd be shown a brown paper bag and say are you lighter than this you can come in and if you're darker than this you need to stay out. These are some of the legacies of that slavery experience.

Who is defined as black? Here, I provided an image of our last president Barack Obama because I miss him a lot, but at the same time I want you to think back to that time period, especially when he was in the early part of the elections and in the first round of elections many people actually thought he was white. Do you remember that conversation? He was not black enough. Part of that conversation happened primarily because of this One Drop Rule. Clearly his father was from Kenya and his mom was from Iowa. For many people, it didn't matter what his ethnicity was, he couldn't claim whiteness because he had black features. Barack Obama, not trying to dive into his head, but he knew from the 00:09:00beginning that he was a black man. He could never claim his mother's background. He could never claim that Iowan lineage. It always had to come back to this One Drop Rule, which essentially says that individuals who have a mixed ethnicity, if they have an ancestor who was black they would always forever be black. In the slavery period we have a whole classification.

Audience Member: There's a story that Charles Barkley, the basketball player, was talking with Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods said to Charles Barkley, well I'm really sort of white; I'm half Thai and half Thai and half African American. Charles Barkley looked at him and said, "In America you're black."

DP: Exactly. In America you are black. We have these codifications and classifications and words that are still pretty much in our and language today that include words like Mulatto, Quadroon (which is one quarter), Octaroon 00:10:00(which is one-eighth), and Hexadecaroon (which is even more), so you can imagine then that people knew their ethnicity. This was not only here in the United States. All this imagery is actually from New Mexico, where elaborate means were taken for people to know their color, know where they came from, know where they stood in society.

During the Great Migration, slavery ends in the 1870s, African American people are moving from the south to the north and you're going to hear from Larry this story of this man who is a prodigy of this particular Great Migration, when African Americans were leaving the south primarily because there were no opportunities there. They wanted to escape slavery. They wanted to go to cities like Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and places where they could potentially have a better life for themselves and their children.


White Supremacy, then, and terrorism, invoked on African Americans of the 20th century really involved trying to prevent these people from moving or getting out of their circumstance. You had a situation, and again I want to draw your attention to some of the imagery here. Take a look at this while I'm speaking, and you'll read this and realize it's not so far from home [image of a "Nigger Lecture" held at Corvallis College], and neither is this [a poster for a Klan Klonvocation held in Korvallis [sic Corvallis]. As you're thinking about this then, you're thinking about a situation where here in the Northwest we also had the Ku Klux Klan. We also had white supremacists. We had a situation, of course, where African Americans, even though they moved to places on the west they were still having situations where there was limited opportunities. So I want you to put yourself in the mindset of Palmer and what his family would have been potentially having happen to them as they moved.

For African Americans coming out of the slavery experience there was a real 00:12:00desire for education. It was the one thing they could have if all other avenues were blocked, they knew if they had the ability to read and write and communicate and perhaps be a part of commerce then they would certainly be better for the future. These are the dreams that people had of being educated. Religion played a huge part in African American people's lives. One of the areas of mobility for African American people was certainly through the religious orders, like become a deacon or heading a church. Education really was important.

At this time, then, in the 1900s, after the 1870s and 1900s, people were very much conscious of color. A process by which people would try to pass was a way of getting in and being able to ultimately seek out better opportunities for themselves. you have here the images of three different women. I'm not going 00:13:00into their stories, but ultimately you can see these women could potentially pass. If didn't know their ethnicity and they're all black women, if you didn't know their ethnicity they might be able to go themselves in the entertainment industry or find themselves in situations where people wouldn't necessarily question who they were. They would just accept them for their ethnicity of being white and so again once people crossed, it was hard to go back. Once you decided to call yourself white it's hard to all of a sudden that announce you're black and move back into that space. Also, you now have burned a bridge. You're living sort of on a hyphen.

In the 20th century, there were a lot of very negative stereotypes attached to black people: they were lazy, they were ignorant, they were child-like, they were savages, lustful, sexual, untrustworthy, musical, ugly, swarthy, devilish, villainous, all the things you'd never want to be were oftentimes attached to 00:14:00black folks in terms of stereotypes of the black body. I use the image here of Josephine Baker and Jack Johnson to typify that feeling. For African American men, then, living in that period of time, the late nineteenth-century or early twentieth-century, there were very little opportunities. So becoming a railroad porter or someone working at the railroad, and you'll hear something about that with regards to Palmer Patton's life. He did have a connection to the railroad. Working in the warehouse. Being a kitchen worker. Working in a barber shop and ultimately being a shoe shine boy. Any kind of low-level labor were oftentimes the opportunities that were available for African American men in particular.

African American women there was even less opportunity. The highest profession an African American woman would get to potentially could include a nurse or a 00:15:00teacher. Likely, a lot of African American women were involved in the industry of housekeeping, being nannies with children, and washer woman, people who washed clothes. The dirty work.

