Learn about one of Oregon’s first Black residents at Sunday lecture

The Oregon Black Pioneers memorial at Pioneer Cemetery in Salem (Courtesy/Friends of Pioneer Cemetery)

Salem residents this Sunday can learn about the life of Hiram Gorman, one of the city’s first Black residents, and how he and other Black Oregonians were oppressed by local businessman and newspaper publisher Asahel Bush.

A special lecture by Zachary Stocks, executive director of Oregon Black Pioneers, about the “extraordinary life and times” of Gorman will take place Sunday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Bush Barn Art Center, located at 600 Mission St. S.E. It’s put on by the Salem Art Association.

Registration for the free event is available online.

Gorman was born into slavery in Missouri and separated from his mother and sister when their owner, John Thorpe, took them to Oregon in 1844.

He went on to drive wagons for Union troops during the Civil War and eventually came to Oregon as a free man in 1871, where he reunited with his family.

Gorman worked as a power press operator for the Oregon Statesman, turning the wheel by hand to get the day’s paper printed. He also earned a reputation for his well-tended garden.

Bush, for whom Bush’s Pasture Park is named, founded the paper during the 1850s and used it to promote anti-Black views and build “massive public support” for the Oregon Constitution’s Black exclusion clause. “Years later though, these views would be proven wrong by the emergence of a successful Black community in Salem,” the event page said.

Salem’s Pioneer Cemetery in 2002 added a marker for Gorman, whose burial location is unknown, in an aisle of graves.

Stocks is a public historian and interpreter who became the first paid staff member of the Salem-based Black Pioneers in 2020.

The nonprofit has worked for more than 20 years to find historical records of Black Oregonians scattered across the state and seeks to tell a more complete story of the state’s history.

A July 24, 1888 obituary for Hiram Gorman, one of Salem’s early Black settlers, in the Oregon Statesman.

-Ardeshir Tabrizian