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It’s not surprise that…for lack of better words, the city of Astoria, Oregon is very white. Like…very white. Again, it’s Oregon so it’s not THAT surprising, but it is something that as a Black person (or anynon-white person) would notice. Because of Oregon’s history with racist exclusionary laws, I never thought much deeper than “oh, there’s just not a lot of Black people here” when it came to places in Oregon. So, when I heard about a Black history walking tour in Astoria…you can imagine the pause I took.
It was a just a small fraction of an overall Black history tour of the north Oregon coast, hosted by Oregon Black Pioneers. And…again, I paused.
THE OREGON COAST???
I immediately bookmarked the tour. I was gonna find out what kind of Black history existed on the Oregon Coast…and…what happened to it’s Black present. I NEEDED to find out.
As luck would have it, a few days later I got an email from Travel Oregon asking if I would like to attend the tour (comp’d) and write a few articles about my experience and the contents of the tour. I obviously had never said yes faster to anything in my life. So while I’ll save a full juicy story for those articles, I did want to specifically highlight one part of the tour that really stood out to me. The Black history walking tour in Astoria.
What: The Black history walking tour in Astoria is a self-guided tour curated by the Clatsop County Historical Society showcasing the Black history in Astoria through landmarks and stories.
Where: Astoria, Oregon – about 2 hours from Portland.
When: Anytime, but ideally when it’s not raining since much of the tour is outside (hence, the walking part). Since a good number of restaurants/boutique shops close earlier in Astoria, I’d recommend going in the morning.
How much: FREE! Since…yanno, it’s self-guided and all.
Duration: Depending on your speed and if you choose to stop for food and whatnot, about 2-3 hours.
Stop 1: The Heritage Museum
While you can start at any of the stops on the Black history walking tour in Astoria, my suggestion would be to head to the Heritage Museum first. Located on the corner of 7th and Exchange St, there is plenty of free street parking. At the Heritage Museum, you can pick up the Black history walking tour in Astoria pamphlet to take with you for the rest of the tour.
I also recommend starting at the Heritage Museum because you can get a full picture of Astoria from the Indigenous peoples to the present-day residents. I loved that it touched on the multicultural communities that built up Astoria and the lasting impact contributed by immigrant populations. The museum also didn’t shy away from discrimination and blatant racism faced by those communities. The exhibit “Blocked Out: Race and Place in the Making of Modern Astoria” was eye-opening. Definitely a must-stop on its own, but hands down my favorite place to start off the Black history walking tour in Astoria.
Stop 2: Fort Astoria Park
Just a short walk down from the Heritage Museum is Fort Astoria Park, located on the corner of 15th and Exchange, however, the original footprint of the fort is mapped out with green lines and spreads out a few blocks.
Fort Astoria was the main fur trading post of the Pacific Fur Company (PFC), making Fort Astoria the first American-owned settlement on the Pacific Coast. Among the founders of the fort were at least three men of African descent: fur trapper Francoise Duchouqette, Tonquin steward Francis Roberts, and ship cook Thomas Williams. After Fort Astoria and the area fell to the British, Duchouqette stayed in Astoria and established his family in the new budding town.
While the fort is no longer standing today, the site has a sign where you can learn more about Fort Astoria as well as the contributions of Duchouqette, Roberts, and Williams and what it was like to work in the fort as a Black man.
Stop 3: American Legion Building
The history of the American Legion Building is dark, but should not be overlooked. It is still standing on the corner of 2nd and Exchange St.
This building once served as a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the 1920s, and organized public acts of terrorism against Astoria’s Black community, as well as inciting racial violence against other communities. However, during WWII, the American Legion took possession of the building and converted the 2nd floor into a USO for Black servicemen stationed in Astoria – over 600 individuals.
Learning about how many Black servicemen were once in Astoria, even if it was for war, was mind-boggling to me considering Astoria’s current demographic. It also helps paint the picture of how crucial Astoria and the Oregon Coast was to wartime efforts.
Is That It?
Is…is that it of the Black history walking tour in Astoria? Just three sites? Well, not exactly, but those three are the only sites you can still PHYSICALLY visit.
Technically, the other sites were all burned down in the 1922 Astoria fire.
BUT! You can still stroll by their former sites on the way back to your car.
As you finish up at the American Legion Building, head down to 11th and commercial to see the site of Roscoe’s First Class Oyster Saloon. Roscoe’s was owned by Roscoe Dixon, credited as being Astoria’s first known Black business owner. The oyster bar opened back in 1880 on what was then called Main Street (now 9th St). Then the second location opened on the corner of 11th and Commercial, where the family, lived until they moved to Seattle in 1885.
On the opposite corner on 10th and Marine Drive (then Bond Street) is the Occident Hotel. The Occident Hotel was not Black owned, but is mentioned in the Black history walking tour in Astoria because they took a stand against segregation. While many other upscale hotels at the time employed Black men for service positions, the Occident Hotel hired Benjamin Gayle, a Black man, as a supervisor for their all-white staff. That staff quit in protest against working for a Black supervisor, and in response, the hotel hired new non-bigoted staff. IKTRRRR. Unfortunately, the original Occident Hotel was destroyed in the 1922 fire. Today, while the new building bears the Occident name, it no longer hosts overnight guests.
Then, head down the street to pass what was once Stephens Family Business (11th and Commercial), and Crystal Theater (on Commercial Street between 11th and 12th). The Stephens Family Business was a Black owned shoe shine parlor. Meanwhile Crystal Theater hosted a number of African American performers such as The Two Johnsons (Billy and Leonce).
As you are wrapping up your Black history walking tour in Astoria and heading back to your car, don’t forget to explore Astoria a bit while you’re in the area. If you haven’t stopped for lunch yet, now would be a good time to stock up on your picnic supplies. Stop by The Naked Lemon, Astoria’s only Black-owned bakery, for incredible baked pastries and desserts. Then, round out your basket with wine from Eunice Chiweshe Goldstein Winery, Oregon’s first Black female winery owner. While Eunice Winery currently operates mostly online, they are open to appointment reservations at their downtown location depending on scheduling.
Black History Walking Tour in Astoria: Conclusion
I had an absolute fantastic time with Oregon Black Pioneers, and learning more about the city during the Black history walking tour of Astoria was definitely a highlight. There is no way I would have learned so much about Astoria otherwise, let alone the Black history.
I definitely recommend to bring good walking shoes, as well as a hat and ample sunscreen because there isn’t many spots for shade during the Black history walking tour of Astoria. And yes, even if you’re Black, you need sunscreen too! I have a write up of my favorite sunscreen brands for darker skin tones that won’t leave you looking ashy and grey (an it’s great even if you have a lighter complexion as well!)
During your visit to the upper Oregon coast, I hope you find time to take your own self-guided Black history walking tour of Astoria to get a better feel for the area’s founding. Do you like taking walking tours when you visit a new city? Does this Black history walking tour of Astoria sound up your alley? Let me know in the comments below!
If you’re headed back to Portland, be sure to check out my blog post for the best Black owned restaurants in Portland!