In the period of the 20th century then, again the late 19th century, early 20th century, if African Americans did want to go on to get a higher education they would often be geared and directed towards historically black colleges. In the initial period there were about 121 HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges), but these were really small institutions. These were really, really small institutions that showed up in the south typically. The oftentimes would teach students about vocational occupations, or technical occupations. They were very, very limited. I want you to think about Palmer's ideology then. Does he want to go to a school like that, or does he aspire to more? And Larry will tell that 00:16:00part of the story.

For some African Americans, though, there was an option to get into some of the Ivy League schools. I want you think about that contextually. If you were an African American male and you want to go onto higher education and you felt that that very small percentage of men that were so successful that they were both athletic and academic-I'll draw your attention now to Paul Robeson and/or Fitzroy Pollard-two outstanding athletes, one went to Brown and one went to Rutgers, so Rutgers and Brown. These men were able to get their degrees and go on to illustrious careers but ultimately they were still seen as black men nonetheless. Of course, Jesse Owens who eventually in the 1930s went on to attend the Ohio State University as a student athlete, eventually went on to win Olympic gold medals. The point being, after Jackie Robinson got out there wasn't 00:17:00a whole slew of black folks going to any of those institutions in these ivy league schools at all. Very few.

For African American men and women their role models really was a white education. Some of the leading experts in education at that point, which would have been very few, would have included people like WEB Dubois, Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, and Franklin Frasier. These would be all people individuals would aspire, would want to become, but would have few opportunities to do because universities were very much closed to them.

That leaves us now to me setting up Larry here in terms of the life of Palmer Patton. He was an intelligent, smart young man. He had a desire for higher education. He was an athlete. He saw limited opportunities for African Americans. He experienced racism for African Americans living in both Chicago 00:18:00and California, which you'll hear about where he moved from two different places. But he had the ability to pass. If you look at his image here, and Larry will show you many images of him, we created a poster around an image where you can clearly see that he kept his hair cut really short he had that ability to be in that questionable, not really quite sure what his ethnicity is. Ultimately Palmer wanted to pursue in his mind the best degree he could at the time, and that was going to be in Ag. Now, I'll turn it over to Larry who will tell you the real part of the story of Palmer.


Larry Landis: Hang on a second while we switch PowerPoints.

There we go, okay. Thank you everyone. I really appreciate you attending this 00:19:00evening. My name is Larry Landis and I am the Director of the Special Collections and Archive Research Center in the Valley Library and I am delighted to be able to share this story with you.

A couple of quick notes before I launch into the story, though. I want to make a quick plug for a couple of upcoming events. There are two Wikipedia Edit-a-thons coming up in the Valley Library: Writing Pacific Northwest African American History into Wikipedia, is happening this Friday from 2:00-5:00 p.m. in the Autzen Classroom. If that's something you might be interested in, we would love to have you. then, on Friday, March 13, also from 2:00-5:00 in the Autzen Classroom is Writing Pacific Northwest Women's History into Wikipedia. Two 00:20:00opportunities to enhance Wikipedia.

I want to thank our sponsors. I'd like to also give a shout out to Natalie Fernandez, who is the person behind the camera back there who has also been the person that I have talked to over the past year about Palmer Patton, same as Charlene Alexander, Scott Vignos in the Office of Institutional Diversity. I've talked to them about it. They all had some excellent suggestions on additional research. I want to thank my wife Rebecca particularly for listening to my sometimes late-night discoveries of Palmer Patton while I'm on Ancestry.com or I'm looking through our online yearbooks and discovering new students of color. I want to thank all of them.


Over the next half hour or so I want to share with you the story, I think a very compelling story, of Palmer Patton, who was both a student and faculty member of Oregon Agricultural College between 1916 and 1921. This is not an ordinary story but yet it's probably not one that...it's probably not unique. It has considerable nuance in terms of racial identity at Oregon State and in the Northwest United States. Patton's story was garnered from sources here at OSU, from the archives of other universities with which Patton had a connection, resources from Ancestry.com, as I mentioned, and the man who digitized newspapers. For those of you that have an interest or do historical research, the past ten years have really been a game-changer with more and more historic newspapers coming online. All of the research materials that I've gathered over 00:22:00the past year will become part of the Special Collections and Archive Research Center's Oregon Multi-cultural Community Research Collection. This material will be available to anyone who wants to delve even further into Palmer Patton.

For more than 20 years, Oregon State University ahs celebrated Carrie Halsell as the university's first identified African American graduate. That status was even acknowledged in 1927 in the Portland advocate, Portland's African American newspaper in the 1920s and 1930s. she graduated in June 1926 with a degree in commerce and went on to a long career in higher education, including service at multiple historic black colleges and universities. Halsell's memory and accomplishments were celebrated in 2002 with the naming of a new dormitory for 00:23:00her, Halsell Hall. Likewise, we celebrated William Tebeau, who was OSU's first identified male African American graduate in 1948 until the discovery of Patton with the naming of Tebeau Hall in September 2014. We need to make sure that we continue to remember and honor both Carrie Halsell and William Tebeau.

