Archives exist to be used, not to just gather dust in reference numbers, said Terry Baxter, the County archivist, on Thursday as the Board of County Commissioners declared October “Oregon Archives Month.”
Oregon Archives Month celebrates the value of Multnomah County’s archival and historical records. Multnomah County maintains more than 55,000 cubic feet of boxes, microfilm rolls, maps and plans in its Archives and Records Center. A team of experts works to classify, appraise, preserve and track those records in compliance with state law.
As the County archivist, Baxter manages and safeguards 1.2 million records. He says they give a glimpse into our region’s past, reminding us of our history and offering lessons for the future.
“Archival records document activities of people, businesses, governments, and organizations,” he said. “They aspire to provide context to our histories, to provide evidence of our common and individual rights and obligations, and to inform our collective journey forward to a just and equitable future.”
As part of Oregon Archives Month, Multnomah County is participating in a project honoring Minoru Yasui, a Japanese-American lawyer and civil rights activist who was incarcerated in Portland after protesting Japanese-American internment during World War II. The County has identified the jail cell he stayed in and is working to relocate it to the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center to inform others about a dark chapter in American history.
“He was an amazing activist and he’s not a common, household name,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “Knowing where we’ve come from will help guide us into the future.”
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson recently had an opportunity to learn more about internment at an exhibit, herself. “Some of the missteps we took in the past, if we don’t remember them, if we don’t keep them alive,” she said, “we are going to make the same mistakes again.”
Beyond teaching us lessons from history, Chair Deborah Kafoury said it’s also important to recognize the good in the past.
Baxter recently unearthed records for a ceremony honoring the late Dennis Buchanan, a former County commissioner. Buchanan is remembered for his commitment to social justice, helping to prevent Portland neighborhoods from being torn apart by a proposed freeway in 1975.
“It’s equally important to recognize the good things in our history in addition to trying to change things going forward,” Chair Kafoury said.
Commissioner Sharon Meieran has two children studying history in school. She said Oregon Archives Month underscores why it’s so important for everyone, especially future generations, to understand the past.
“We talk about all kinds of historical events,” Meieran said. “This is the underpinning of so much and it can teach us so much about where we are now, where we want to be going, and where we don’t want to be going.”