The Long Journey to Reveal the Oregon Trail's Racist History
As the U.S. grapples with its legacy of prejudice, one parent is bringing the fight to Oregon public schools.
Illustration by Anita Tung
Last spring, Layna Lewis dropped her daughter off at Irvington Elementary School in Portland, Oregon for the fourth-grade class’s overnight trip to Oregon City, where the kids would learn about the Oregon Trail by participating in hands-on activities. As is the custom for this trip, which is considered a tradition for many Oregonians, the kids that morning were dressed in pioneer garb. Lewis, who is African American and Native American, was disturbed watching kids of color running around in their bonnets, knowing they wouldn’t have been able to own land in the days of the Oregon Trail.
“It was glaringly inaccurate,” she says of the field trip, concerned that the racial dynamics of the time were being glossed over.
Shortly after, Lewis made an eight-minute video called “Oregon FAIL” where she interviewed four girls in the class about the field trip, which has been organized by the Multnomah Education Service District (MESD) since 1998 and serves 3,000 students a…