In the Fall of 2018 most of you will likely recall accounts of politicians and other famous persons having, it had came out that they had appeared in blackface during their high school or college years. The governor of Virginia was one of those who was caught up in that. This also sparked a similar debate within higher education about blackface imagery in yearbooks and how that is interpreted and contextualized. We have some of that imagery in our yearbooks 00:24:00and we've known about it for a long time, the way it was used as a teaching tool. Not something that we're proud of, but it's a learning opportunity nonetheless. But because I knew there might be questions, I wanted to refresh myself with some of those imagery so that I would be able to adequately respond to those inquiries. I knew that the 1919 yearbook was one of those that included that imagery. I went through it, page by page, in order to refresh my memory and in the course of review, I was struck by this image on page 67, I think, of the yearbook. There was something about it.

I thought, is this young man potentially African American? I delved into it a 00:25:00little bit and played around on my Ancestry.com. what I discovered over the past year is Palmer Patton's story. he graduated from Oregon Agricultural College with not one, but two degrees, just a few years before Carrie Halsell. He received this bachelor's degree 30 years before Bill Tebeau. He received his master's degree in 1920.

While working on his master's degree and shortly thereafter, he was considered to be a faculty member at Oregon Agricultural College, though on the research side of the academy. I never found any evidence that he actually taught classes. Therefore, Patton may also be considered OSU's first faculty member of color. What makes his story more intriguing is that he was very likely biracial and identified as white while at Oregon Agricultural College and in subsequent 00:26:00professional positions with the federal government and Montana State College, he was a person of color who had success navigating in predominantly or entirely in white spaces. But we have to ask at what cost?

Multiple sources indicate Palmer Patton was born on October 1, 1893, in Bay City, Michigan. Bay City is north of Detroit, on Lake Huron. His mother, Isabella Jones, was born in Canada in the early 1870s. His mother's, her parents had been U.S. citizens. His maternal grandparents were from Philadelphia and Maryland, respectively. His mother's family moved back to the United States in the late 1870s, and in the 1880 census for Chicago, seen here, they are listed as black. I don't know why they moved to Canada in the 1870s-it could have been 00:27:00to escape Jim Crow laws, particularly as reconstruction was ending. It could have also been had they been living in Chicago they may have been refugees from the destructive fire in Chicago in 1871. As I mentioned, Patton's maternal grandfather, Jacob Jones, was born in Maryland in the late 1830s and his grandmother, Isabella Elliott Jones, was from Pennsylvania. We have virtually no information on Patton's father, other than he was originally from Tennessee, according to census records. Patton's mother, Isabella Jones, took the Patton surname at some point. There are a few other clues about Palmer Patton's father. There are military records for a Palmer Patton from Michigan who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. And a Palmer Patten (spelled with an en instead 00:28:00of an on) who was white died in 1896 in a state asylum in Saginaw, Michigan, just 15 miles from Bay City, where our Palmer Patton was born. The asylum records indicate the elder Palmer Patton's birthplace as Canada. A lot of questions to resolve but definitely some clues.

Palmer Patton appears in the 1900 census, living in Chicago with his mother, Isabella Patton, two uncles, Robert Jones and Jacob Jones, and maternal grandparents Jacob and Isabella Jones. Their racial identifications are all listed as black. Their address was 6012 Ada Street, which is on Chicago's south side, approximately 3 miles west of Lake Michigan. Patton's mother is listed as a widow and whose occupation is a school teacher. Palmer Patton appears to have 00:29:00the extension Jr. next to his name, indicating that he was named for his father. Sorry, you can't see the census record a little better, but the have wonderful informatin. I think it has to do with the quality of the image that I included [audience laughs]. Thank you, Terrance, I appreciate that. Sometime between 1900 and 1910, part of the Jones/Patton family moved to Los Angeles, perhaps after the death of Palmer Patton's grandfather, Jacob Jones. Palmer Patton, his grandmother, and one of his uncles are listed in the 1910 census for Los Angeles. Their address was listed as 1541 West Twelfth Street, which today is just west of downtown Los Angeles and about 6-7 blocks from the Staples Center.

Those of you who are familiar with L.A. hopefully that gives you an idea of 00:30:00about where they lived. Their race was listed as Mulatto, not black, but Mulatto, which may be an indication that multiple family members may have been lighter skinned. The only occupation listed is for his uncle, Robert Jones, who was working as a railway mail clerk. Numerous Los Angeles city directories in the 1910s list this as the family's address. They apparently lived there for just a few years.

According to Patton's OSU student record, he attended and graduated from Los Angeles's Manual Arts High School in February 1914. This was a relatively new school, having been established in 1910. It was just the third high school in Los Angeles, and today it is the oldest LA high school still on hits original site. Actually, there are some fairly famous people who graduated from this high 00:31:00school, including a number around the same time as Palmer Patton.

