New opportunities in jobs and education were met with the hurdles of being Black in a white town.

The railroad and lumberyards brought new—albeit low-wage—job opportunities. Onboard the trains, Black porters, cooks, and waiters looked to local Black residents for support during stopovers, as they were not welcome to eat or stay the night in town.

A Black porter stands next to a train at Eugene Depot, opened by Southern Pacific in 1908.

Image courtesy of Ed Austin

Mabel Byrd

Image credit: Old Oregon, December 1926, University of Oregon Libraries

Maxine Maxwell withdrew from the UO in 1929 after being reassigned to an apartment ten blocks from campus.

Image credit: 1929 Beaver Yearbook, Special Colelctions and Archives Research Center, Oregon State University Libraries

Barriers to Education

Mabel Byrd made history as the first Black student to attend the University of Oregon in 1917, yet she was denied campus housing because of her race. Mabel finished her degree at the University of Washington, and became an activist in the early civil rights movement.

Ten years later, Maxine Maxwell faced similar hurdles. Maxine and her parents were the first to protest the UO’s policy of excluding Black women from dormitories. The responses from university staff and the local public capture the prevalent racist attitudes.

“If it is the thought of Miss Maxwell’s parents that … she should be made the roommate of three girls not of her own race, they are talking the utter nonsense of race fanatics.”

 – Eugene Daily Guard Editorial, 1929

“Students have reported … that they would not remain in the hall if a negro girl entered. It is my opinion that this feeling would become widespread in case there was a successful attempt to force Maxine Maxwell into Susan Campbell Hall.”

 – Mrs. Virginia Judy Esterly,
Dean of Women, October 5, 1929
Image credit: University of Oregon Special Collections and Archives, University of Oregon Libraries