In 1915, Patton enrolled in the University of California's University Farm School - which is UC-Davis today. He attended for two semesters, studying agriculture. He was also a member of the school's track team, as documented by this photo on the left in the school's 1916 yearbook. I actually have a copy of that yearbook with me tonight that I borrowed from UC-Davis if you're interested in looking at it. He participated in all five of the team's track meets that spring as a long distance runner. Also the photo on the right, I am fairly certain that Palmer Patton is the runner in the middle.

Patton was also a member of the Farm School's horticulture club. At the end of 00:32:00the 1915-16 academic year, he transferred to Oregon Agriculture College. We don't know why he chose OAC - perhaps it was on the recommendation of one of his professors at the University Farm School. By 1916 OAC was well established as a leading agricultural school in the western U.S. Palmer Patton comes from UC-Davis, what is now UC-Davis, Davis, California to Corvallis in the summer of 1916. Corvallis's population would have been around 5,000 residents. A fairly small place in 1916. Six years earlier, the 1910 census counted one African American resident in the city. Patton was entering a community that was almost exclusively a white space.

Prior to the start of his classes at OAC in fall term 1916, Patton worked 00:33:00briefly that summer for the Southern Pacific Railroad in the Dallas, Oregon, district. I don't have knowledge of how labors were housed, but if any of you are familiar with Dalles it would have been exclusively right, probably another space that would have been difficult to negotiate for a person of color. I also wonder if this connection, this particular job with the Southern Pacific Railroad may have, his uncle who was a Railway Clerk may have helped him gain that. A little bit of speculation, there, but it's entirely possible. He only worked part of one month. It was just a way to earn a little bit of money.

This is generally how OAC looked when Palmer Patton entered the college on July 00:34:0021, 1916 as an advanced sophomore. He took summer session classes in 1916 and '17 in addition to classes during the regular academic terms. He may have lived in Cauthorn Hall (which is now Fairbanks Hall) when he first arrived. OAC's enrollment for the fall of 1916 was 1,635 students. Patton's course load included various agriculture and science related courses, as well as history and Spanish. He also took courses in commerce and journalism. He was a good student - receiving mostly high grades. During his first year at OAC he took military drill and a military instruction course. This was in the era when the U.S. military was still segregated. Oregon was still ten years from repealing the black exclusion laws in its constitution, even though they had been rendered unconstitutional by the passage of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 00:35:00in 1866.

Patton's classes would have been in some of the buildings you see here: Science Hall, Agriculture Hall, probably not the Mechanical hall but that is one that is still recognizable today. He would have also taken classes in the Farm Mechanics Building which is Gilmore Hall today, the Men's Gymnasium, and most likely the Armory (the McAlexander Fieldhouse).

During his first year at OAC, the United States entered the Great War-which we know as World War I. Shown here is Patton's military registration from June 1917. It includes his Corvallis address, his occupation, listed as a student and the fact that he worked in the vegetable garden, and details of his physical appearance. Notice on the front side, left portion of the card that his race is identified as Caucasian. This is the first indication to us that he identified 00:36:00as white.

Patton was involved with OAC's farm management club and held a leadership position. He was the "Keeper of the Records," for the Farm Management seminar. That was an important leadership position. He did receive recognition for his abilities. I apologize for the poor quality of the portrait of him. Unfortunately the only photos we have of him are these school portraits of him in the yearbooks and it's hard to reproduce them in a really good manner.

Patton began to make his mark during his senior year with various activities of the farm management program. This article from the Oregonian in January 1918 includes mention of Patton as a contributor to the farm management program's 00:37:00participation in the OAC fair. This is the farm management float in front of what is now McAlexander Fieldhouse.

Patton published this article in the May 1918 edition of the Oregon Countryman, which was a monthly journal published by agriculture students and faculty at OAC. With this article we begin to see Patton's proficiency as a statistician. During the spring of 1918 he also created and helped with implementing a reorganization plan for a 500-acre farm in Polk County. He was doing that as an undergraduate.

During his senior year, Patton joined the track and field team. In his first meet, against the University of Oregon, appropriately enough, he won the high 00:38:00jump. He had been a distance runner at the university farm school in Davis. Here he was a high jumper. Winning against the U of O gave him instant credibility and an invitation to join the exclusive "Varsity O," which was essentially a letterman's club. The newspaper article on the right describes the initiation rite in which Patton participated - a pie eating contest. [Audience laughs]. He lost, but that was the initiation right and he became a member of that fairly exclusive organization.

Patton received his bachelor of science in agriculture degree on June 3, 1918. After graduation and prior to starting his graduate work, Patton worked for the U.S. Geological Space in Burns-another white space-as a junior land classifier. An article in the Oregon Daily Journal from May 23, 1918, stated that, "Palmer 00:39:00Patton, Aggie star high jumper, prominent senior and farm management student, leaves here within the next few days for Burns, OR to enter into the United States geological survey division as a junior land classifier at a salary of $105 per month. The work that he is to do is in connection with the classification of the Oregon-California land grant territory." Burns, as most of you probably know where Burns is, in southeastern portion of the state, would have been almost exclusively white... well, let me rephrase that, there was certainly a Native American population in that area, but there would have been virtually no African American population there.

As a graduate student, Patton worked closely with Professor H. D. Scudder, who headed OAC's farm management program. Scudder served as a mentor for Patton, and 00:40:00chaired his thesis committee. The article on the right describes a project that Patton, Scudder, and Clair Wilkes, another farm management faculty member, worked on. It was a model farm that they were establishing in Polk County. During the course of his graduate work, Patton was considered a faculty member. On the left is the faculty biographical sheet that Patton completed in February 1919. It is the only extant document in his OSU personnel file. The 1920 Beaver yearbook listed him as an instructor in farm management, and the 1919-20 catalog listed him as a research fellow in farm management. Again, I have found no evidence that he taught classes - his work was on the research side of the academy.

Patton's master's thesis focused on statistical applications within farm management. He completed his oral exams on May 26, 1920, and received his master 00:41:00of science degree a few weeks later. During the 1919-1920 academic year he was a member of Alpha Pi Delta, an agriculture honor society.

At some point, probably in 1921, Patton left OAC, and for the next of year or so worked for the U.S. Census Bureau. That work took him to Washington, DC, where he worked in the Bureau's agriculture division. One article described him as the only agricultural census representative from the western U.S. He returned from Washington, DC, in September 1921, and in one of the articles it indicated that he planned to go into commercial agricultural work. He was living in Sheridan, Oregon, at that time. Another white space. Ironically, Patton does not appear in 00:42:00the 1920 census, even though he was in Corvallis at the time. Nor does he appear in the 1930 or 1940 censuses - those that are presently open. Assuming that the 1950 census is open sometime this year, it will be interesting to see if he appears there. At some point in 1922 he went to work for Montana State College as a statistician in its extension service. That assignment took him to Williston, ND, and Miles City, MT, and Havre, MT. That began a five year relationship with Montana's land grant institution.

Patton took a break from his work at Montana State and returned to Chicago in late summer or early fall 1923. He spent two semesters at the University of Chicago doing additional graduate work in botany. He ran this classified ad in October 1923 offering his services as a statistician. The address listed is northeast of the University of Chicago campus about one mile. I have not been 00:43:00able to verify if this is his mother's address.

In 1924 Patton returned to Montana State College, where he served as a statistician for the Extension Service and the Agricultural Experiment Station. Much of his work entailed responding to inquiries for agricultural statistical data about Montana, and he contributed to the monthly "Montana Agricultural Outlook" report, which was distributed across the state. He also was able to do some original research on the effects of weather on various crops in Montana. After leaving OAC, and particularly while he was at Montana State, Patton kept connected to OAC. He sent periodic updates to the alumni magazine and he was also active in the Montana OAC club, which was based in Bozeman.


Patton's work at Montana State also included the creation of statistical graphs, charts and other compilations for use in their extension and experiment station publications, such as these two bulletins featured here. His work in the Dec. 1926 bulletin, the one on, this one, was specifically noted in the acknowledgements.

Milburn Lincoln Wilson was Patton's supervisor at Montana State and also served as a mentor. After Patton left Montana State College in the spring of 1927, he and Wilson carried on a correspondence that lasted more than three years. One of the constants of those exchanges was Wilson's attempts to find work for Patton, including contract work for Montana State College and positions with federal agencies. This is a selection of some of the correspondence that I found between 00:45:00Patton and Wilson from the archives at Montana State University.

In 1927 Patton was able to complete an experiment station bulletin titled "The Role of Weather in Montana's Plains Region." So he was able to apply the research that he had done and create some scholarship from that. The letter on the left is a commendation from the chancellor of the college, acknowledging his excellent work on that bulletin. But prior to that in July 1926, Patton seems to have run into disfavor with the Dean of Agriculture, who complained to Wilson, Patton's supervisor, that "Mr. Patton is interested in ecology, but this is outside your department." He felt that the work Patton was doing was better 00:46:00suited for the Extension Service. He questioned whether "Patton will work in" with the Experiment Station. Wilson would need a good statistical clerk, but with "Patton's limitations in special training for your work, etc., I believe the quicker he gets into his special field the better for him and for your work." This was despite the fact that Patton's rank as the state statistician and the kudos that he had received for his work in experiment station publications. In reading between the lines in this letter from the dean to M.L. Wilson, there is an implication that the dean wanted two of his own choices in experiment station positions, thus forcing Patton out. Patton was able to hang on at Montana State until early spring 1927, though he had trouble getting his final paycheck. Patton left Bozeman and returned to Chicago, presumably to live 00:47:00with his mother, but continued corresponding with Wilson, as I had mentioned. In 1928 Patton moved to San Francisco. In April 1930 letter he wrote to Wilson that he was taking up gazetteering - which is essentially journalism. He had taken a couple of journalism classes here during his undergraduate and graduate years. In that same letter Patton wrote that he was going to night school and was editing the school paper. There is no mention of which school he was attending. The letter on the right, dated September 1,1930, this letter right here, is the final correspondence between Patton and Wilson that I found. From this point, we lose track of Palmer Patton for nearly twelve years.

Two weeks after the entrance of the U.S. into WWII in late 1941, the Selective 00:48:00Training and Service Act was amended, requiring all men between 18 and 64 years of age to register. This is Patton's registration. He was 49 years of age when this was completed in April 1942. Notice, his race, again, is listed as white, along with other characteristics: his height, weight, complexion, so on and so forth. His birth date is the same, October 1, 1893, but his birth place is listed as Los Angeles, California. That may be a clerical error, or, I don't know. it's also interesting this particular line asks about friends or family, it says has no friends or relatives. It's also very telling. And you can see, his occupation is listed as news correspondent. His residential address, 916 00:49:00Kearney Street, in San Francisco, which is actually a fairly famous building, a 1907 skyscraper called the Sentinel Building. Patton was living in that particular building, or he claimed that as his residence in 1942.

Among the records that I found via Ancestry were several WWII U.S. Navy muster rolls from 1944 and 1945 for the Navy destroyer USS Fanning that included the name Palmer Patton. All of these muster roles included an "n" in parentheses next to his name, as well as next to other names. You can see some of them on here: that name, that name, that name. I think this could be a racial designation for negro.


U.S. military was still segregated in World War II, but many navy ships included African American sailors who were relegated to lower-status duties. The Palmer Patton listed on this muster roll was a gunner's mate who began his service on the ship on December 28, 1943. Our Palmer Patton would have been 50 years of age at that time. Just a side note, the USS Fanning saw considerable service in the Pacific during the war. It was decommissioned in late 1945. In all Palmer Patton spent the better part of two years aboard that ship.

Surprisingly, Palmer Patton appears in the Summer 1963 Oregon Stater as a contributor to the OSU Fund for 1962-63. We have no record of the amount of his donation nor what prompted it. There is no firm record of Patton in the sampling of the San Francisco City directories that I reviewed, although there was a P. 00:51:00Patton listed in the 1971 directory. Patton died in San Francisco on June 26, 1976. This short obituary lists a "dear friend," Audrey Janesen-the only evidence we have of any type of relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Patton was interred at the historic Cypress Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, south of San Francisco, on August 12, 1976. From here, we need to determine how to best honor and celebrate Palmer Patton's contribution to OSU's history.

More recently, Natalia Fernandez shared with me this newspaper article from the Portland Advocate, which had been found by one of our library colleague Laurie Bridges. Besides Carrie Halsell, there were four other African American students who attended OAC at the same time-their photos are on the left of this 00:52:00slide-Othieda Nichols, Jennie Dora Grayson, Idris Williams, and Richard Bogle. One of them, Jennie Dora Grayson, graduated in 1928. Some additional yearbook research revealed two other students who attended Oregon State in the early 1930s-Maxine Maxwell, who was from Salem, and Dehlia Coleman, who was originally from Alabama. Coleman graduated in 1931. This poses a question- are there other African American students who attended Oregon State in the 1920s and 1930s? I would like to end by putting out a call for action-a call to action to reveal, share, honor and celebrate the stories of all of these students. Thank you for 00:53:00listening, and Dwaine and I would love to hear your questions, your thoughts and your ideas.

Audience Member 1: Were there any other photos in Montana that maybe were buried in some yearbook or in the university archives or are those the ones that you have and there are the only ones you could find?

LL: These are the only ones I could find.

Audience Member 1: Okay.

LL: I was at the archives of Montana State for about two hours and was focusing more on some of the records of their farm management department and agricultural environment station, and I think that the correspondence that I found, the trove 00:54:00of correspondence between Patton and his mentor, is priceless. It is so substantive. I would have love to have found a photo of him. I don't know whether students of color who were potentially photographed or chose not to be photographed, I don't know. we have so few photos of them. the students that we have here, the yearbook images are all that we've been able to find so far.

Audience Member 2: Thanks, Larry, for this. just curious whether there were other Palmer Pattons discovered in the process that you ruled out in this.

LL: There was one that was born in Alabama after our Palmer Patton. His name appears a lot in ancestry searches. I tended to shove those right to the side.


The thing about ancestry, you can go back to it after a number of months and they're constantly adding new material. You find new things, and the same with online historical newspapers. There's newspapers that are being digitized and added all the time, so this is the case where sometimes you have to go back and redo research in order to pick up potentially new research.

Audience Member 3: So it does really seem like he was on the rise, you know, from an academic standpoint and then suddenly dropped off. Again, it's just fascinating. It just makes me wonder, when we see the photos we see those 00:56:00features and things and I wonder if there were people who were willing to not make a big deal out of it and were more accepting during that time than we would normally expect people to be and that's why he did well here but then in Montana not so much.

DP: So I'd like to speak here. What I got from my research was that when you have a culture of racism that you think of society you always have individuals within that society that are willing to do something or act as a buffer for that individual person, because they see a lot of potential, and I think Patton Palmer was one who had a lot of potential as a smart person. He had all these characteristics about him. He probably had, I would imagine, a lot of in social gather, where he was just a likeable person. He had figured out how to navigate 00:57:00that space and so even though his mentors in Montana might have known really he was an African person, they were just saying we're not going to make that an issue we're going to basically focus on your success, your credentials, your ability, your writing ability. Just do that, and I'll try to do my best to help you navigate. And what happened sometimes happens also is that when those people then meet further in life bigger barriers sometimes they can't overcome those ones because those supervisors tend not to intervene and interject and their stuck in a situation where they have to figure it out and I think following the trajectory of Palmer's life you go through about 20 years of flipping, flipping, flipping and flipping, trying to find an identity for himself. He can't use that degree. The degree now becomes important but he can't use it to potentially get a job in Ag anymore so he has to reinvent himself all the time.

Audience Member #4: Just an example of the kind of world context within which he 00:58:00lived and why he would have at times maybe indicated that he was white was dealing with labor. Everybody knows and has seen visuals of the Civil Rights Movement, we tend to focus on the south and not what happened in Cicero, Illinois, where white people like to think they were enlightened. But there was actually a book written in the 1960s by new economic historians, Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman and it was titled, Time On the Cross, and they argued and there were a lot of people that subscribed to their view that maybe slavery wasn't so bad. The essential element of their argument was if people of color 00:59:00were treated as capital-if you own a car, you take care of your car, you polish it, you change the oil, etc. etc.-so their premise based on basically nothing but maybe it wasn't so bad because slaves were valuable and you valued your property, so maybe all the horror stories are somewhat exaggerated. Well a colleague of mine at Ohio State in the 1970s of Robert Fogle actually got a hold of, it was interesting he had a manifest, he actually got a hold of a manifest for particular plantations and he followed what happened because since people owned slaves they were very careful to document who had which child, the child's name, what happened, etc., etc.

Anyway, long story short-he was able to create a compelling argument around was 01:00:00essentially it was even more awful than anyone could ever imagine and a particularly horrific aspect of it was that they were very spare in their caring and feeding and nurturing of small children because they were useless in the fields and so basically what happened is children were ignored until they reached an age of 7 or 8 when they could go into the field and then they would provide them food and clothing and some of the nourishing that they needed, but in the health records which you could document that they permanently suffered stunted growth, anemia, and other diseases because they were systematically 01:01:00abusing babies in slavery. Very powerful argument but think about a society where two dopes could write a book about their like a car so don't mistreat your car why would you mistreat a slave and it was a very celebrated book. They got a lot of national attention about how what a terrific-it was just amazing. Well, that was in the late '60s, '70s so figure out what it was like 50 years before.

DP: Other thoughts?

Audience #5: Since from reading the correspondence and yearbooks of-I mean that horrific poster that Dwaine showed at the beginning shows what was going on in Corvallis and Oregon, but did you have a sense of what the culture around racism was at Oregon Agricultural College at the time and then at Montana State with the correspondence with the mentor? Did the mentor make any reference at all to 01:02:00racial issues?

LL: No, no his mentor at Oregon State there was never any reference of race in any of that correspondence and that was certainly one of the things I was looking for. The only implication was the letter from the dean that basically said, Palmer Patton's not working out here. He needs to finish up and get on his way.

Audience Member #4: I think your point about "angels" also, was very important. We sometimes look back and it's like well people were like that. No they weren't. I mean there were people. There were abolitionists. There were people who knew this was horrible and wrong long ago and in every age there were people who knew this was wrong, so I expect there were many angels who in fact knew 01:03:00they had to do whatever they had to do within the constraints they faced to help advance someone who had an amazing talent, obviously who could be a very productive member of society.

DP: We see the same thing happening for musicians and so forth who actually are taken from the United States to Europe to perform because they are discovered because they have this musical talent. Whatever that talent was: singing, playing the piano and nobody is trying to figure out where they got this talent from, but yet they were being ushered to entertain the various kinds and queens of Europe because they are seen as an exotic entity. Audience Member #6: I was just wondering, you mentioned the name of a potential companion or something in the obituary. Can you follow that to see if there's any people that are related to that person that might know something?

LL: That was a recent discovery. The obituary is something I just ran across in 01:04:00the past couple of months. I did do some newspaper searching on that name and didn't find anything but I looked at some different spellings and I found someone with a similar surname spelled, I think, more Jameson than Janeson so it could have been a typo. That may be a path that I take or somebody else wants to take that up. Yeah, there's still more that can be done. Palmer Patton's story, there's a lot more to uncover and I'm happy to have other people help with that.

Audience Member #6: How is the university responding in terms of what will be done to honor this person and their legacy.

LL: That's a very good question.

DP: But I also want to add to that issue of imagine how it felt like if you were a man of color trying to find a relationship in a society where people are very 01:05:00race-conscious. Now, what's your dating pool like? If you out yourself as a black person, all of a sudden now you've now cut that out for yourself. Larry and I have had those conversations where we're trying to figure out what it would have been like to be an African-origin man living in Corvallis trying to have relationships or a relationship with anybody and when someone finds out that you're actually of a negro ethnicity it's out the door. There's lots of interesting stories about the tragic Mulatta story. it's a typical story of an African American woman who's passing in how she presents oneself and someone finds out she's actually black and all of a sudden she may even be married to a white person and oftentimes she finds herself in a tragic situation. I'm just 01:06:00thinking about the male side.

Audience Member #7: It's even more complicated if you consider the possibility that he was gay. Just imagine that life. I know that's something you're probably following up.

DP: We talked about it.

Audience Member #8: I'm intrigued by the missing 3 consecutive census.

LL: I am too.

Audience Member #8: He is being strategic of a person who would do that. Because he responded to the selective service part.

LL: And he works for the census bureau in 1921. That was very baffling.

Dr. Dwaine Plaza: So I actually had a theory. My theory is that imagine again if you're a man of color. Things are working for you. it seems like life's going okay, and all of a sudden life stops for you and you're now in a spin and you 01:07:00can't figure out how to get out of that because you can't get a job here because everybody sees you as being somebody else and that would be frustrating. So you have to reinvent yourself completely to become a reporter and you're constantly reinventing yourself and eventually you need to work out of that because people are picking up your stories and imagine being a man 50 years old joining the military. That is old for the military. But that's a last-ditch effort to find a job because he couldn't find any other jobs. You're in between jobs all the time. as I showed you in my slideshow the only kinds of job available to African American men at that time period was pushing brooms, labor, that sort of thing and here's a man with a degree in his hand. That's where my thoughts would have been: the frustration of twenty or thirty years where he just says forget all that. The system sucks.

LL: I agree with that up to a point. In 1920 he was here. He was working, very 01:08:00engaged, very successful. I don't understand why he wasn't on the 1920 census. But there could be other reasons.

Audience Member #9: I was thinking maybe he was homeless and that's why he joined up in the army or the navy you know to have a place.

Audience Member #8: Back to the census thing for a second. When your race is identified in the census, is that self-identified or does that mean somebody is looking at you and marking down what they think they're seeing.

Audience Member #9: That's a great question.

Audience Member #10: For most of those I would say that he didn't identify beforehand. When you show up in the military they're just going to check you unless they have a question, so that would be my guess. A lot of times he's conceding to what people's perceptions probably are. He's utilizing it. Which is another question about we want to think about how we think about in America he's definitely trading on white supremacy to move himself forward. You want to be 01:09:00careful about what that means and how we think about his story, his legacy, his connection here.

Audience Member #3: Somehow punishing him twice can't be right.

Audience Member #10: I don't' think it's a punishment. I think it's holding that tension, though, it's different.

Audience Member #3: You know what I'm saying. I mean he did what he did because he was in a society that was vicious and heartless and he did what he did.

Audience Member #10: But I think he's-yeah, if he passes, though. But if he passes, his experience of blackness is going to be different than Halsell and Tebeau, and that's important to notice and pay attention.

DP: The other interesting part to me too is he's a great athlete for his times and then he just stops athletics altogether and to me, again I've talked to Larry about this, and we have some ideas on this, and my view would have been he realized that if he continued with the athletic program somebody's going to 01:10:00figure out that he's black.

So I'm going to stop this and be an academic and I'm going to focus on that to be my real success. Forget all this. Because he never jumped high jump again. He won a state championship and he just said I'm not doing it again.

LL: One of the things I didn't mention is that he did have in some of the correspondence with his mentor at Montana State he mentions some health issues and I'm just wondering if that weighed into pursuing an academic instead of athletics and maybe even that may have even had an effect on his ability to move into another academic position. If he was ill at that time-and you know that his mentors, he was essentially offered a job in D.C. at a federal agency but he was in transit between Montana and Chicago and no one could find him in the Spring 01:11:00of 1927.

DP: And think about too for folks not thinking about how to get around, it's by railroad. So it's a long distance between A and B so you're not just flying from place to place and you don't just pick up a phone and contact you. Did you have a question there?

Audience Member #11: No. I just have a curious face [laughter].